St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast day is October 1, understood that it is not what we do but how we do it that matters. Since her death in 1897 at the age of 24 after a long struggle with tuberculosis, she has inspired millions of Catholics around the world.
Among them was the newly canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta, who attributed St. Thérèse with inspiring her work as a Missionary of Charity to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.
St. Thérèse was only 15 when she entered the Carmelite religious order. She died less than ten years later. Yet despite her short and secluded life, in 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Thérèse a Doctor of the Church in tribute to the powerful effect her spirituality has had on people all over the world.
It was through her autobiography (Story of a Soul) that the world came to know St. Thérèse. Pauline, both her sister and Mother Superior, had asked her to write about her life and published these writings after her death. Initially 2000 copies were sent to other convents but the book quickly spread among lay Catholics seeking holiness in their ordinary lives.
St. Thérèse taught us that holiness is about imitating Christ by offering ourselves for love, by love, and with love. She believed that her actions were to let God’s love work through her, no matter how big or small the task. Her philosophy became known as the “Little Way.”
In the new book, Living the Mystery of Divine Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, authors Anthony Lilles and Dan Burke reveal St. Thérèse’s deep spiritual wisdom through a collection of her letters to loved ones on embracing the inexhaustible mystery of Divine Mercy.
They explain: “St. Thérèse makes the starting place of her self-offering her twofold awareness of her own inadequacy and the immense desire to give herself to God.” According to them, this humility and desire gives her complete confidence in what God can do in her life—not despite her weakness but in the very midst of it.
St Thérèse’s way to holiness was based on a total reliance on God’s mercy and not on herself. “She found through this solidarity the secret power of God was at work, accomplishing great wonders in the lives of those for whom she offered herself,” Burke and Lilles wrote. “It was as if her feeble efforts to surrender to the mercy of God made space for the Lord to do great things.”
St. Thérèse explained in one letter: “Devotion to Divine Mercy recognizes how God’s excessive love for us has moved Him to relieve the disgrace and alienation that our sin has brought into our lives.”
In another letter, she advised that when trials come, to suffer in peace. “To suffer in peace is enough to will all that Jesus wills.” To encourage prioritizing the important things, St. Thérèse warned: “We have only the short moments of our life to love Jesus, and the devil knows this well, and so he tries to consume our life in useless works.”
In letter to a cousin, St. Thérèse stressed the value of Holy Communion.” Jesus is there in the Tabernacle expressly for you, for you alone; He is burning with the desire to enter your heart. . . . When the devil has succeeded in drawing the soul away from Holy Communion, he has won everything.” She credited frequent Communion as a source of healing for venial sins.
St. Thérèse explained to a novice in her order, Marie of the Trinity: “He who knows us better than we know ourselves has come to rescue us. He is undaunted by our shame and failure, and the secret to living in His mercy is to allow His faithfulness to pierce us to the heart.”
Thérèse’s final words before she died expressed her life: “My God, I love you!” Pope Pius XI canonized her on May 17, 1925, a mere 28 years after her death.
And now, she works for us. “My mission—to make God loved—will begin after my death,” she said in her autobiography. “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.” Many who pray novenas to St. Thérèse, claim they have received unexpected roses as a sign of her intercession.
Patti Maguire Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. She is also a correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor and the National Catholic Register.