On the 18th of October this year we will celebrate Mission Sunday and spiritually guiding this month is St Theresa of the Child Jesus, patroness of the Missions, also called the little flower, whose feast we celebrate today.

Born on January 2, 1873, in Alencon, France, Therese Martin she was the last of nine children. However, only five of these children lived to reach adulthood. Her mother died of cancer when she was 4 years old. Her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, were a very holy couple. Each of them had discerned religious life prior to meeting each other. They were canonized on 18 October 2015 and were the first spouses to be proposed for canonization as a couple and the first to be canonized together

Early Childhood – A personal connection with heaven

Therese clearly had a very personal connection with heaven.  At the age of 14, on Christmas Eve in 1886, Therese had a conversion that transformed her life. She overheard her father say that she was getting too old for the silly traditions of children. St. Therese was hurt and crushed at first, but came to realize that it was time for her to mature and be aware of others more than herself. From then on, her powerful energy and sensitive spirit were turned toward love, instead of keeping herself happy. She began to read “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis very intently. She kept this book with her, memorizing much of it.

That same summer, St. Therese heard of a man convicted of murder who was on death row. He was unrepentant, and she was concerned for his soul. She prayed every day that he would have a conversion before facing his death. The man continued to be angry and spiteful, shunning any attempts by priests to hear his confession. He showed no remorse up until just before his death, when it was reported that just as his neck was placed on the guillotine, he grabbed a crucifix and kissed it three times. St. Therese was ecstatic upon hearing this, and took it to mean that her prayers had been answered. She continued to turn her eyes on the needs of others, praying for them and their salvation.

When St. Therese was fifteen, she and her father made a pilgrimage to Rome. Her two older sisters, Pauline and Marie, had entered the Carmelite convent, and St. Therese longed to join the order, too. When meeting the Pope, St. Therese asked him personally for permission to enter the Carmelite order, even though she was too young. He told her that if it was God’s will, she would most certainly enter. Upon returning home, the bishop granted her the permission she needed, and she began her postulancy in 1888. She took the name “Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.”

Captive for Christ

Therese dedicated her life to simple acts for she believed that it was the daily, small tasks that made one holy. This became known as St. Therese’s “Little Way” – that we are called to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. Living a hidden, simple life of prayer, she was gifted with great intimacy with God. Through sickness and dark nights of doubt and fear, she remained faithful to God, rooted in His merciful love. She loved flowers and saw herself as the “little flower of Jesus,” who gave glory to God by just being her beautiful little self among all the other flowers in God’s garden. Because of this beautiful analogy, the title “little flower” remained with St. Therese.

In her Story of a Soul, St.Therese explained how she formed the habit of conquering her moods: “When things that are irritable or disagreeable befall me, instead of assuming an air of sadness, I respond by a smile. At first I was not always successful, but now it is a habit which I am very happy to have acquired.”

While alive, St. Therese made two promises that have been ringing true since her death. The first, “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth”, and the second, “I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” This is the way St. Therese often communicates with those who seek her intercession. The “St. Therese Rose Novena” is a common prayer seeking her aid, in which many people have reported God answering their prayers through roses – sometimes physical roses appear, other times the scent of roses.

Down the years the popes have endorsed the message of St Thérèse: Pope Pius X introduced her cause in 1914. In less than 30 years, in April of 1923, Pope Benedict XV declared her Blessed, and in 1925 Pope Pius XI beatified, canonised and declared Therese Patroness of Missionaries and the Missions and spoke of her as the star of his pontificate. Pope Pius XII proclaimed her Patroness of France and at the time of the consecration of the Basilica of St Therese in Lisieux in 1954 remarked that St Therese penetrated to the very heart of the Gospel. Pope Paul VI offered her as a teacher of prayer and theological virtue of hope, and a model of communion with the Church, calling the attention of teachers, educators, pastors and theologians themselves to the study of her doctrine.

On Mission Sunday 19 October 1997 – the year of the hundredth anniversary of her death – St Therese was proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church, one of only three females to be named as such (along with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila)  in recognition of the wisdom of her doctrine of love in the Church, her holiness and the worldwide dissemination of her message through her writings. In less than a century, she had become one of the most popular saints throughout the world.

The Patroness of the Missions

There is one question that must cross our mind. Why did Pope Pius XI decide to proclaim Saint Therese of the Child Jesus the Patron Saint of the Missions? She never went to the missions!

What makes a missionary are not the legs but the heart! A missionary is a person whose heart burns with love for Christ and zeal for souls and therefore answer to the call of Jesus: Go, teach and baptise. A missionary shares Jesus’ mission of rescuing souls from the clutches of Satan. Means might differ: prayer, writing, preaching, penance; the goal and the motive are the same: save souls by love.

Still it might seem to some that she has done so little in her life which even prompted one of the sisters to remark that while she was charming, what would Mother Superior write about her at her death in the report she would make for the community? The question is amusing to us now. For the fame of this young nun would spread beyond the Convent and throughout the Church with remarkable speed. One year after her death, her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, was published. Her devotees multiplied as miracles were worked and favours granted through her intercession. During World War I French pilots carried a photo of her in their aircrafts to protect them.

After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. Her last words were the story of her life: “My God, I love You!”

Compiled from various sources

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