"I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." These are the words of Thérèse of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite nun called the "Little Flower," who lived a cloistered life of obscurity in the convent of Lisieux, France. (In French-speaking areas, she is known as Thérèse of Lisieux.) And her preference for hidden sacrifice did indeed convert souls. Few saints of God are more popular than this young nun. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is read and loved throughout the world. Thérèse Martin entered the convent at the age of 15 and died in 1897 at the age of 24. She was canonized in 1925, and two years later she and St. Francis Xavier were declared co-patrons of the missions.
Life in a Carmelite convent is indeed uneventful and consists mainly of prayer and hard domestic work. But Thérèse possessed that holy insight that redeems the time, however dull that time may be. She saw in quiet suffering redemptive suffering, suffering that was indeed her apostolate. Thérèse said she came to the Carmel convent "to save souls and pray for priests." And shortly before she died, she wrote: "I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth."
On October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church, the third woman to be so recognized, in light of her holiness and the influence on the Church of her teaching on spirituality. Her parents, Louis and Zélie were beatified in 2008.
All her life St. Thérèse suffered from illness. As a young girl she underwent a three-month malady characterized by violent crises, extended delirium and prolonged fainting spells. Afterwards she was ever frail and yet she worked hard in the laundry and refectory of the convent. Psychologically, she endured prolonged periods of darkness when the light of faith seemed all but extinguished. The last year of her life she slowly wasted away from tuberculosis. And yet shortly before her death on September 30 she murmured, "I would not suffer less."
Truly she was a valiant woman who did not whimper about her illnesses and anxieties. Here was a person who saw the power of love, that divine alchemy which can change everything, including weakness and illness, into service and redemptive power for others. Is it any wonder that she is patroness of the missions? Who else but those who embrace suffering with their love really convert the world?