With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts. (3 Kings 19:10)~Motto of the Carmelite Order
Today is the birthday of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (1873-1897), whom Pope Pius XI hailed as being "the greatest saint of modern times." Her Little Way of love and self-surrender is vital to our modern materialistic age because she, like the sister of Lazarus, sought the "one thing necessary." (Luke 10:42) As she wrote to her sister Celine in 1889:
There is only one thing to do during the night, the one night of life which will come only once, and this is to love, to love Jesus with all the strength of our heart and to save souls for Him that He may be loved! (General Correspondence, Vol.I, ICS Publications, p.588)In order to save souls, she was willing to embrace every suffering that came her way, from the petty annoyances of daily existence, to the physical and mental torments of the last months of her earthly life. In a letter to Celine, she exclaims:
Sanctity does not consist in saying beautiful things, it does not consist in thinking them, in feeling them!...It consists in suffering and suffering everything...A day will come when the shadows will disappear, and there will remain only joy, inebriation...Let us profit from our one moment of suffering...Let us see only each moment!...A moment is a treasure...one act of love will make us love Jesus better...it will bring us closer to Him during the whole of eternity...! (Ibid. pp 557-558)Part of Saint Thérèse's secret of sanctity is that she kept the thought of eternity ever before her. "Just as this year passed, so also will our life pass, and soon we shall say: 'It is gone.' Let us not waste our time, soon eternity will shine for us." (Ibid, p.602)
Her profound realization of the shortness of life and her zeal for souls combined with a thirst for martyrdom. Through God's grace, she found the courage to face humiliations and disappointments that would have embittered lesser souls. Her father's mental deterioration and his committal to an asylum was a heavy trial for the teenage nun. Nevertheless, she wrote to Celine:
Let us die as martyrs! Unkown martyrdom, known to God alone, which the eye of the creature cannot cannot discover, a martyrdom without honor, without triumph....That is love pushed to the point of heroism....Let us hurry to fashion our crown; let us stretch forth our hand to seize the palm. And if we love much, if we love Jesus with a passion, He will not be so cruel as to leave us for a long time on this earth of exile....Celine, during the short moments that remain to us, let us not lose our time...let us save souls! (Ibid, p.578)During her fatal illness, Saint Thérèse reflected upon upon a glass of brightly covered but foul-tasting medicine, comparing it to her own life.
My life in the eyes of others must have seemed to be filled with the most pleasant colors....To them, I seemed to be drinking an exquisite draft, but in reality it was bitterness. I say bitterness and yet my life has not been bitter, for I have been able to find joy and sweetness in all that bitterness. (Father Jamart, The Complete Spiritual Doctrine of St. Therese , p.217)Truly her love for Christ and souls was heroic. In her autobiography, St. Thérèse wrote: "When thinking of the torments which will be the lot of Christians at the time of the Anti-christ, I feel my heart leap with joy, and I would like these torments to be reserved for me." (The Story of a Soul, trans. by Father John Clarke, p. 193) Such zeal led her to offer herself as a victim to the Merciful Love of God in order to save souls, longing to spend her heaven "doing good upon earth." (Ibid, p.263)
God has honored the desires of His Little Flower. The efficacy of her intercession has been experienced in every part of the globe; her writings have been pondered by popes, saints, and scholars; she has drawn many souls to holiness by her prayer and example. Her Christ-like humility is the antidote for the intellectual pride of our time. Her zeal counteracts our sloth and dullness of mind, so suffocated are we by an excess of comforts and stimuli. She is a prophet of eternal beatitude; a guide to heaven for those on the brink of despair. She is Carmel's gift to modern man. How appropriately a Carmelite nun expressed it in one of the hymns for October 1:
Yet joy itself could not portray
The surge of her immense desire
Nor cloister walls have strength to stay
A love that swept the world like fire.
(Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD)