By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the tradition of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was born the youngest of nine children in 1873. Her parents, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, were canonized in 2015. Four of their nine children didn’t reach the age of six. The remaining five were all girls and all became nuns.
Zélie was unable to nurse Thérèse. Fearing that Thérèse would starve, Zélie sent her to live on a farm from age two to fifteen months old. When Thérèse was four, Zélie died of breast cancer. Her sister Pauline became her second mother until Pauline entered the convent when Thérèse was nine. The Carmelite convent in Lisieux was cloistered, which meant that Thérèse could only visit Pauline with the rest of her family and there was a barrier separating them from Pauline.
Another sister, Marie, then took on the role of mother until she too entered the convent when Thérèse was thirteen. The following year, a group including Thérèse and her father, were given an audience with Pope Leo XIII. Thérèse asked the Pope for permission to join her sisters at the convent. The Pope didn’t grant her wish her directly, but at the age of fifteen, Thérèse received permission from the Bishop of Lisieux. Six years after Thérèse entered the convent, her father died.
Saint Thérèse could easily have become bitter about her lot in life. Instead, Thérèse’s years in the convent were a time of extraordinary spiritual insight, creativity and productivity. She wrote three books including her autobiography, Story of a Soul, and her most significant work, Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.
Thérèse used the ordinary things of daily life to help her grow in prayer. Without knowing what it was to meditate, she would sit alone in the countryside and allow her spirit to touch the Holy as she contemplated the beauty in nature. When her prayer was dry, she did not become discouraged or force herself. She simply recited a familiar prayer very slowly or spoke the simple words “Draw me.” In her own words, “I say very simply to God what I wish to say . . . and God always understands me.” (357)
Today, Saint Thérèse is best known as the “Little Flower.” She considered herself to be like a wildflower, hidden unnoticed in the woods, yet giving glory to God just by being there blooming. She also saw herself as a little bird with an eagle’s heart. Her approach is known as the “Little Way” because she believed that Jesus does not demand great actions from us. Our love, surrender and gratitude is enough for God. It’s a path that anyone can take.
We live in a society obsessed with power and notoriety. The antidote is the life of true humility modelled by Saint Thérèse.
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