When we read of the saints, it’s easy to forget they were real people. They seem to have it all together and always in-tune to God’s voice and desires. Logically I know that’s not true, but they sound really good on paper. At first, St. Thérèse is no exception. She speaks of her strong connection to God from the age of three, even knowing for sure as a child that she would be a Carmelite. But underneath that devotion, there are hints of her humanity. She wasn’t perfect, and in her autobiography we witness her gradual spiritual growth. It shows that St. Thérèse was, in fact, real.
This is part autobiography, part spiritual guide. A common theme is her great suffering, from the innocent trials of childhood to her later illness leading to an early death. She loved deeply, both Jesus and humanity. She often prayed for the souls of the unsaved, and cared greatly for the clergy. She desired to take on the suffering of others so that they may be saved. In that, she lived as Jesus himself did. She became a guide to her fellow Sisters, and always had a word of spiritual wisdom for the novices (sometimes harsh, but always truthful).
My vocation is love!… I am but a weak and helpless child, yet it is my very weakness that makes me dare to offer myself, O Jesus, as victim to Thy Love.
She speaks often of her littleness and weakness, but there is another depth to that—of being unworthy, of feeling separated from God though she writes these lofty words. “I sing only of what I wish to believe,” she says. Though she frequently offers herself to Jesus there are times that she doesn’t feel that way. She writes the words so that she may feel it. That’s a sentiment all too familiar. St. Thérèse was young and often naive, but she didn’t need worldly wisdom and praise. She understood her vocation to be wholehearted love for Jesus—a simple devotion, but with great responsibility.
This edition includes an epilogue by the Prioress after St. Thérèse’s death, which sheds more light on the end of her earthly life. Maybe that’s what makes this all real to me—it includes a timeline of her life, and many details about her last weeks. There are excerpts from her letters to novices, and a section of written prayers later found tucked in her Bible. Against my self-imposed rules, I’ve dog-eared several pages of this book for later reference: I’ll need her guidance on charity, love, and prayer again.
Scripture teaches us to approach God as a child, not in a childish way but in wonder and admiration. We’re to love with that simple innocence. This is the way of the “Little Flower.” We often complicate things, especially as we get older. We become bitter by what we’ve learned of a hardened world. But Jesus isn’t bitter. Jesus is that pure and simple Love, and that’s how we’re to live, too. That’s how St. Thérèse lived.
Without love, even the most brilliant deeds count for nothing. These gifts, which Our Lord lavished upon me, far from doing me any harm, drew me toward him.