St Teresa of the Child Jesus

Thérèse was born in Normandy, France in 1873 the youngest daughter of Louis and Zelie Martin, a watchmaker and a lacemaker. She entered an enclosed religious community of Carmelites in Lisieux in her late teens, taking the name "Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus." She died of tuberculosis at the age of just twenty-four.

These stark facts hardly hint at the extent of her eventual influence. Indeed, with regard to the obituary customarily composed upon the death of a member of the community, someone was heard to say, "whatever are they going to find to write about Sister Thérèse? She never did anything exceptional." This makes the fact of her canonisation only twenty-eight years later and the fact that churches being built at that time, like our own here in Beaconsfield, chose to bear her name all the more remarkable. How did she come to make such an impact?

Essentially it was due to the influence of her autobiography Story of a Soul which she had been asked to write under obedience and which was published the year after her death. It took the world by storm. To date it has been translated into some 60 languages and dialects. This little book has captured the hearts and minds of countless millions – great minds and simple ones alike, theologians as well as ordinary layfolk. In it Thérèse simply records her journey of faith. Through this humble testimony of the way the Lord chose to work in her life she has held out to many the real hope of holiness. In its pages Thérèse traces the contours of a sanctity open to us all.

She called it her "Little Way." In essence it is the path of childlike confidence and trust. She loved to call God, "Papa!" - echoing in her own native tongue the abandonment at the heart of Jesus’ own "Abba! Father!" This simplicity is the hallmark of her spirituality. Her favourite text from the Scriptures was Isaiah 66.12-13 where the Lord is described as one who treats us like a mother caressing her children. On her feast day the gospel read at Mass is the passage in which Jesus takes a little child and says, "unless you change and become like children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." With Thérèse it is as though Jesus has put before the Church of our age another child, lest we be in danger of forgetting that the call of the Kingdom is, as she puts it, "to stay little and to become this more and more."

Even during the last eighteen excruciating months of her life, racked by tuberculosis, she refused to believe that God would betray her trust in Him. Finally, in the face of death itself her faith remained undiminished. Staking all on the resurrection, she outstared even death with her daring confidence: "I am not dying – I am entering into life."

One hundred years after her death this young woman of faith continues to bring a ray of God’s radiant light into the lives of so many. The story of her soul proclaims that, whatever the prevailing conditions may be, the sovereign fact is that we are loved by a God we can dare to call "Papa!" and that, as she once put it so poetically, "beyond the clouds the sun is still shining."