How did St. Therese become known as the “Little Flower”?
Therese believed passionately that Jesus was delighted in his “little flower”, and just as a child can be fascinated by the grandeur of a simple flower, she believed that Jesus was fascinated by her as his “little flower”. Therese understood that she was just like the tiny flower in the forest, surviving and flourishing through all the seasons of the year. Because of God’s grace, she knew that she was stronger than she looked. Following the Carmelite tradition, Therese saw the world as God’s garden, and each person being a different kind of flower, enhancing the variety and beauty which Jesus delighted in. When various people tried to explain her powerful inspiration and her place within the Church, it always seemed to come back to one title “The Little Flower”.
In her autobiography, she beautifully explains this spirituality:
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Therese, the Little Flower, on October 1st each year. This date was chosen because Therese died on September 30th. Following the ancient custom of celebrating their entrance into heaven the next day, October 1st was chosen as the day to celebrate Therese’s life and eternity. Some people may remember that her Feast Day was previously October 3rd. That date was established for several reasons, including a packed liturgical calendar. In the liturgical renewal of the 1970’s, when the calendar of saints was updated and refined, St. Therese’s feast was properly moved to the more appropriate October 1st date. It is interesting to note that St. Therese’s home Church in France celebrates her Feast Day on the last Saturday of September, no matter what the date.
Following the biblical tradition, when people entered religious life, they took a new name to signify their new call from God. When she entered the Carmelite Monastery to give her life to God, Marie Francoise Therese Martin took the religious name “Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.” Therese had great devotion to the Infant Jesus, and her spirituality was a childlike simplicity and trust in God’s love. In Lisieux, the Carmelite Monastery had a great devotion to the suffering Holy Face of Jesus that was reflected on the veil of Veronica. This included an outdoor shrine in the cloister garden. Because Therese was constantly looking to see the hidden Holy Face of Jesus in everyone and everything, Therese took that second part of her religious name. She explained: “I desire that, like the Face of Jesus, my face be truly hidden that no one on earth would know me. I thirsted after suffering and I longed to be forgotten.” Her religious name, Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus and Holy Face, therefore came to signify what she was about and how God’s grace was working in her.
Therese became a saint because of the way she responded wholeheartedly to God’s love and the grace of the Holy Spirit within her. We believe that God embraced her upon her death and shared with her a risen life of Jesus in heaven. While the Church recognizes the holiness and sanctity of many good people, official canonization is a long process. The Roman Catholic Church seeks definite signs before she officially declares someone a saint. In the case of St. Therese, the process went swiftly. In the popular piety of the people, she became a saint in their hearts even before the official declaration. A person is declared “Venerable” when there is evidence of extra-ordinary holiness and inspiration for others. It means that the cause of their canonization is being pursued. In order to move to the next step “Beatification”, two certified miracles are needed, attributed to the intercession of that person with God in heaven. Miracles must involve situations where there is no other natural explanation. They are evidence of supernatural intervention, through intercessionary help.
Regarding St. Therese, in 1923 the Church approved of two spontaneous cures unexplained by medical treatment. Sister Louise of St. Germain was cured of the stomach ulcers she had between 1913 and 1916. The second cure involved Charles Anne, a 23 year old seminarian who was dying from advanced pulmonary tuberculosis. The night he thought he was dying, Charles prayed to Therese. Afterward, the examining doctor testified, “The destroyed and ravaged lungs had been replaced by new lungs, carrying out their normal functions and about to revive the entire organism. A slight emaciation persists, which will disappear within a few days under a regularly assimilated diet.” These two miracles resulted in Therese becoming beatified.
Once she was declared Blessed, it took only two years for the necessary next two miracles to be approved. In 1925, two cures had been investigated and judged to be supernatural, through the intercession of St. Therese. The first involved Gabrielle Trimusi from Parma, Italy. Gabrielle had suffered from arthritis of the knee and tubercular lesions on the vertebrae. The final cure involved Maria Pellemans of Schaerbeck, Belgium. Maria suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis which had spread, as Therese’s illness had, to the intestines. The diagnosis of pulmonary and intestinal tuberculosis was made by a Dr. Vandensteene, who also examined Maria after she came back from visiting Therese’s grave. The doctor testified, “I found Miss Pellemans literally transformed. This young woman, out of breath from the least movement, moves about without fatigue; she eats everything given to her, with a very good appetite. The abdomen presents no tender point, when formerly the least pressure produced severe pain. All symptoms of tubercular ulceration of the intestine have disappeared.” In reports predating Maria’s return to health, two other physicians confirmed Dr. Vandensteen’s diagnosis of pulmonary and intestinal tuberculosis. On May 17, 1925, Therese was officially declared a Saint by Pope Pius XI.