Precious facts about St. Therese
DID you know that in Baclaran church, by the parking lot, stands a gazebo with a life-size statue of St. Therese of the Child Jesus? The railing behind the statue is heavy with locks left by the faithful—a fairly new practice in our country, imitating the love-lock tradition in many cities in all the continents of the globe, where love-struck romantics swear undying love by fastening a lock with their initials to a bridge, and then tossing its key to be buried forever in the river below. (Yes, like Pont des Arts over the River Seine, in Paris).
So far, love-locks on a bridge are unheard of in the Philippines, but on the railings protecting a Saint’s statue, yes. The love-lock tradition must have been brought to the Baclaran church by OFWs who have seen the practice abroad. The last time I saw it, the Baclaran locks were the most numerous behind St. Therese’s statue, and they seemed to represent wishes and petitions to this favorite Saint. “Sana ma-approve nayung application ko to work in Dubai,” said one devotee I chatted with. “Hilingkoke Sta. Teresita magbalikan na yung mga parents ko, para mabuo na ulit ang pamilya namin,” said another. A third one said after fastening her lock, “Nagtirik din ako ng kandila for my secret wish, but no, I’m not walking on my knees in the church.”
If Baclaran’s “wish-locks” indicate a fondness or a great faith in St. Therese of Lisieux, one wonders how well these devotees know the young French saint. The following facts may spur their interest to know St. Therese more intimately:
St. Therese was a spoiled brat. As a 22-year-old nun, Therese herself admitted, “I was far from being a perfect little girl.” Testimonies during the process of Therese’s beatification included a letter written by her mother, Zelie Martin (now also a Saint) which said: “I have to slap this poor baby who gets into frightening tantrums when she cannot have her own way. She rolls about on the ground in despair as if all is lost. Sometimes she is so overcome she almost chokes. She is a very high-strung child.”Zelie also wrote of Thérèse and her sister Celine: “My little Celine is drawn to the practice of virtue; it’s part of her nature; she is candid and has a horror of evil. As for the little imp, one doesn’t know how things will go, she is so small, so thoughtless! Her intelligence is superior to Celine’s, but she’s less gentle and has a stubborn streak in her that is almost invincible.” Therese was to write in her mature years, as though in appreciation: “The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother.”
St. Therese’s “Little Way” began in Scriptures. St. Therese’s “petite voie” or “little way”, which was to greatly influence and inspire the faithful to this day, started as a spark she felt upon a chance reading of Proverbs 9:4, “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me.” She was to write later: “I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection…Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.”
St. Therese’s greatest desire was to become a missionary. As a young contemplative nun, Therese desperately wanted to be a missionary in Vietnam where the Lisieux missionaries were to found the first Carmelite Convent in the Far East. But a painful bout against tuberculosis ended her life at age 24, leaving her dream unrealized. On her death-bed, she is reported to have said, “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me.”In all the nine years of a life of obscurity in the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux, she never went beyond its walls, and yet she came to be proclaimed Patron Saint of the Missions due to the numerous miracles in mission lands attributed to her intercession.
St. Therese inspired St. Teresa of Calcutta. Born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Macedonia, “Mother Teresa” chose for her religious name “Teresa” as the Carmelite Saint’s simplicity inspired her to be “little” and to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. Many of Mother Teresa’s dearly remembered words echo those of the French nun who died 13 years before Mother Teresa was born. St. Therese wrote “I’m a little brush that Jesus has chosen in order to paint His own image in the souls entrusted to my care”; Mother Teresa said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of God who is sending a love letter to the world.” St. Therese wrote, “My vocation is love”; Mother Teresa said, “Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”
St. Therese had Saints and revered souls and celebrities among her devotees. The long roster of devotees of St. Therese of the Child Jesus includes: St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, American journalist turned Trappist monk Thomas Merton, French singer Edith Piaf, martyr of Auschwitz St. Maximillian Kolbe, Filipino bishop Alfredo Obviar, Nobel laureate Henry Bergson, Pope John Paul I Albino Luciani, Pope Francis Jorge Mario Bergoglio, etc. Speaking to journalists on the plane to visit the Philippines in January 2015, Pope Francis spoke of his special devotion thus: “When I don’t know how things are going to go, I have the custom of asking St. Therese of the Child Jesus to take the problem into her hands and send me a rose.” Enjoy this video of Jorge Bergoglio speaking about his devotion to St. Therese long before he became pope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LTR4_4h2Xw
St. Therese’s pilgrim relics will visit the Philippines for the fourth time. The Saints’ relics bring us into contact with the person and remind us of their great love for God. It might delight her devotees—Baclaran lock-lovers included—to know that next year, from January 13 to May 31, 2018, her pilgrim relics will be brought for veneration to various dioceses all over the country. The theme this time will be “Salamat, St. Therese!” Her previous visits—which were attended by kilometric queues of devotees wherever she went—were marked by a shower of graces, favors, and miracles, all attesting to the love of God; thus the theme of gratitude for next year. In fact, everyone is invited to share their story of miracles big or small obtained through St. Therese. Do you have a story of gratitude to share? Go and write it, as it might even become part of a special documentary about the Little Flower that is being prepared for her forthcoming visit. Email your story to SalamatStTherese@gmail.com. We end this piece with a wish-prayer from St. Therese: “May you be content knowing you are a child of God.”