Please look past the pink ribbon, the sweet-faced young Blessed on the medallion, and the whole roses thing. St. Thérèse of Lisieux is much more than that. St. Thérèse has been adored by girls everywhere (young and not so young), but it is a shame to keep her memory confined in pink ribbons, saccharine statuary and paper roses. Full disclosure: pink is my favorite color, I am overly fond of sweet vintage religious statuary, and “Tea Rose” is my favorite perfume. I have a pink shelf in my bedroom with a statue of The Little Flower next to a “shabby chic” vase of pink roses. And there is an antique plaster medallion over my desk at work.
How much would we lose out on if we let our devotion to St. Thérèse be limited to her girlish appeal? If what she can teach to those of us of any gender or age would be obscured by the frilly packaging? She is no pastel saint; no patroness of the Hello Kitty fan club. Her truth is the dynamic contradiction found in this Doctor of the Church. She is demure yet fierce, simple yet profound, minimally schooled yet possessing great knowledge, little yet huge.
The more I have learned about St. Thérèse, the more I have gone beyond the popular and most appealing imagery. As someone from a family afflicted by misophonia, I find inspiration in the way St. Thérèse offered up her irritation at the annoying, fidgety noises of one of her sisters. Misophonia, which Wikipedia so benignly defines as “selective sound sensitivity,” is a definition that does not describe the torture of the simplest sounds, such as the sound of a loved one’s chewing cereal. Misophonia is an endless opportunity for sacrifice. Crunchy vegetables, Doritos, cracking knuckles, radio static . . . endless.
Like millions of believers, I have been intrigued by her promise of letting “fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.” And, yes, there have been roses. But there has also been the consolation in knowing that she faced her own time of spiritual darkness: “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into.”
“My mission is to make God loved…” Therein is the ongoing, big mission of the Little Flower. Anonymous and cloistered, she did her part to evangelize the world. Her vocation when she entered the Carmel of Lisieux was “to save souls, and especially to pray for priests.” She became patroness of the missions, through prayer and correspondence with priests, which is as close as she came to having served in the mission field. Writing her own story only under the command of her superior, she gave us her Little Way — a way available to all. In these seemingly small ways she went about her mission.
“I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that Love comprised all vocations, that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and places … in a word, that it was eternal! … O Jesus, my Love … my vocation, at last I have found it … My vocation is Love!” That is the inspiration I seek as I keep St. Thérèse before me at home and at work. To have a vocation that is so large, yet can be served in the littlest of ways. This is too large and too powerful to be kept hidden under pink ribbons and treacle-y piety.