Pope Francis and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux:
“To depend solely on the tenderness of God”
“Do not be afraid to depend solely on the tenderness of God
as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux did.”
When Cardinal Bergoglio wrote a letter, he enclosed an image of St. Therese
Anyone who had the opportunity to be in contact with and establish a friendship with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio knows that he had the habit of enclosing in his letters, no matter how short, . . . a picture of the Carmelite saint, Thérèse of Lisieux. In this way he wanted to emphasize his personal choice, full of meaning, of the spiritual bond that united them.
At the beginning of his pontificate, we saw Pope Francis give the President of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, a white rose, a sign of the “little Thérèse” to whom he prays especially.
But why and from where did this fondness for Thérèse begin?
I was wondering about this very thing in Aparecida in 2007.1 At the time, I met Cardinal Bergoglio briefly in front of the Brazilian Marian Shrine between meetings of the Preparatory Committee of the final document . . .
He said to me, “Do not be afraid to depend solely on the tenderness of God as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux did, who, for this reason, is a beloved daughter of the Blessed Mother and a great missionary saint.”
It was [an invitation] to see the Church and her mission [as being] on the road of the “little way” given by his teacher of Spiritual Childhood, the way on which Pope Francis is beginning his Pontificate.
I learned a little later that, when he came to Rome, in between meetings Father would go to pray in front of a statue of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus in a little church run by the Franciscans in Borgo, near the Tiber.
In Buenos Aires also, his veneration of the Patroness of the Missions2 was well known by his priests, and it was spread particularly in the “villa miserias” [shantytowns, slums] of the Argentine capital [Buenos Aires].
Cardinal Bergoglio speaks in Rome about his prayer to St. Therese
But now let’s get to the roses. Father Bergoglio had returned to Rome at the end of 2007 for the Consistory. And with him, the figure of little Thérèse reappeared: ”When I have a problem,” he said to us, “I entrust it to her. I don’t ask her to resolve it, but to take it into her hands and help me; almost always, I receive a rose as a sign.”
He told how one time, having made an important decision about a difficult question, he put everything in St. Thérèse’s hands. Some time later, in the doorway of the sacristy, a woman he didn’t know gave him three white roses.
He explained that it was a Jesuit, Father Putigan, who in 19253 spread a prayer seeking the intercession of St. Thérèse. He then recited a passage from the prayer: “Little Flower of Jesus, ask God to grant me the grace that I place with confidence in your hands.”
No roses? "A grace greater than the one you have asked for"
In the way he spoke, one felt a sense of his modesty united to a great simplicity, a sincere trust, so much so that I, too, felt moved to imitate him. In one particular instance, following his example, I invoked the Saint, but, to my great disappointment, I received no roses. At the first opportunity, I said to him by telephone, “Father, you remember the story of the roses…Well, nothing! Not one rose arrived for me. Of course, this doesn’t surprise me; I understand…these things happen to those who have already attained a certain level, like you, those who are ‘in good standing.’ No one can say that I’m a model of virtue…” The Pope was silent. Then, in a very calm voice, he replied, “That means that she will answer you and grant you a grace greater than the one you have asked for…” And it was really so.
1General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, at Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida in Brazil, May 2007.
2Pope Pius XI declared St. Therese patroness of the missions, the equal of St. Francis Xavier, in 1927.
3St. Thérèse was canonized in 1925.
Please read it here thanks to the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux and the generosity of the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars. Notice that in 1888 April 29 fell on Sunday. Saturday, April 28 had been the nineteenth birthday of Therese's sister Celine, and it seems there was a celebration in the speakroom at Carmel. Perhaps Therese's father was not present, so the postulant was allowed to send him this letter of thanks. Louis Martin was extraordinarily generous to the Carmel: he gave generous dowries for each of his Carmelite daughters, made many gifts of money to the monastery, and often brought fish, fruit, vegetables, and other treats to the monastery. The "bright little pearl" is Pauline, who was nicknamed "the pearl" by her father; the "brilliant diamond" is his oldest daughter Marie, who, in the month of May, will make her vows on the same day the monastery celebrates the 50th anniversary of its foundation.
- Art and Prayer led by Sister Catherine Martin
- Reflections by Sister Barbara Breaud
- Prayer Experiences led by Sister Terry Falcon
“My way is all confidence and love.”
Thérèse of Lisieux—Carmelite saint, mystic and Doctor of the Church—shows us the face of our loving and faithful God. Her “little way” of love that casts out fear frees us from self-preoccupation and opens us to God’s invitation to an ever deeper relationship.
Please alert your friends in Louisiana. For details, visit the Sisters of Mount Carmel Web site.
A two-minute virtual visit with the reliquary of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, with meditative music, in Metz, northeastern France, November 25-28, 2011
The parish of Sainte Therese in Metz received the reliquary of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin in November 2011. They planned and completed a powerful programme of conferences, prayer, and liturgies and created a marvelous Web site (in French) to prepare for and commemorate the visit and to educate persons about the Martin spouses. Join them in a virtual veneration of Louis and Zelie by watching this two-minute photo show, with meditative music. Find the right volume, turn on full screen, and enjoy praying with them.
This parish is clearly a model for how to make the spirituality of the Martin spouses available to the pastoral needs of the people, and their superb work was blessed. During the three days of prayer around the reliquary, many couples (mostly young couples with many children) were so touched by the exemplary Christian lives of the parents of St. Therese that the parish decided to offer them a place to confide themselves and their children to the intercession of the Martin spouses. This chapel dedicated to Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin was opened on September 30, 2012.
Read online a short reflection by Dr. Frances Renda about the lives and marital spirituality of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin
Dr. Frances Renda, editor of A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, 1861-1885, wrote a brief and powerful reflection on the lives and marital spirituality of Louis and Zelie Martin as her introduction to that book. It reflects Dr. Renda's intimate and delicate understanding of the relationship and spirituality of Louis and Zelie and what it means not only for spouses but for all Christians. I have seen no better short introduction in English. If you have not yet treated yourself to the book, please read the introduction online courtesy of the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.