Earlier this year, The Passion of the Christ proved to be a blockbuster movie proving that there is a market for movies that affirm rather than mock faith. In October, coinciding with her feast day, October 1, a movie on the life of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, popularly known as the “Little Flower” will be released. This movie, Therese, was produced on a limited budget – and like Mel Gibson’s film – without the sponsorship of a major studio. Like Gibson’s film –at least at the beginning – it is struggling to find theaters willing to show it. Hopefully, local theaters in Central Florida will bring it to the big screen and give us a good reason to go to the movies this fall.
But who is this Theresa who was so popular a saint in religious devotion through much of the twentieth century and was declared a “doctor” of the Church by Pope John Paul II just five years ago? St. Theresa of the Child Jesus appeared on the world scene in the early 20 th century – a few years after her death at age 24. She lived, of course, in the last two decades of the 19 th century – at time when in Europe, the intellectual elites were convinced that human society could be organized without reference to God. This was the radical humanism that grew up from the Enlightenment and then morphed into the various ideologies of the 20 th century. These ideologies self-consciously denied the existence of God – or, if not denying his existence outright, they judged his existence to be irrelevant to “real life”.
In other words, Marie-Therese Martin, as she was known before entering the convent at 15, came of age in a time when people began to believe that they could live as if God did not matter. But, for her – and this is, I believe, – the reason for her appeal, nothing else mattered but God. Living the spirituality of Carmel – a spirituality that has given the world such giants of mysticism as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Theresa of the Child Jesus lived always in the presence of God. And, this God mattered because it was his Love that sustained the world. Even if her contemporaries no longer thought to care about God, Theresa reminded us that God still cared about us – and that the secret for true happiness was found in us caring enough to seek to please him in all things. She taught us the “little way” – that is, the road to sanctity is found in turning what a worldly viewpoint might considered insignificant or unimportant into opportunities to do God’s will. To be a saint one did not have to do heroic things or work wonders. One could achieve sanctity by doing ordinary things with great love. This is what she teaches us in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, a journal she wrote in obedience to her confessor.
A modern saint for our modern age, she serves as a corrective to our age’s attempt to live as if God did not exist. For this reason, the Holy Father sees her as the patroness of the new evangelization for the new millennium. If we can learn from her example that God is the only thing that matters; if we can teach our children to place their confidence in God who loves us; if we continue to seek through her intercession a “shower of roses”, the roses of God’s grace; then, the fervent wish of her short life will come true – that she spend her time in heaven doing good on earth.