23 January 2021


A young woman told how once when she was a youngster she was climbing across chairs and knocking them over. The woman who was minding her called her a little brat and told her to get down  those chairs.  But then she writes ‘Before I got down of the chair, I turned around with a dignified air and said, you’re  a brat too.’ And being brought to apologise she observed ‘so I did , but without really being sorry’). That little brat is now better known as St. Therese of Lisieux

I may not be totally accurate in saying that our former Holy Father, Blessed John Paul 11 canonised more saints than any other Pope in history. If not he was certainly near that record, which may be due to the fact that he was pope for such a long time. Whatever the reason, he was very attached to the idea that Christian life takes many shapes and it is necessary to have our eyes opened to see the possibilities that we have to make of ourselves the very best persons that we can be. 
This is where the life of Saint Therese comes in, becoming one of the most popular saints in the  history of Christianity.
Born in 1873,(2nd January) Therese had a short life and a tough one, Her mother died from cancer when she was just four and her father had a lot of sickness both physical and psychological, which caused Therese a huge amount of grief and worry. She entered the Carmelite convent at a very young age and after a very painful  illness, she died of tuberculosis in 1897,(30th September 1897), at the age of  at the age of 24. In those few short years she developed a complex vision of human existence and many of her insights are as relevant today as ever. 
She told us that to her view of the world which she said was  like a garden, where ‘all the flowers that God made are beautiful; the rose in its glory, the lily in its whiteness, the tiny violet of its sweet smell or the daisy of its charming simplicity. If each of these lesser blooms want to be roses instead, nature would lose the so much of its beauty. - there would be no little flowers to make a pattern over the countryside’.  She used this simple image as a way of reminding us that we are all different. Each one of us is unique , no two of us the same. But we do share one thing in common. And that may have come as a surprise to people in her day and perhaps even more so today. What we have in common is that we are all called to be saints.

Many of us have grown up with the idea that to be a saint was to undergo unbelievable acts of pain and suffering.  We heard stories of the early Christians being thrown to the wild beasts in the Coleseum  in Rome; saints being crucified like our Lord; others being tortured and maimed and all the most horrible cruelty one could imagine.

Then came along Therese and she began to tell us that to be a saint did not require these extraordinary things.  In the simple and everyday happenings of daily life are the chances and opportunities that can turn us into saints. Therese said– sensational acts of piety are not for me. and she went on to tell the story told  of  how she got on with the most awkward and bitter  nun in the convent. She treated her so well, that the nun asked others how come she was such a favourite of Therese. She had never experienced such kindness and understanding, and could not explain how she was Threses’s favourite person in the convent. And yet day after day she annoyed and aggravated Therese, who did not utter one word of sharpness. She just flooded this cantankerous nun with love. It seemed so simple to the outsider who could see this care and attention and never suspect the struggle that Therese was going through. Love, she said is all the skill I have.


The other dimension is that all these small things look nothing when we just name them off without thinking. But when we stop to consider, being attentive to the small things may be more difficult than we think. It is hard not to say the bitter word. It is hard not to criticise and condemn. It is hard to make that little bit of quiet space every day to think of God, and say a prayer. We can be blind to the life around us, what our neighbour, our family member or friend is suffering and how we can fail to notice.
Think again about the gospel story of today’s Mass. The rich man and the poor man were neighbours. They were living beside each other. How could the rich man not be aware of such poverty outside his own gate?. And the sad thing was that when the rich man did come to realise that charity begins at home, it was too late to do anything about it. There is the danger that we ourselves might be in the same situation. The suffering may not be be homelessness and hunger. In all sorts of little ways, physically, emotionally, psychologically, people in our own environment may need our help in one way or another.  

Probably most of you appreciate that Therese is one the patrons of the missions. That might sound rather strange for a woman who lived most of her short life behind the walls of a monastery. But she wrote herself that her desire was for every single person on earth to come and follow Jesus. One of her lovely prayers was ‘Lord, I’d like to travel all over the world making your name known and planting your cross in every heathen land.’ In her very ill condition, hardly able to breath, with consumption, she used to get  out of bed and walked the floor saying that she offered each painful step for some missionary, thinking that somewhere far away one of them is tiring and getting worn out by their labours. She yearned for Jesus to be with them.

Of course, she herself believed him to be intimately close to her at every moment. She clung to this faith, even when at long periods she experienced nothing of God at all.  Especially when her father was ill and dying, God seemed to have gone into hiding. No joy, no blessing, Pitch  darkness might be the best words to describe what she was going through. But then she added that clouds may conceal the sun but it is always there. And so in thick of this darkness,  she got up and prayed again.


When she lay dying she overheard a conversation which amused her. The window in her sick room was open and two nuns outside were discussing what to put in her obituary notice for Therese when she died. They were wondering what could be written that might be of interest since she had never done anything exceptional. It was said Therese was pleased. and now these women know the truth.  Yet isn’t it amazing for somebody with such a low profile, that next Tuesday 116 years after her death she will be remembered and prayed to all over the Christian world. Her common little life made her a saint and it can do the same for us.