Book Notes: "Saint Thérèse of Lisieux - Story of a Life"

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I devour anything St. Thérèse, so when I had the opportunity to review Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Story of a Life by Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., I was so happy!

I wish I had taken St. Thérèse as my confirmation saint – Mary or “Maria” was my confirmation name. However, I think our little saint would be happy since she loved Mary and Jesus so much. Her vocation was and continues to be the “vocation of love.” She became a “victim of merciful love” to Jesus.

St. Therese of Lisieux

Anyway, I should begin more at the beginning of this book. I liked this biography because to me it filled in some of the gaps of the autobiography. I am sure many of you have read the writings of our little St. Thérèse. However, this author seemed to find hidden things I had never heard of before – so I am going to try to concentrate on a few tidbits that I learned from this biography.

During her childhood while her mother was still alive, she was not the perfect little girl – she was actually quite stubborn! She would be given a basket of lace and ribbons and she would “choose all” (26) instead of sharing. However, in a way I think this passage shows that later on in life she will “choose all” as far as sacrifices for Jesus.

I didn’t know the family had a dog or puppy to begin with. There’s a couple of passages that mention the family pet! (I think this was later on after her mother died and they were living in Lisieux).

Zélie (St. Thérèse’s mother) went to Lourdes for a cure! I didn’t know she had gone. Anyway, her mother was not cured – her condition (breast infection or cancer of the breast) did not get better but worsened from the long, arduous trip. It was not meant to be God’s will that she live any longer. She died when Thérèse was only four years old. That would leave a deep impression on any young lady.

Thérèse chose Pauline as her second mother until she entered the convent (Carmelites) and Marie was kind of her “third mother” until she also entered, leaving Céline and her together with Léonie (who was in and out of a Visitation convent during her youth – she finally stayed later on in life).

After her mother’s death the family moved to Lisieux and took up residence there. It seems to me they actually lived with her uncle and aunt and cousins – either that or they were right next door. I was not really sure on that, but it sounded like they shared the same house to me! That would make sense; because of the loss of his wife Mr. Martin probably wanted to make sure that his girls had the good influence of their aunt and uncle. Also, her uncle and aunt were her guardians – as she had to get permission from her uncle later to enter the convent.

St. Thérèse saw a small vision of a man that looked like her father around 1879 or 1880 (the year was not known by the biographer). She thought she saw a man looked like her father but bent over in the garden and then he disappeared!

St. Thérèse then went to a school nearby as she was getting old enough to do so. Her Pauline flew off to the Carmel. Around age 10, St. Thérèse had a strange illness — it was described by our author as “a nervous trembling, followed by seizures of fight and hallucination which recurred several times a day. In the intervening periods the sick child was in a very weak state and could not be left alone.” Her cousin even gave account that her whole body and nervous system was affected. (pg. 55 of biography). On April 6 she was “temporarily” cured enough to go to Pauline’s reception of the Carmelite habit. However, Thérèse relapsed the very next day.

St. Thérèse endured another month or so of this terrible “disease” until during a novena to Our Lady of Victories – St. Thérèse had this statue in her room of Blessed Virgin Mary. (I should say the room she had been moved to downstairs in order to care for her needs better.) One day Leonie heard Thérèse holler out “Mama, Mama.”  Thérèse recounts from her autobiography:

Finding no help on earth …I turned also towards my heavenly Mother and prayed with all my heart for her to have pity on me at last. All of a sudden the blessed Virgin appeared to me beautiful, more beautiful than anything I had ever seen before … but what went right to depths of my soul was the blessed virgin’s ravishing smile. Then all my pain vanished, two tears came down my cheeks, but they were tears of pure joy. (57)

When I read this, I was also in tears too! St. Thérèse cured at last. I also didn’t realize until reading the biography that she had NOT received her first Communion yet. So, you see a biography gets things a bit more organized than an autobiography. I think perhaps the devil was after our lovely saint’s soul before she even had a chance to receive Jesus the first time! Wow!

The time of Thérèse’s schooling is considered the “second period” of her life. She suffered terrible scruples at this time. She finally received her first Communion and second Communion around this time.

Thérèse’s “conversion” happened on Christmas Eve 1886. Her sister Céline had still considered her a baby. Plus, the scruples that Thérèse suffered probably made her seem like a baby as well. She was also very oversensitive about things. So, when Thérèse overheard her father saying, “It will be the last year” (73) she almost did break down into tears! However, something happened in St. Thérèse’s soul at that very moment, “Thérèse recovered herself, dried her eyes, went down, and, full of joy, opened the parcels. Céline could not believe it at all” (73).

When I read about St. Thérèse’s conversion, I also feel that my life still needs converting and I am way older than our little Thérèse! She was thirteen years old, almost fourteen. Though I have rarely had scruples, I feel like my life is not anywhere near holy! However, our saint has always given me hope in her “little way.” In fact, I am trying to gather mothering stories of pregnancy and birth for a book I hope to title “The Little Way of Motherhood” in her honor. I hope if anyone has a story to share they will contact me. Anyway, back to my review!!

Now, onto the third period of our saint’s life – the call of Carmel! She actually studied at home after this time instead of going back to the convent school. See, our saint was even “home schooled.” She can be a patroness of homeschoolers and homeschool mothers!

It did take some time for God to work in the soul of St. Thérèse to realize her vocation. The famous “conversion” of Henry Pranzini is one case that seems to have inspired our little Thérèse. She was praying for his soul and at the last minute – he asked to kiss a crucifix before he died!

Thérèse saw this also as a sign that she should enter Carmel, but convincing everyone was very difficult. She went from convincing her uncle to trying to convince the Pope! Hey, I love her audacity!

St. Thérèse’s father took her and Celine on a pilgrimage to Paris and then Rome. St. Thérèse also realized another vocation of hers during this travel – to pray for priests. She found that they had faults just like the rest of us. We put priests on a pedestal when they all really need prayers too! Thérèse saw this need of praying for priests. In fact. later on in her life as a nun, she made it her mission to pray for priests. There’s a special group of nuns that are now in Tennessee that also make this their mission. They are called Handmaids of the Precious Blood.

Sr. Agnes (also briefly “Mother Agnes”), St. Thérèse’s older sister, kept changing her mind about whether she should talk to the Pope or not. Thérèse’s sister finally decided that she should talk to the Pope about her vocation. Thérèse had not heard from any superiors of the Carmelite order (they had already visited them before the pilgrimage – Thérèse even putting up her hair to look older!) All the Carmelites in the convent were in united in prayer for her! Imagine that – I kind of feel like well if the superior nuns wanted her – why should anyone else care? So, anyway, it rained on the day of the papal audience. Rain usually was not a good sign for our saint – bad things usually happened on rainy days. The visitors were actually forbidden to speak to the Pope. However, Thérèse did attempt to do so – asking to enter the Carmel at fifteen. At first the Pope didn’t understand, so the others there tried to explain. The Pope finally answered – “you will enter if God’s will” (my paraphrase). Thérèse left in tears. Her father was not with her since the men and women went separately to see the Pope! Only Céline had seen everything.

So, Thérèse’s trip seemed for nothing, or it seemed so! I can’t even imagine how she felt. I thought at one time I had a vocation to be a nun – I even thought about Carmelites – and I wrote several orders and visited a few others. However, at least two thought I did not have a vocation. I probably felt crushed in a different way than Thérèse. However, our saint never gave up!

Thérèse didn’t even know by that Christmas. She received a letter saying yes on the eve of her birthday – on January 1st – she was told she could enter at age 15 – however, she was told to wait till April. The community did not want her to enter during a very strict Lent – there would be time for that another time. So, Thérèse stayed in the world a bit longer savoring her last moments before she flew to her spouse Jesus!

Finally, Thérèse entered the convent and became a nun of the Carmelite order.

Her life in the convent seemed “ordinary” to her fellow sisters. However, this is when Thérèse realized her “vocation of love” and her desire to spend her heaven “doing good upon the earth” by “showering us with roses.”

I didn’t know that Thérèse knew how to paint. I think I had heard of her putting on a play about St. Joan of Arc before – but I did not know she had written the play and a few others! So, our little Thérèse is also a writer and artist.

Thérèse also wrote several poems. I thought I used to have a book with some of her poetry in it – but I am not sure where it is at anymore. I would love to read them. I also like to compose poetry.

So, I thought I would end my little essay with a poem in honor of St. Thérèse.

Little Rose Thérèse
(by Julie Larsen)

My dearest little friend
I pray to you today
My little Rose Thérèse
Here me today …

Your promise to
Shower us with roses
I wish to ask for
A rose or two

You were simple
You did it all for love
I wish I could do so
I wish to love

Dear Thérèse, bring me
Closer to Jesus True
Who I hope to love
Despite sufferings through

And when I draw
My last breath – I pray
You will be there to
Help me on my way

And I’ll greet you
Up in heaven’s gates
And pray for others
As it is never too late!

There’s more about her convent life and such, and a story about someone I had never heard of before in the convent – but hey, let’s let you have some surprise reads for your own reading of this wonderful biography! I am sure you will not be able to put this book down and want to read it all in one sitting. However, take time to enjoy Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Story of a Life and best of all share this wonderful book from Ignatius Press and Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., with others. It is a great gift to read this biography!

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Copyright 2020 Julie Larsen

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About Author

Julie is a mom to four wonderful blessed children, a doula "servant" to mothers for pregnancy to postpartum and owner of spiritual based doula training. She loves sewing, nature, mysteries, sci-fi, drinking tea, and more. Check out her other websites: CatholicDoula.com, Find a Catholic Doula, St. Zelie Parent Education, and Moms of BLOOM: Bettering Lives of Outstanding Moms.

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