Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

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Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux

October 3 is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux,1 whom Catholics also know as "the Little Flower" (she is honored on October 1 on the Novus Ordo calendar). She was born Therese Martin to Louis Martin, a jeweler and watchmaker, and Zelie Guerin, a lacemaker, in the city of Alençon in Normandy, France on 2 January 1873. She was baptized two days later at the church of Notre Dame in the same city.

Therese was the ninth and last child in her family; four of her siblings, two of whom were boys, died before she was born. And her mother followed them, dying of breast cancer on August 28, 1877 when Therese was four and a half years old, an event which affected her very deeply, causing her to become extremely emotionally sensitive and needy. After Zelie's death, her family moved to a house called "Les Buissonetts" in Lisieux, a different Normandy city about sixty miles north of the town of her birth.

She was a sickly, neurotic, and very spoiled child, being babied by everyone in the family. But she had the grace of growing up very Catholic, with frequent Mass attendance and the liturgical year lived out in a true domestic church. The three oldest of of her four sisters -- Marie, Pauline, Leonie, and Celine, born in that order --  embraced the religious life, entering the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux, one after the other, leaving her feeling abandoned and alone, and she wanted to follow them, but in a childish way marked more by sentimental longing than love of God.

The illnesses that plagued her young life increased in intensity all the while until she experienced a miraculous healing on the Feast of the Pentecost in 1883, when she was ten years old and gazing at a statue of the Virgin in her house. She writes,

Suddenly the statue came to life, and Mary appeared utterly lovely, with a divine beauty I could not possibly describe. There was a wonderful sweetness and goodness about her face, and her expression was infinitely tender, but what went right to my heart was her smile. Then, all my pain was gone. Silently two big tears trickled down my cheeks, tears of complete and heavenly happiness.

Her body healed, God began to work on her soul next, granting her a sudden conversion when she was thirteen, another story she recounts in her autobiography:

I do not know how I could think of entering Carmel when it needed a miracle to overcome my childishness, but as it happened, God did work this miracle on Christmas Day in 1886; the Divine Child, scarcely an hour old, flooded the darkness of my soul with a radiant light.

By becoming little and weak for love of me, He made me strong and full of courage, and with the arms He gave me, I went from one victory to another, and began to "run as a giant."

My tears were dried up at their source, and after that I hardly ever cried again.

I must tell you how the precious grace of this complete conversion was granted me.

When I got home to Les Buissonnets from Midnight Mass, I knew that I should find my shoes standing in the fireplace, filled with presents, as I had always done since I was little, so you can see I was still treated as a baby.

Father used to love to see how happy I was and hear my cries of delight as I took each surprise packet from my magic shoes, and his pleasure made me happier still. But the time had come for Jesus to cure me of my childishness; even the innocent joys of childhood were to go. He allowed Father to feel cross this year, instead of spoiling me, and as I was going upstairs I heard him saying, "Therese ought to have outgrown this sort of thing, and I hope this willbe the last time." This cut me to the quick, and Celine, who knew how very sensitive I was, whispered to me: "Don't come down again just yet; you'll only go and cry if you open your presents now in front of Father."

But I was not the same Therese any more; Jesus had changed me completely. I held back my tears and, trying to stop my heart beating so fast, I ran down into the dining room. I picked up the shoes and unwrapped my presents joyfully, looking all the while as happy as a queen. Father did not look cross any more now, and entered into the fun of it, while Celine thought she must have been dreaming. But this was no dream. Therese had got back for ever the strength of mind she had lost at four and a half.

That glorious night the third period of my life began, the lovelist of all, and the one in which I received the most graces. In one moment Jesus, content with good will on my part, accomplished what I had been trying to do for years.

I could have said what the Apostles said: "Master, we have labored all night and have taken nothing," but Jesus was evn more merciful to me than to them, for He took the net into His own hands, cast it into the water, and pulled it out full of fishes, making me too a fisher of men. Charity took possession of my heart making me forget myself, and I have been happy ever since. 

In an instant, her childish narcissism gave way to looking outside of herself. Now her desire to enter Carmel was becoming rooted in something real, a true love of God, a love she nurtured by studying Thomas à Kempis's "The Imitation of Christ." At around this time she also came to meditate on the wounds of Christ, which led her to realize her deepest vocation: to save souls. This desire brought her to pray for the soul of a notorious murderer, about which she wrote:

As I closed my Missal after Mass one Sunday, a picture of the Crucifixion slipped out a little way and I could just see one of the wounds in Our Lord's hands, with blood flowing from it. A strange new thrill passed over me. It pierced my heart with sorrow to see His Precious Blood falling, wiht no one bothering to catch it, and I made up my mind, there and then, to stay in the spirit at the foot of the Cross, to gather up the dew of heavenly life and give it to others.

The cry of Jesus as He died, "I thirst," echoed every moment in my soul, inflaming my heart with a burning love. I longed to satisfy His thirst for souls; I was consumed myself with this same thirst, and yearned to save them from the everlasting fires of Hell, no matter what the cost. Then Jesus stirred up my love even more by letting me see how pleased He was with these longings of mine. I had been hearing people talk about a notorious criminal called Pranzini, who had been condmened to death for several brutal murders, and as he was unrepentant it was thought he was going to lose his soul. I longed to save him from this final tragedy, but though I did use every spiritual means in my power, I knew that by myself there was nothing I could do to ransom him; ans so I offered for him Our Lord's infinite merits and all the treasures of the Church. Needless to say, deep down in my heart, I was sure he would be reprieved, but I wanted some encouragement to go on in my search for souls, so I said very simply: "My God, I am sure you are going to forgive this wretched Pranzini, and I have so much confidence in Your mercy that I shall go on being sure even though he does not go to confession, or show any sign at all of being sorry; but because he is my first sinner, please give my just one sign to let me know." He answered me to the letter. Father never used to let me read the papers, but I didn't think I was being disobedient when I rushed to La Croix the day after he was executed and turned to the bit about Pranzini. Guess what I found! I was so moved that tears came to my eyes and I had to rush out of the room. He had gone to the scaffold without confession or absolution, and was being led to the block by the executioner when he suddenly turned round. The priest had been holding out a crucifix to him, and as if moved by some inspiration, he had seized it and kissed the Sacred Wounds three times. This was my sign, and it touched me very much since it had been the sight of the blood flowing from one of these very wounds that had given my my thirst for souls. I had wanted to give them His Precious Blood to drink to wash their sins away, and here was my "first-born" pressing his lips to His wounds. What a wonderful answer! After this, my desire to save souls grew day by day.

St. Therese at age fifteen

With love of God and love of others in place, her desire to enter Carmel became a truly mature one. But she was still too young, a problem she tried to get around in a dramatic way: Therese and her father went on a pilgrimage to the holy sites of Italy in November of 1887 when she was fifteen years old. There they attended an audience with Pope Leo XIII and -- well, Therese herself tells the story:

Wearing a simple white cassock and a white cape, Leo XIII as sitting on a raised throne, surrounded by prelates and other dignitaries of the Church.

As was the custom, each pilgrim came forward in turn, knelt down and kissed the foot of the Supreme Pontiff, and then his hand, before receiving his blessing. Two of the Noble Guard then touched him on the shoulder as a sign to rise and pass on, giving place to the next one. No one uttered a word. I had made up my mind to speak, when Father Reverony, standing on the right of His Holiness, announced in a loud voice that he absolutely forbade anyone to speak to the Holy Father.

I turned a questioning gaze upon Celine, with my heart beating wildly. "Speak," she whispered. A moment later I was on my knees before him, and had kissed his slipper. He gave me his hand; then I raised my eyes, brimming with tears, to his, and began my appeal: "Most Holy Father, I want to ask you a great favor." He bent his head at once, his face almost touching mind, while his piercing black eyes seemed to be gazing into my soul. I began again: "Most Holy Father, in honor of your Jubille, let me enter Carmel at fifteen." The Vicar General of Bayeux was startled and far from pleased. "Your Holiness," he interrupted, "this is a child who wants to enter Carmel; the superiors are already going into the question."

"Very well, my child," said His Holiness, "do what the superiors decide." I clasped my hands and placed them on his knee, while I made a final effort. "Holy Father, if you said yes, everyone else would be willing." He gazed at me steadily, and said, stressing every syllable: "Well... Well... You will enter if it is God's will."

As I was about to say more, two of the Noble Guards signed to me to get up, and when they saw that that was not enough and that I stayed where I was with my clasped hands upon his knee, they pulled me up, with the help of Father Reverony. As they did so, the Holy Father gently touched my lips with his hand, then lifted it in blessing. His eyes followed me a long way.

Finally, on April 9, 1888, she was allowed entry into Carmel and began her postulancy; on September 8, 1890 she made her vows, becoming Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

St. Therese

She spent some of her time as a nun praying for souls and for priests, corresponding with priests, writing and putting on plays (she wrote two about St. Joan of Arc), and reading the works of St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite mystic. But she always felt incapable of attaining the lofty spiritual heights he had reached. Then she developed her own approach to God, her "Little Way" -- a path to holiness which she described as "the way of Spiritual Childhood, the way of trust and complete self-surrender." She wrote:

We live in the age of inventions now, and the wealthy no longer have to take the trouble to climb the stairs; they take a lift. That is what I must find, a lift to take me straight up to Jesus, because I am too little to climb the steep stairway of perfection.

So I searched the Scriptures for some hint of my desired lift until I came upon these words from the lips of Eternal Wisdom: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me." [Proverbs 9:4] I went close to God, feeling sure that I was on the right path, but as I wanted to know what He would do to a "little one" I continued my search. This is what I found: "You shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees; as one whom the mother caresseth, so I will comfort you." [Isaias 66:12-13 ] My heart had never been moved by such tender and consoling words before!

Your arms, My Jesus, are the lift which will take me up to Heaven. There is no need for me to grow up; on the contrary, I must stay little, and become more and more so.

The theme of "littleness" also explains how she came to be known as "the Little Flower." After pondering the Mystery of the different graces granted to different people, she wrote:

He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.

On Good Friday of 1896, she began coughing up blood, a sign of the tuberculosis which would kill her. During her illness, she was told to write her autobiography, which we know as "Story of a Soul." She languished about a year and a half, with the last few months of her life becoming absolutely torturous (for a moment, though, she rallied, famously enjoying a chocolate eclair before relapsing). But she bore her torments with complete equanimity and trust in God, never losing sight of her deepest vocation. She told her spiritual sisters, "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth!" and "After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses!"

She finally died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. Death found her gazing at a cruficix; her last words were "My God, I love You!"

St. Therese in death

She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925; on October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, naming her "the Doctor of Merciful Love." Her relics remain at her monastery in Lisieux, which, along with the great basilica built there in her honor, has become the second greatest site of pilgrimage in France, coming right after Lourdes. The house in which she grew up -- les Buissonnets -- remains as well and can be visited.

St. Therese is the patron saint of missions and florists, and can be recognized in art by the presence of a crucifix and an abundance of roses.

Her parents were canonized in 2015, the first couple ever to have been canonized together. The last of her sisters, Celine, entered Carmel after their father died.

All five of of the Martin sisters


Some Catholics may prepare for this Feast by praying the Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux starting on September 24 and ending on October 2, the eve of her Feast (note that her Feast is kept on October 1 in the Novus Ordo calendar, so Catholics following that calendar would begin the Novena on September 22). If you pray this novena, prepare to receive roses in some way after as many have throughout the years after praying to St. Therese! Actual roses, images of roses, the fragrance of roses -- there may well be some rose-based sign granted to you, letting you know that your prayers have been heard.

For her feast itself, the Litany of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, "The Little Flower" would be the perfect prayer.

The French singer Edith Piaf had a special devotion to the Little Flower, one that lasted all of her life. Her friend, Simone Berteaut, relates that

[s]hortly after her birth Edith developed a cataract. She was blind for almost three years. Her grandmother, Louise, took her to Lisieux. She saw. It was a real miracle for Edith. She always believed this. Since that time she had a real devotion to St Therese of the Child Jesus … [S]he always had a small picture of the saint on her bedside table.

Because of this miracle, the association of St. Therese with roses, and the story of St. Therese eating a chocolate eclair on her deathbed, a fine way of celebrating the day would be to sit at a table with a vase of roses as a centerpiece, play some Piaf, and enjoy an eclair. A bit of the great Piaf, and a recipe for that last:

Chocolate Eclairs
Makes 8 to 10 eclairs

2 cups milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 tsp vanilla
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

1 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, in pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs, plus 1 extra, if needed

Egg Wash:
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons water

Chocolate Glaze:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla bean (if you're using liquid vanila flavoring, wait to add it) to a boil over medium heat. Immediately turn off the heat and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the saucepan. Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter (now's the time to add any liquid vanilla flavoring you're using). Let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, add 3 eggs, 1 egg at a time. Stop mixing after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining 1 egg and mix until incorporated.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe fat lengths of dough (about the size and shape of a jumbo hot dog) onto the lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches of space between them. You should have 8 to 10 lengths.

Egg Wash:
In a bowl, whisk the egg and water together. Brush the surface of each eclair with the egg wash. Use your fingers to smooth out any bumps of points of dough that remain on the surface. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake until puffed up and light golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet. Fit a medium-size plain pastry tip over your index finger and use it to make a hole in the end of each eclair (or just use your fingertip). Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium-size plain tip, gently pipe the custard into the eclairs, using only just enough to fill the inside (don't stuff them full).

In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until it boils. Immediately turn off the heat. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Set aside and keep warm. The glaze can be made up to 48 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, and rewarm in a microwave or over hot water when ready to use.
Dip the tops of the eclairs in the warm chocolate glaze and set on a sheet pan. Chill, uncovered, at least 1 hour to set the glaze. Serve chilled. (Recipe adapted from the Food Network)

Another fun thing to do today is to help your children make paper roses.

Finally, you may enjoy watching the 1986 movie "Therese" directed by Alain Cavalier.

Learn more about St. Therese and her "Little Way" by reading her autobiography "The Story of a Soul" (pdf), available in this site's Catholic library. There you'll also find Thomas à Kempis's "Imitation of Christ" (pdf) and the Complete Works of St. John of the Cross (pdf) which inspired St. Therese to holiness.

See also:


Homily of Pope Pius XI at the Canonization of St. Therese
17 May 1925

Blessed be God and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies, and God of all consolation; who in the midst of the countless cares of our apostolic ministry, has granted Us the joy of inscribing as our first Saint in the calendar the Virgin who was also the first to be beatified by Us, at the beginning of our Pontificate. This maiden became a child in the order of grace, but her spirit of childhood was united to such greatness of soul that, in accordance with the promises of Christ, she merited to be glorified before the Church upon earth, as well as in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

We give thanks to God likewise for permitting Us, who hold the place of His Only Son, to repeat insistently today from this chair of Truth and during this solemn ceremony the salutary teaching of the Divine Master. When the disciples asked: "Who will be the greater in the Kingdom of Heave?" calling a child and setting him in their midst, He pronounced these memorable words: "Amen, I say to you, unless ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." (Mat 18:2)

The new St. Therese had learned thoroughly this teaching of the Gospels and had translated it into her daily life. Moreover she taught the way of spiritual childhood by word and example to the novices of her monastery. She set it forth clearly in all her writings, which have gone to the ends of the world, and which assuredly no one has read without being charmed thereby, or without reading them again and again with great pleasure and much profit. For this simple child, this flower that blossomed in the walled garden of Carmel, not content with adding to Thérèse the name of the "Child Jesus," retraced in herself His living image, so that it may be said that whosoever honors Thérèse honors the Divine Model she reproduced.

Therefore We nurse the hope today of seeing springing up in the souls of the faithful of Christ a burning desire of leading a life of spiritual childhood. That spirit consists in thinking and acting, under the influence of virtue, as a child feels and acts in the natural order. Little children are not blinded by sin, or disturbed by the passions, and they enjoy in peace the possession of their innocence. Guiltless of malice or pretense, they speak and act as they think, so that they show themselves as they really are. Thus Therese appeared more angelic than human in her practice of truth and justice, endowed as she was with the simplicity of a child. The Maid of Lisieux had ever in memory the invitation and the promises of her Spouse: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me." (Prov. 9:4) "You shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you; as one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you." (Is. 64:12-13)

Conscious of her weakness she abandoned herself entirely to God, and leaning upon Him she labored to acquire -- at the cost of every sacrifice, and of an utter yet joyous abdication of her own will -- the perfection she arrived at. We need not be surprised if in Thérèse was accomplished the word of Christ: "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven." (Mat 18:4) In her catechism lessons she drank in the pure doctrine of Faith, from the golden book of The Imitation of Christ she learned asceticism, in the writings of St. John of the Cross she found her mystical theology. Above all, she nourished heart and soul with the inspired Word of God on which she meditated assiduously, and the Spirit of Truth taught her what He hides as a rule from the wise and prudent and reveals to the humble. Indeed, God enriched her with a quite exceptional wisdom, so that she was enabled to trace out for others a sure way of salvation.

That superabundant share of divine light and grace enkindled in Thérèse so ardent a flame of love, that she lived by it alone, rising above all created things, till in the end it consumed her; so much so that shortly before her death she could candidly avow she had never given God anything but Love.

Evidently it was under the influence of that burning charity that the Maid of Lisieux took the resolution of doing all things for love of Jesus, with the sole object of pleasing Him, of consoling His Divine Heart, and of saving a multitude of souls who would love Him eternally. We have proof that on entering into Paradise she began at once, there also, this work among souls, when we see the mystical shower of roses which God permitted her, and still permits her to let fall upon earth, as she had ingenuously foretold.

Therefore do We desire earnestly that all the Faithful of Christ should render themselves worthy of partaking in the abundant profusion of graces resulting from the intercession of "little Therese." But We desire much more earnestly that all the faithful should study her in order to copy her, becoming children themselves, since otherwise they cannot, according to the oracle of the Master, arrive at the Kingdom of Heaven.

If the way of spiritual childhood became general, who does not see how easily would be realized the reformation of human society which We set ourselves to accomplish at the commencement of our Pontificate, and more especially in the promulgation of this Jubilee. We, therefore, adopt as our own the prayer of the new St. Therese with which she ends her invaluable autobiography: "O Jesus, we beseech Thee to cast Thy glance upon the vast number of little souls, and to choose in this world a legion of little victims worthy of Thy love." Amen.


1 To pronounce her name correctly, have in mind the sound the "oo" makes in the words "book" or "look" and use that sound when you see "oo" here: "tay-rez doo leez-yoo." It is not "tuh-reese dee li-zoo."

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