Of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face

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Most people know her as the “Little Flower”, which is a name by which St. Therese refers to herself in her autobiography Story of a Soul.  Many know her as St. Therese of the Child Jesus due to her devotion to the Child Jesus since her own childhood.  Fewer people know her by her full religious name St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.  After the “Little Flower” was transplanted into the Carmel she was introduced by her older sister Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus) to the devotion to the Holy Face.

In order to more fully understand St. Therese and her ‘little way of spiritual childhood’ we should strive to understand her special devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.  Her devotion to the Holy Face was so central to the spirituality of St. Therese that Mother Agnes gave the following  testimony during Therese’s beatification process:  “Devotion to the Holy Face was the Servant of God’s special attraction.  As tender as was her devotion to the Child Jesus, it cannot be compared to her devotion to the Holy Face.” (Her Last Conversations trans. John Clarke pg 13)

The Little Way of Spiritual Childhood

The ‘little way’ can be understood as striving to do all things with great love, even the smallest and most common actions.  One need not be worried about seeking out extravagant ways to manifest love for God; rather, one simply needs to focus on faithfully and lovingly carrying out that which pertains to your vocation today. Sanctity is lived out in the moment and in the small and common actions of our day when they are done with love.  She writes “Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed.  I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.”  (Story of A Soul, Therese of Lisieux, Trans. John Clarke pg. 196)

St. Therese often uses the word ‘little’ in her letters and autobiography.  At face value it seems that her use of ‘little’ is just due to her playfulness and even perhaps childishness; for example when she referred to herself as the little ball of little Jesus.  However, this was not simply childish speech but rather her expression of being entirely submissive to the Lord’s will, and allowing herself to be treated as He pleased.  She was joyful to be a little ball that was tossed aside, not played with, and even punctured by suffering.  The ‘little way’ is not easy, it requires discipline, union to God’s divine will, humility, confidence in God, and above all love.

The Holy Face

In addition to striving to offer every possible sacrifice for the Lord Jesus, she also desired to be identified with Him in His suffering and humiliation during His passion.  Her devotion to the Holy Face centered upon the Old Testament passage from the prophet Isaiah “ . . .he had no form of comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men. . .” (Is 53: 2,3 RSV)

She rejoiced when she was able to suffer from being misunderstood and unjustly humiliated.   The greatest trial was when her father became very mentally sick and the blame was thrown upon Therese and her sisters for all having left him in order to enter the religious life.  Although they suffered greatly along with their father, Therese was able to rejoice in their blessedness of being so humiliated.  She especially desired to bring consolation and love to the heart of Jesus through this loving identification with the rejected and misunderstood Suffering Servant.  He receives so much coldness and bitterness from those who are indifferent to Him and reject His love; therefore, she exhorted others to be burning with love for Him in order to bring warmth and consolation to Him.

Follow the example of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face!

1)  Infuse great love into the duties of your daily life, such as cleaning a dish, giving another preference in a line, being patient with someone who desires to talk, or assisting another in a small task.

2)  Live and love as Christ has shown us; even if others misunderstand you, misunderstand your intentions, or reject you because of Him.  Rejoice!  For when rejected and misunderstood on account of love for Christ you are more closely united to His passion, and you bring consolation to His heart.

 
Fr. Matthew Coonan

About Fr. Matthew Coonan

Father Matthew is the Parochial Vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Elkhart, IN. He also serves as the Associate Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Fort Wayne - South Bend.