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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Therese Of The Little Flower

August 16, 2022 saints No Comments


“Let us accept all from the hand of our good Father, and He will keep us in peace in the midst of the greatest disasters of this world, which pass away like shadows. In proportion to our abandonment and confidence in God will our lives be holy and tranquil. And where this abandonment is neglected, there can be no virtue, nor any perfect rest” — Jean-Pierre de Caussade.

  • + + St. Thérèse of the Little Flower died at the young age of 24, having experienced profound suffering in her short life. Yet during her time at the Carmel her spirituality matured enormously through suffering, and she came to “her Little Way” which has so benefited the world. By doing “little things” — which can be very hard — with great perfection, she was able to achieve a measure of peace in her life.
    Peace in a world filled with constant turmoil that fills us with worry and anxiety which we all face in varying measures, but Thérèse shows us the way to overcome with God’s help. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,” Christ says to His apostles so beautifully in John 24:14, “not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.”
    What does that mean? To suffer but not to fear.
    “I was far too small to climb the steep stairs of perfection. So, I sought in holy Scripture some idea of what this life I wanted would be and I read: ‘Whosoever is a little one, come to me’.”
    From this she came away with: “It is your arms, Jesus, that are the lift to carry me to Heaven….I must stay little and become less and less” — St. Thérèse.
    One of the most agonizing parts of life surely must be the inability to release those we love from suffering. Thérèse may have been too young at age four to truly understand the death of her mother. But after she entered the cloister as a discalced Carmelite, her father had a serious stroke. She could not care for him. She could not even see him; she was cloistered for life. The stroke affected him mentally so profoundly that he hallucinated, and he grabbed a gun, thinking he was at war: He had to be institutionalized.
    Many of us feel this suffering, either through COVID-like experiences, or simply through the inevitability that we face caring for one or both parents at some stage of our lives. As Thérèse wept, we have wept as well. We see our loved ones age, sometimes we care for them at home, or we have to let go and let others care for them, and it hurts. She was profoundly affected with spiritual dryness, but she kept praying. It was “all” she could do. She concentrated on doing small things with great love.
    She sat next to the most difficult nun and smiled. She did not allow petty jealousies of her biological sisters to bother her if she didn’t spend free time with them instead. If she was blamed for breaking something she had not broken, she still apologized and asked forgiveness. She would eat anything she was served, so she was given what no one else wanted to eat. Always humility, always submission to God’s will over her own.
    There were, certainly, many inner challenges she faced, in subjugating her extremely sensitive nature and even a tendency toward scrupulosity. She had felt things so strongly but now she felt for the less fortunate, as God would have her do. In a manner of speaking, she was blessed to have sisters and a cousin at the Carmel, but then it was a temptation as the sisters were not to speak unnecessarily.
    At meals or in free time she might purposely seek out the most difficult person in the group to sit next to, and relate to them instead of sitting with a relative. And feelings might be hurt. She once said she had no illusions as to the difficulties family would pose to her in the religious life. She also, for instance, agreed to remain a perpetual novice, to alleviate the perception that in the convent of only 26 her family made up roughly a fifth of the community. (In the end only one other sister of St. Thérèse, who was at a separate order, has had her cause opened for the journey to sainthood.)
    Fascinatingly, the spirituality of St. Thérèse, who died fewer than 20 years before the advent of World War I, spread like wildfire and was already extremely popular among the soldiers. Though she would not be beatified until 1923, Rome gave special permission for soldiers to have medals, holy cards, and such of her to take with them into battle.
    God provides us with what we need. They even had copies of her autobiography that they would pass around in the trenches. What was it, do you suppose, that riveted the men’s attention during such danger to The Story of a Soul? Perhaps words like these:
    “My nature is such that fear makes me recoil, [but] with LOVE not only do I go forward, I fly.”
    She was canonized quickly, in 1925, only 28 years after her death. But her promise “to spend my Heaven doing good upon Earth” she realized very quickly.
    During the Great War, French soldiers saw her appear many times over the battlefield. We know this because they wrote to the nuns and told them. Often, they attributed miracles or their own lives to the medals they had sewn into their uniforms or a relic card in their pockets. St. Thérèse appeared over forty times during 1914 and gave enormous peace and encouragement where it was sadly needed. Over eight million French soldiers fought. Over six million French were either wounded, killed, taken prisoner, or missing in action by the end of the war.
    Some of these miraculous events the soldiers experienced were compiled in a book printed last year, which I take the liberty of mentioning, Stronger Than Steel, Solders of the Great War Write to Thérèse of Lisieux. Here are some examples of the stories, thanking the authors.
    August Cusinard was lying flat in a trench with artillery rounds firing all about. He was a lapsed Catholic and so, when drafted, he ignored his wife who begged him to go to Confession before leaving. But when pressed, he did agree to take a relic and medal of our saint. During a moment on the battlefield, he prayed to Thérèse, saying that if he got home safely to his family, he promised to visit her grave. To his surprise, she didn’t wait to take him at his word and appeared before his eyes in prayer, outlined one to two minutes against the sky. He returned to the faith.
    Another, Paul Dugast, had a 4,000-pound cannon fall on him and was unhurt. He gave the saint full credit, because he carried her medal. They named the cannon after her and he made sure that if it rained, to rewrite her name afresh on it with chalk so all could see.
    And perhaps one more story — these are addictive — about a faithful devotee of the St. Thérèse prayer, Mr. Degrémont, who also carried her image on his person. He had full trust in God and was rescuing the wounded. Suddenly, he was hit very badly in his neck, severing all the muscles and tendons. Covered in blood he did not panic but rather got mad at our St. Thérèse of the Little Flower! He cried: “How is it you abandon me, when every single day I invoke you!” He arose with blood all over him, saying goodbye to his men and stumbled somehow into the area where there was medical help. They didn’t know how he made it; his carotid was miraculously not severed. Had it been, he would have been dead in 5-15 seconds.
    St. Padre Pio was seen in World War II by bombers flying too close to his monastery of San Giovanni Rotundo in Italy; he would miraculously bilocate and pilots were so alarmed seeing him in the air next to their planes, they rerouted away and flew back home. St. Thérèse had her own way of doing things in the First World War.
    Our saint had lived a quieter life than those dying on the front, but she faced her own death knowing she had tuberculosis the first time she coughed up blood. She lived with it silently until it got bad enough that others noticed. Eventually, she had to be relocated to the infirmary. She faced death with cheer but great agony. She vomited blood, she felt it would never end, she felt as if she were suffocating as she tried to breathe and felt like “spikes” were in her lungs. No soldier was braver. She left these words for the chaplain:
    “I am not dying; I am entering into life!” Her last words: “My God, I love you!”
    Her feast day is October 1.
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