The late Father Benedict Groeschel was a Catholic priest, author, one of the founders of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and a psychologist. He once commented that Saint Therese of Lisieux was “spiritually precocious”, and there’s plenty of evidence to back up his professional assessment of her character.
When Therese was at that delicate age of adolescence when she wanted to be treated like an adult but didn’t quite want to give up the charming things of childhood yet, an important event happened one Christmas Eve. Her father made the sort of comment that parents make all the time, wishing out loud that his baby (Therese) would finally grow up so that the childish gifts of Christmas could be set aside. (Truth be told, he was probably just tired, as happens to all of us as we get older, of staying up for a party after a late Mass.) Therese overheard his comment, and rather than having a typical teenage tantrum (breaking into tears, storming to her room in anger, or sulking for a week), she smiled. That is, she embraced the grace that the Lord gave her to sacrifice her sensitivity, put a smile on her face, and deal charitably with her family for the rest of the evening. She later called that her “conversion”, and her family was surely thankful that she no longer broke into tears at the drop of a hat. If you think this was a small grace, think of Saint Therese at your next Christmas party with extended family and see if everyone weathers the event with as much charity as did Saint Therese.
Another sign of Therese’s spiritual precocity occurred only a few years later. She discerned that God was calling her to religious life as a Carmelite nun though she was only fourteen years old. In the photo above, you can see her teenage attempt to show her seriousness about this; she put her hair up to appear older than she really was. How many fourteen-year-olds could make that decision, explain it convincingly to a bishop, and then break papal protocol by respectfully imploring the pope himself for help when brought before him during a trip to Italy? Only a spiritually precocious one.
Saint Therese, teach me how to be childlike, rather than childish.