When most people hear the name St Thérèse of Lisieux they automatically tend to think of her ‘Little Way’, a powerful yet simple series of meditations creating a pathway to achieving union with God.
St. Thérèse was a French Carmelite nun who died in 1897 at the very young age of 24 from tuberculosis. She was born in Alençon, France on 2nd January 1873, the daughter of Marie-Azélie Guérin (usually called Zélie), and Louis Martin who was a jeweller and watchmaker. The couple were devout Catholics who would eventually become the first and to date only married couple canonised together by the Roman Catholic Church (by Pope Francis in 2015).
Throughout her childhood years Thérèse experienced many moments of spiritual revelation and an ever-increasing sense of inner calm. Around the age of 14 she started to read and study intently St Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, feeling at times as if the author had penned each sentence specifically for her.
In May 1887 Therese approached her 63-year-old father Louis in the garden of their home and declared that she wished to enter a Carmelite convent before Christmas. Louis and Thérèse both broke down and cried, but Louis got up, gently picked a little white flower, root intact, and gave it to her, explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it until that day. Thérèse was later to write “while I listened I believed I was hearing my own story.” For Thérèse the flower seemed to symbolise her own life’s journey.
In September 1890 Thérèse entered Carmel and began her enclosed life of prayer and service. She lived a simple, if hidden, life of holiness and seemed to her confrères a modest and unremarkable member of their community.
In her times spent alone she consoled herself with writing, a preoccupation that has left to the world some of the most remarkable and inspiring words of wisdom.
Central to everything that Thérèse did and wrote was the notion of ‘simplicity’, and her ‘Little Way’ is about doing even the smallest of things with great love. It is said, for instance, that Thérèse folded the napkins at the dinner table with such care and love, one would have thought Jesus himself was coming to dine.
At a deeper level, Thérèse was letting God become the focus and purpose of even the smallest of her actions and tasks. She was making even the most mundane of activities supernatural, and became acutely conscious of opening up all aspects of her life and work to the influence of God.
As we journey through Advent the writings of St Thérèse carry a special relevance, as we all try to push past the secular materialism of Christmas and try to create our own personal encounter with the child Jesus who will be awaiting us.
The Teresian Press, based at the Carmelite Priory in Oxford, offers a wide range of books on St Thérèse and the Carmelite spirituality she inspired, which would make perfect companions for your own, personal Advent journey. The priory also runs regular in person and online retreats on St Thérèse and Carmelite spirituality, as well as a range of other spiritual and theological topics with particular relevance to personal development and contemporary issues.
Why not let the Carmelites help and guide you through this special time of meditation, waiting and anticipation of the coming Christ …
THE TERESIAN PRESS: https://carmelite.org.uk/
THE CARMELITE PRIORY, OXFORD: https://www.carmelite.uk.net/