St Therese and Our Lady
At age six Therese wrote, “I want to be a very good girl. The Blessed Virgin is my dear Mother and little children usually resemble their mother.” Therese became, as it were, an extension of the Blessed Virgin by her perfect imitation of her virtues. It is precisely Mary’s hidden virtues, her ordinary life at Nazareth, which are echoed in the life and writings of St. Therese whose life and writings were Marian from beginning to end.
However, unlike Mary, Therese was born with Original Sin. The Immaculate Conception sets Mary apart from all God’s creatures. Thus, we may be tempted to feel estranged from her. Not so St. Therese. She would say that she was more blessed being Therese than Mary, because then she could love and admire Mary, whom she recognized as “more Mother than Queen.” Therese seems to “borrow” from the theology of how Mary could be immaculately conceived and still be redeemed when, speaking of herself, Therese writes, “… Jesus has forgiven me more than St. Mary Magdalene since He forgave me in advance by preventing me from falling. I was preserved from it only through God’s mercy!”
Applying this to Our Lady: unlike the rest of us who are conceived in original sin, she received the greatest possible mercy, the perfect redemption, freedom from sin at the moment of her conception in anticipation of her Son’s redemptive death.
Like Mary, Therese considered this preventive mercy a precious gift. When she made a general confession of her whole life in her first months in Carmel her confessor “spoke the most consoling words I ever heard in my life: ‘In the presence of God, the Blessed Virgin, and all the Saints, I DECLARE THAT YOU HAVE NEVER COMMITTED A MORTAL SIN. . . . Thank God for what He has done for you.’ … and gratitude flooded my soul.”
From the moment of her Conception the Heart of Mary was ever perfectly conformed to God’s Will. She always said “Yes” to God. At the Annunciation when Gabriel revealed God’s plan for her and the world, she uttered her “Fiat” to the singular grace of being the Mother of God. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.” (Lk 1:38). In her autobiography Therese writes that from the age of three on, she refused God nothing. She desired to become a saint, a great saint. She explains this great desire of her life in the incident when as a child of four she “chose all.” In the “Story of a Soul” she writes: “This little incident of my childhood is a summary of my whole life; later on when perfection was set before me. . . I cried out ‘My God I choose all! I don’t want to be a saint by halves. I’m not afraid to suffer for You, I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for / choose all that You will!”
When Jesus became present in Mary’s womb, she went with haste to bring Christ to John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth. It was during that Spirit-filled greeting that Mary sang her canticle of love to the Almighty she magnified the Lord and rejoiced in God her Savior. She acknowledged that God exalts the lowly, feeds the hungry, and shows mercy on those who reverently fear Him. (cf. Lk 1:46 ff.)
In the opening lines of her “Story of a Soul” Therese indicates the “one thing” she intends to do in heaven: “I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally: The Mercies of the Lord.” Her writings and her entire earthly life can be described as a personalized Magnificat which shall never end. She explains “that the Almighty has done great things in the soul of His divine Mother’s child [Therese], and the greatest thing is to have shown her littleness, her impotence.” Precisely because of this littleness she sought a way to be lifted up to God. “I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection… .The elevator which must raise me to Heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.”
Mary’s life was inseparable from Jesus’ and her Immaculate Heart was ever fixed on pleasing Him. Though she was the Mother of God, her life was ordinary and hidden – it was made up of little things. But the extraordinary faith, hope, and charity which animated her penetrated the heavens. She made and mended clothes for Him who clothes the lilies of the field and who designed the universe. She cooked for Him who feeds the birds of the air and opens wide His hand to feed all in due season. She cleaned the house for Him who alone can cleanse the hearts of all.
Therese’s life too was steeped in Christ Jesus – everything centered on Him. “I had offered myself, for some time now, to the Child Jesus as His little plaything . . ..” she writes. “I wanted to amuse little Jesus, to give Him pleasure; I wanted to give myself up to His childish whims. He heard my prayer.” The thought of the Child Jesus was ever on her mind and she did the littlest of things with immense love just to please Him. The less noticed the better. Mary washed the clothes of Jesus, and Therese considered herself “very fortunate, to prepare the linens and Sacred vessels destined to come in contact with Jesus.”
Like the Virgin Mary’s, Therese’s very life was a profound prayer, a continual dialogue of love with her Lord and God. She prayed without ceasing and saw God’s providential hand in every aspect of her life. For her “prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to Heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.” Mary, the Mystical Rose, and Therese, the Little Flower, each strove for an ever deeper union with Jesus corresponding to the grace bestowed on each of them.
After his victorious death and resurrection, Jesus willed that Mary remain and that her Immaculate Heart be, as it were, the very Heart of the Church. With all the ardor of Her Immaculate Heart, she prayed in the midst of the Apostles at Pentecost. Her Immaculate Heart was an ongoing link to the Incarnation and Redemption. She was in their midst for many years – interceding, instructing, and loving. We cannot begin to understand the depths of divine charity abiding within her Heart. Her zeal for the salvation of souls is limitless, especially for sinners who found in her a Mother of Mercy and Refuge of Sinners.
St. Therese in her great love of Christ and souls desired all vocations – warrior, priest, apostle, doctor, martyr. “My desires caused me a veritable martyrdom.” St. Paul in his first Epistle to the Corinthians opened her mind and heart to realize all her ambitions – charity! “…. I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was BURNING WITH LOVE. I understood it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act….I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS. . . .my vocation, at last I have found it…. MY VOCATION IS LOVE!… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love.” Our Lady and our Saint both lived this hidden vocation of love which is so essential to the entire mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
Therese realized that her silent, simple hidden life was not only significant, but of prominent importance in the Church. Because God desired her little way to be of great importance for the entire Church, she too has been entrusted a role in Heaven. In her last weeks she revealed, “I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making others love God as I love Him, my mission of teaching my little way to souls…. Yes, I want to spend my Heaven in doing good on earth.”
How remarkable is the resemblance between Mary and Therese, between Mother and child! As the saintly Curé of Ars put it: “Virtue passes readily from the heart of a mother to that of her child.” Let us heed the message which St. Therese wishes to teach us: only those who are “little” in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world will learn to love and resemble their Mother. Only then will they reach the heights of virtue and union with God to which our Saint attained. We end with Therese’s own words addressed to our heavenly Mother:
While waiting for Heaven, O my dear Mother,
I want to live with you, to follow you each day.
Mother, contemplating you, I joyfully immerse myself,
discovering in your Heart abysses of love… (v.18)
Unless otherwise noted in the text, all quotes are from “Story of a Soul” or the poem “Why I Love You, O Mary! “