ST. TERESA OF THE CHILD JESUS – “THE GREATEST SAINT OF MODERN TIMES”
Prof. Michael Ogunu
During the night of January 2-3, 1873, at 42, St. Blaise Street in Alecon, France, the ninth and last child of Louis Joseph Stanislaus Martin and Marie Zelie Guerin was born. Baptised during the afternoon of the 4th in the Church of Notre Dame, the baby received the names of Mary Frances Teresa. Both her parents had at one time felt drawn to the religious life but in their stead, God accepted five of their offsprings as religious. Little Teresa tried, from her ninth year onward, to follow her sisters into the Discalced Carmelite Convent at Lisieux. Even at 15, the Bishop considered her too young and so, on a Jubilee visit to Rome, she personally implored Pope Leo XII to intercede on her behalf. She was not yet 16 when the mother Prioress finally consented to admit her.
Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus was favoured by signal graces, and advanced constantly and rapidly in holiness, so that at the age of 22, she was appointed Novice Mistress. A childlike simplicity, utter humility, constant self-sacrifices and a boundless love of God and trust in Him, were some of her most outstanding virtues.
“From God, who is so mighty and so compassionate, one can never ask too much” says St. Teresa. “One will obtain from Him exactly in proportion to one's reliance upon Him”. But it was through her “little way” of performing perfectly the small duties of everyday life for the love of God, that she has become the model and inspiration of countless “ordinary folk”. She revealed it in her now world renowned autobiography, The Story of a Soul, which she had to write under obedience: Not to be conspicuous in anything, not to complain, to suffer an unjust rebuke without protest, to go out of your way to be gracious to someone you dislike, to forego a harmless pleasure, to offer up pain or unhappiness for some one less fortunate than yourself – all these were some of her teachings.
During her nine years of Convent life, she remained so self-effacing and natural that she passed unnoticed, and was misunderstood by most of her sisters in religion. Her special task, she felt, was to assist the Church's priests and missionaries with prayers and sacrifices. At the Canonical examination before her profession she declared in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament that she had come there to save souls, and above all to pray for priests. This was almost a holy obsession with her. In fact St. Teresa considered it, to pray and offer sacrifices for priests, a most noble mission for a Carmelite. “I see now, Mother” she exclaims, “what a wonderful vocation it is to aim, as we Carmelites do, at preserving the tang of the salt which is going to preserve men's souls. To evangelise the evangelists – that's the chief object of all the prayers we offer and all the sacrifices we make. We must pray for them while they are busy bringing souls to Christ by their preaching and still more by example”.
After a martyrdom of both mind and body, and having offered herself in sweet resignation and heroic patience as a victim of God's merciful love, St. Teresa died of tuberculosis on September 30, 1897 at the age of 24. “There is just one thing to be done here below: to love Jesus and to save souls for Him, so that He may be more loved”.
Before she died, St. Teresa promised her Carmelite Sisters that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth. She would come to the tempted, the suffering and the dying in particular. “No one will invoke me without obtaining an answer... I will spend my heaven doing good on earth… I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses”.
Invoked everywhere, without national, racial or religious boundaries, she has been prodigal with miracles. In twenty-four years after her death, more than four thousand miracles were recorded. The Church was so impressed that she dispensed the period of fifty years which must ordinarily elapse before a cause of canonisation is begun. On April 29, 1923, Pope Pius XI beatified her. On May 17, 1925, the same Pontiff canonised her, and declared her the greatest saint of modern times. And on December 14, 1927 she declared this humble Carmelite nun the principal patron, together with St. Francis Xavier, of all missionaries, men and women, and of the missions all over the world.
On Mission Sunday, 19th October, 1997, in St Peter's Square, Vatican City (Rome), filled with the faithful from every part of the world, and in the presence of a great many Cardinals, Archbishops and bishops during the solemn Eucharistic celebration, the Vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Teresa of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Universal Church.
Devotion to St. Teresa of the Child Jesus – The Little Flower – as she is known, sped with such swiftness throughout the world that she has become known in the words of Pope Pius XI, as “the greatest saint of modern times”. At her Beatification in 1923, a shower of rose-coloured snow descended mysteriously from out of the sky on St. Peter's Square. Again, as Pope Pius XI was speaking on her “little way” to holiness, five roses which decorated a cluster of lights in the apse “detached themselves in some unknown way, then, describing a large curve in the air, they landed at the pontiff's feet”. Says the official biographer: “A thrill passed through the vast assemblage”.
St. Teresa had manifested the power that had been given to her in heaven: the power to let fall “a shower” of God's love on earth.
Right from the moment of Teresa's canonisation on 17th May 1925, her spiritual radiance increased in the Church and spread throughout the world. Many institutes of consecrated life and ecclesial movements chose her as their patron and teacher, taking their inspiration from her spiritual doctrine. Cathedrals, basilicas, shrines and churches throughout the world were built and dedicated to the Lord under the Patronage of St. Teresa. Many of the faithful have been able to experience the power of her intercession. Many of those called to the priestly ministry or the consecrated life, attribute the divine grace of their vocation to her intercession and example. To everyone, Teresa, “The Little flower of Jesus”, as she is affectionately called, gives her personal confirmation that the Christian mystery, whose witness and apostle she became by making herself in prayer “The apostle of apostles” must be taken literally with the greatest possible realism because it has a value for every time and place. The power of her message lies in its concrete explanation of how all Jesus' promises are fulfilled in the believer who knows how confidently to welcome in his own life the saving presence of the Redeemer.
Teresa, in her simplicity, is the model of a life offered to the Lord even in its smallest details. In fact she wrote: “I want to sanctify my heart beats, my thoughts my simplest actions”. And it was in this same spirit that she one day addressed her Lord and Master, saying: “I beg you to be yourself my sanctity”.
St. Teresa lies buried at Lisiéux, France, 48 kilometers from the English Channel, an area devastated by Saturation bombing on D-Day, June 6, 1944. That bombing destroyed 95 percent of Lisiéux, but the small sites made hallowed by St. Teresa's life and death were miraculously untouched. Today Lisieux is second only to Lourdes in its attraction for pilgrims, and her grave attracts more devotees than any other shrine in Europe.
But one doesn't have to go to Lisiéux to be the recipient of her favours. On the day she was proclaimed Doctor of the Universal Church a paralysed 70 year old man in Spain who had undergone 13 heart operations and had suffered three strokes was miraculously cured through her intercession. “No one will invoke me”, she said, “without obtaining an answer...”. Year after year, thousands of people from all corners of the world testify that what she promised has, beyond all measure, been fulfilled.
“The faithful of every nation, young and old, great and small, men and women, are called to walk the Little way that St. Teresa walked. In her spiritual childhood is the secret of sanctity for all of us” (Pope Benedict XV).
Version: 5th May 2015