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from issue no. 08 - 2007

The Little Way

Ten years on from the proclamation of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Countenance as Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II

Conseils et souvenirs by Céline Martin, one of the four sisters of Little Teresa

On Sunday 19 October 1997, Pope John Paul II – after announcing it on 27 August in Paris, during the XII Youth Day – proclaimed Saint Teresa of Lisieux (born in Alençon 2 January 1873 and dying only twenty-four years old in Lisieux on 30 September 1897) Doctor of the Universal Church. By that title, the Pope explained, «the Magisterium means to indicate to all the faithful, and in a special way to those who perform in the Church the fundamental service of preaching or performance of the delicate task of research and theological instruction, that the doctrine professed and proclaimed by a certain person can be a point of reference, not only because in conformity with the revealed truth, but also because it throws light on the mysteries of faith, brings a deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ».
«Among the “Doctors of the Church” Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Countenance is the youngest», the Pope also said. Of a total of thirty-three Doctors, Teresa of Lisieux is the third woman to whom this title has been granted after Paul VI proclaimed Saint Teresa of Avila (Avila, 28 March 1515 – Alba de Tormes, 4 October 1582) and Saint Catherine of Siena (Siena, 25 March 1347 – Rome, 29 April 1380) Doctors of the Church in 1970.
In the twenty-seven years of his pontificate, John Paul II proclaimed only Teresa of Lisieux Doctor of the Church.
Ten years after that act of the Magisterium of Pope John Paul II, we publish here a chapter from a collection of writings by Céline Martin (1869-1959), one of the four sisters of Saint Teresa. Céline, who entered the Carmel of Lisieux in 1894 taking the name of Sister Genevieve of the Holy Countenance, in 1951 edited notes from her personal diary – written up in part when Teresa was still alive – and from the depositions prepared in view of the canonization and beatification processes. The chapter we publish is entitled “Spirit of childhood” and taken whole from the book Consigli e ricordi [Counsels and memories – the English translation is ours] (Città Nuova, Rome 1973, pp. 47-59).

Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus

Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus

At the process, when the promoter of the faith asked why I wanted the beatification of Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, I answered that it was only in order to make known the “little way”. It was thus that Teresa called her spirituality, her way of going to God.
He replied: «If you speak of “the way” the cause will inevitably fail, as has already happened in various analogous circumstances».
«So much the worse», I responded, «the fear of losing the cause of Sister Teresa, will certainly not prevent me from making the most of the one point that interests me: to have the “little way” canonized in some way».
I persevered and the cause did not founder. Because of that I felt more joy when Benedict XV exalted in his speech the “spiritual childhood”, than during the beatification and the canonization of our saint. My purpose was achieved on that day, 14 August 1921.
On the other hand the Summarium recorded this answer that I gave regarding «supernatural gifts»:
«They were very rare in the life of the servant of God. For myself, I would prefer that she not be beatified rather than present her profile different from what I believe it in true conscience to be... Her life had to be simple in order to serve as model for the “little souls”»1.
It is incontestable that at every meeting our beloved teacher indicated to us her “little way”.
«In order to walk», she asserted, «it is necessary to be humble, poor of spirit and simple”.
Certainly, had she known it, she would have enjoyed this prayer of Bossuet’s2: «Great God... never let it be that some spirits, of whom some are numbered among the learned, others among spiritual people, be accused at your terrible tribunal of having contributed in any way to closing access to you in I don’t know how many hearts, because you wanted to enter in a way whose mere simplicity grated on them, and through a door which, even though opened by saints from the earliest centuries of the Church, was not, perhaps, still well enough known to them; make it rather that, all becoming small as little children, as Jesus Christ commands, we may enter once and for all through this small door, in order then to be able to show it to others with more certainty and more effectiveness. So be it».
Nothing strange if in his last hour, this great man pronounced these moving words: «If I could begin to live all over again, I wouldn’t want to be anything other than a small child who always gives his hand to the Child Jesus».
Teresa, by the light revealed to the little, knew magnificently how to find this door to salvation and to indicate it to others. Had not the divine and human wisdom perhaps indicated «true greatness of spirit» in this spirit of childhood?
Thus these great Chinese philosophers have enshrined it in convincing definitions:
«Mature virtue makes landfall in the state of childhood» (Lao Tse, VII cent. B.C.).
«The great man is he who has not lost his child’s heart» (Meng Tse, IV cent. B.C.)3.
And again: «To know mature virtue means always to progress on the path of goodness and to return to childhood» (Tao Ta-Ching)4.
For our Saint, this “little way” consisted practically in humility, as I have already said. But it still translated itself through a highly emphasized spirit of childhood.
Teresa at eight years old with her sister Céline in a photo of 1881

Teresa at eight years old with her sister Céline in a photo of 1881

So Teresa greatly loved to engage me with these words that came from the Gospel: «Allow the little children to come to me, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven... their angels see the face of my Heavenly Father continuously... Anyone who becomes as small as a little child will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven... Jesus embraced the children after having blessed them»5.
She had copied them on the back of a picture on which there were the photographs of our four brothers and sisters departed for Heaven at a tender age. She made a gift of it to me, keeping a similar one for herself in her breviary. The photos are now, in part, faded by time.
Underneath these Gospel texts, she had added others, taken from the Sacred Scripture, that overwhelmed her with joy and always in relation to the spirit of childhood: «Blessed are those that God considers just without works, compared to those who perform works, because the reward is not considered as a grace by these latter, but as something due to them... It is therefore gratuitously that those who do not perform works are justified by grace in virtue of the redemption operated by Jesus Christ».
«The Lord will lead his flock to pasture. He will gather the little lambs and will take them on his lap»6.
On the back of another large picture, she had again written down quotations from Scripture, some of which repeated the previous ones. But it is interesting to see how far they explain her way.
She also loved and in a very particular way a sculpture representing a child seated on the knees of Our Lord who strains to reach up to the divine countenance to kiss it. I showed her a “memento” with the photo of a young girl who died at a tender age; she put her finger on the face of the child saying with tenderness and contentment: «They are all under my protection!» as if she had already foreseen the title attributed to her of “Queen of the little ones”.
Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus was tall: she stood a meter and sixty-two centimeters; Mother Agnes of Jesus instead was much smaller. One day I said to her: «If you had been given the possibility of choosing, would you have preferred to be tall or small?».
Without hesitation she answered: «I would have chosen to be small in stature so as to be small in everything».
The Church has always seen in Teresa of the Child Jesus the Saint of spiritual childhood. The testimonies of the popes are numerous in this regard. I will limit myself to citing two of His Holiness Pius XII; the first when he was legate a latere of Pius XI, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Basilica of Lisieux, 11 July 1937; and the other 17 years later: «Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus has a mission and a doctrine. But her doctrine, like her whole person, is humble and simple; it is encapsulated in two words: spiritual childhood, or in the other two equivalent ones: little way».
«It is the Gospel itself, it is the heart of the Gospel that she rediscovered; but with what grace and freshness: “If you do not become like children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”(Mt 18, 3) »7.

Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus (second row from the bottom, on the right) and Sister Genevieve of the Holy Countenance (first row from the bottom, on the left) in a group photo taken on Easter Monday, 15 April 1895

Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus (second row from the bottom, on the right) and Sister Genevieve of the Holy Countenance (first row from the bottom, on the left) in a group photo taken on Easter Monday, 15 April 1895

Devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation and the Crib
Every year she celebrated with the greatest devotion the 25th of March because, she said: «This is the day on which Jesus, in the womb of Mary, was the smallest».
But she particularly loved the mystery of the Crib. It was here that the Child Jesus revealed all his secrets about simplicity and abandonment to her.
Contrary to the heretical Marcion who said with disparagement: «Remove from my sight these diapers and this manger, unworthy of a God!», Teresa was in love with the stooping of Our Lord, who made himself so small for love of us.
On Christmas cards that she herself painted, she wrote with pleasure this phrase of Saint Bernard’s: «Jesus, who made you so small? Love!».
The name of Teresa of the Child Jesus, that she made her own from the age of nine, when she manifested her desire to become a Carmelite, always remained relevant for her and she strove to merit it constantly. Later under an image of the Child Jesus, she wrote this phrase: «O little Child, my only treasure, I abandon myself to your divine whims, I don’t want to have other joy than that of making you smile. Impress on me your graces and your infant virtues, so that on the day of my birth in Heaven, the angels recognize in your small spouse: Teresa of the Child Jesus».
These childlike virtues, to which Teresa aspired, had fascinated the austere Saint Jerome before her and he is not accused of childishness because of that.

Thieves of Heaven
«My protectors and my favorites in Heaven are those that stole it, like the Holy Innocents and the Good Thief».
«The great saints earned it by their works: I want to imitate the thieves, I want to have it by guile, but the guile of love that will open its door, to me and poor sinners. The Holy Spirit seems to encourage me when he says in Proverbs: “O little one! Come, learn prudence from me”»8.

The dwelling of the little
I spoke to her about the mortifications of the saints and she answered me: «What a good thing the Lord did in reminding us that there are many dwellings in His Father’s house9! If it were not so He would have told us...».
“Yes, if all the souls called to perfection had had to practice such penances, in order to enter into Heaven, He would have told us so and we would have imposed them on ourselves with great seriousness. But he makes us aware that “there are many dwellings in his house”. And if there is that for the great souls, that for the desert fathers and the martyrs of penance, there must also be that for children there.
«Our place is safe there, if we love Him very much, Jesus with the Heavenly Father and the Spirit of Love».
Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus was, as one sees, a very simple spirit, who made herself holy by ordinary means.
One understands from this that a multiplicity of extraordinary gifts in her life would have been contrary to what she said was God’s design for her. Her life had to be able to serve as a model for little souls.

The little do not damn themselves
«What would you do» I said to her «if you were given the possibility of recommencing your religious life?».
«I think», she answered, «that I would redo what I have done».
«You do not share then the feeling of that hermit who asserted: “Even when I have lived many years in penance, as long as a quarter of an hour remains to me, a breath of life, will I be afraid of damning myself ?”».
«No, I cannot share that fear, I am too small to damn myself; children do not damn themselves».

Picture painted by Teresa in 1892 
and given to Céline

Picture painted by Teresa in 1892 and given to Céline

Passing underneath the horse
Very discouraged and with a heart that beat strongly within me because of a battle that seemed insuperable to me, I ran to her saying: «This time it’s impossible, I can’t do it!». «That astonishes me», she answered; «we are too little to overcome difficulties; we need to pass underneath them». And it reminded me of an episode from our childhood; this is it: we found ourselves in the house of neighbors in Alençon; a horse blocked the entrance of the garden to us. While the bigger people sought another entrance, one of our companions10 found it very easy to pass underneath the horse. She went first and held out her hand to me; I followed bringing Teresa behind me and, without bending our backs too much, we passed to the other side.
And she concluded: «Here is what we gain by being little. For the little obstacles do not exist, they slip by everywhere. The great souls can pass over the events, get round difficulties, succeed, through reasoning or virtue, to put themselves above everything, but we who are so little, must guard against attempting a similar enterprise. We pass underneath! To pass underneath events means not giving them too much importance nor reasoning about them»11.

Directing intentions
During her illness she accepted the most repugnant medicines and the most painful treatment with an unalterable patience, even while maintaining that this was useless; she never manifested outwardly the effort that this involved. She confided to me that she had offered up to God all this useless treatment for that missionary who did not have either the time or the means to look after himself, asking that all be of benefit to him...
Since I showed her my regret about not having such thoughts she answered: «This explicit intention is not necessary for a soul that has given itself completely to God. The child takes the milk from the breast of the mother mechanically so to speak and without foreseeing the usefulness of its action and in any case lives and develops, without moreover this being in its intention». And she added: «A painter who works for his employer does not need to repeat at every stroke of the brush: “This is for Mr. So and So, this is for Mr. So and So...”; enough that he sets himself to the job with the will to work for his employer».
«It’s a good thing to recollect ourselves often and give a direction to our intentions, but without excessive spiritual constraint. God intuits the fine thoughts and the ingenious intentions that we’d like to have. He is the Father and we are His children».

«Jesus cannot be sad for our convenience».
I said to her: «It is necessary that I work, otherwise Jesus will be sad... ».
«Oh no, it’s you that will be sad. He cannot be sad for our convenience 12. But for us, what pain not to be able to give Him all that we can!».

To be holy without becoming great...
In order to be deeply humble, Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus «felt herself incapable of following the hard path of perfection», and strove rather to become ever more little, so that God would take care of her things completely, and take her in His arms, as happens in families with the smaller children. She wanted to be holy but without becoming great, since, as the small transgressions of children do not make parents angry, so the imperfections of humble souls cannot seriously offend the good God, and the errors will not be imputed to them as blame, according to the words of Scripture: «The little are forgiven out of of pity»13. Consequently she was very careful not to want to feel herself perfect or that others should consider her such, because she would grow up and God would let her walk alone.
«Children do not work in order to create a position for themselves», she said; «if they are smart they do so in order to make their parents happy. In the same way it is not necessary to work in order to become holy, but in order to please God».

The sacristans of the Carmel of Lisieux in a photo of November 1896

The sacristans of the Carmel of Lisieux in a photo of November 1896

How to kiss one’s own Crucifix
During her illness, having made a mistake and for which I was deeply sorry she said to me: «Now kiss your crucifix». I kissed its feet.
«Is it there that a child kisses its father? Go on, go on, you kiss the face!». I kissed it. She added: «And now let yourself be kissed by him». I had to rest the crucifix on my cheek. Teresa then concluded: «That’s all right now; now all is forgotten!».

The reward of the little
«Our Lord once answered the mother of the sons of Zebedee: “To sit at my right hand and at my left is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father”»14.
«I imagine that those chosen places, denied to great saints, to great martyrs, will go to the little ones... Did David perhaps not foretell it, when he said that the little Benjamin would preside over the assemblies (of the saints)?»15.
She was asked by what name we would have to pray to her when she was in Heaven. «You will call me Little Teresa», she answered humbly.


1 Par. 2341, p. 799.
2 Bossuet, the end of his pamphlet on Manière courte et facile pour faire oraison.
3 Quoted by John Wu Ching-Hioung, former Minister of China to the Holy See, in the pamphlet Dom Lou. Sa vie spirituelle; un grand témoignage, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris-Tournai 1949, p. 41.
4 John Wu Ching-Hioung, La science de l’amour, p. 29.
5 The references: Mt 19, 14; Mk 10, 14; Lk 18, 16; Mt 18, 10 and 4; Mk 10, 16.
6 Here the complete references for the two texts: Rm 4, 4-6; Is 40, 11.
7 Message of 11 July 1954 during the solemn consecration of the Basilica of Lisieux.
8 Pr 1, 4.
9 Jn 14, 2.
10 Teresa Lehoux, approximately seven years old, the same age as Céline.
11 The Saint addressed these words to the novices whom she advised not to waste time analyzing difficulties uselessly.
12 By «our convenience», Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus intended to refer to the spirit of childhood. Jesus cannot be saddened by involuntary mistakes, due to the weaknesses and the fragility of the humble and loving spirits, who abandon themselves to Him.
13 Ws 6, 6.
14 Mt 20, 23; Mk 10, 40.
15 Ps 67, 28.

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