Wednesday, October 01, 2003

"Every time it rains, it rains petals from heaven..."

(-- with apologies to Arthur Johnson and Johnny Burke)

Today is the Feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Also known as "Teresa the Little Flower," she was a novice at a Carmelite house in France over a century ago.

Her mother died when she was four. Her stepmother walked out on her a few years later. Little Therese Martin broke down. Then at 14 she underwent a conversion experience, and thus began her love affair with God. Shortly thereafter, she persuaded her father Louis to take her to Rome, where in a general audience with the Pope, she walks right up to him and asks to be admitted early as a Carmelite nun. That got her in -- sort of. There was a delay while those responsible mulled it over. But you gotta admit, that was a pretty gutsy thing to do.

She entered the Carmel of Lisieux, where her sister Celine was already a member. Despite a rather sheltered and comfortable childhood, Therese embraced the hardships and austerity of convent life, to the amazement (and not a little jealousy) of her fellow sisters.

Yet she suffered from a variety of emotional and physical ailments for much of her life. She eventually died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 24. She told of her last wish: "My mission - to make God loved - will begin after my death, I will spend my heaven doing good on earth...I will send a shower of roses."

She wrote only one little book, "The Story of a Soul." She also wrote letters to several priests for whom she regularly offered prayers. Yet it seems for every word she penned, someone has written a whole book about her life, her work, her "little way" of life, and the inspiration she has been to millions of Catholics -- and a few non-Catholics as well.

Therese changed our whole notion of what a saint is -- and is not. They are not plaster-cast dolls with charmed lives, but real flesh and blood creatures with the same trials and tribulations and faults as the rest of us. No wonder she quickly became the inspiration of Catholic schoolchildren around the world. They, too, could be like her.

This spring, a movie directed by Leonardo Defilippis entitled Therese will be released. Click on the name to see the official website, a preview, and three excerpts from the film.

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