Saint Therese of Lisieux and Novenas

Saint Therese of Lisieux
From Wikimedia Commons, Celine Martin (Sor Genoveva de la Santa Faz) / CC0

In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that the members of the early Church—particularly Saint Peter and the other apostles along with the Blessed Mother—spent the nine days between Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven and the day of Pentecost devoted to one specific activity: prayer.

Catholics have been praying novenas ever since. You can find some excellent examples of novenas at or in books like this one. Typically, novenas start before the saint’s feast day and conclude on the feast date itself. But if you’ve never prayed a novena to Saint Therese of Lisieux before or didn’t just conclude one, her feast day, October 1, is a great day to start.

Why are Catholics so devoted to such a seemingly insignificant Carmelite nun? Why does a woman who never preached a sermon (like Saint John Chrysostom), never traveled to foreign lands as a missionary (like Saint Francis Xavier), never wrote a theological treatise (like Saint Thomas Aquinas), and never spent her lifetime serving the poor (like Saint Teresa of Calcutta) have more statues of herself in Catholic churches than perhaps all of the above combined? Why is it so easy to love Saint Therese?

That is the question we will answer each day for nine days, in different ways.

It is easy to summarize the brief life of Saint Therese. She was born into a pious home in 1873 in France. Her mother died when she was very young, and her father and four older sisters raised her lovingly in their middle class home. She heard God call her to religious life when she was fourteen years old, and she was allowed to enter a Carmelite monastery as a postulant when she was only fifteen. She died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four, leaving behind only her letters to family and friends, along with her autobiography.

After her death, her sisters, who had been deeply moved by their younger sister and her writings, edited and circulated her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. This book, originally only circulated to a small audience, literally swept the globe. Almost overnight, she became one of the most popular Catholic saints in the world, with her autobiography translated into multiple languages. Twenty years after her death, the impact of Therese’s little book had spread to the pope himself, who opened the process of canonization for the nun who had apparently done nothing “important”. Except to show how easy it is to become holy if you are as humble as she was.

Saint Therese of Lisieux, help me learn how to be humble.

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