Thérèse of Lisieux was raised in a devout Catholic home by two parents who had wished to join the monastic life themselves but instead raised their five daughters to do so. Their home was an oasis of spirituality, separate from the secular world of nineteenth century France. Daily mass and religious discussions led Therese, through deep prayer, to discover her true calling in the church, "To be love."
The cloister-like environment of her home produced many deep discussions that revealed profound religious insights. Once she asked her sister Pauline about fairness in heaven: "Is glory distributed evenly or do the spiritual giants get more?" Therese recalled:
You sent me off to fetch one of Father's big glasses and had me put my little thimble by the side of it: then you filled them both up with water and asked me which I thought was the fuller. I had to admit that one was just as full as the other because neither of them would hold any more. That was the way you helped me to grasp how it was that in Heaven the least have no cause to envy the greatest. (Martin 2006, 45)
She suffered a great deal in her life, first by being separated from her mother and family at birth, her mother's death when she was four, leaving her home to move to Lisieux, the loss of her "second mother" at nine when her sister, Marie, entered the convent, later her father's strokes and death, and her own extreme physical suffering in the austere convent and finally through the tuberculosis which caused her early death.
Yet through all her suffering she perceived deep wisdom about her purpose in life, as loving service to Christ and her writings encouraged others who came to understand her "Little Way" to do the same. Her popularity was a result of the beautiful simplicity of her dedication and joy in serving Christ.
Unificationists can admire her joyous dedication and deep love of God and Christ. Although Unificationists do not advocate living separately from the world, Thérèse of Lisieux was called by God to be an example to guide others in the simple love which was revealed to her at such a young age. The simplicity and enthusiasm of her legacy speaks to everyone, even non-Catholics, in the search for authentic spirituality. She stands exemplary with other women mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, and Teresa of Avila. All who suffered, many from illness and personal sorrow, proved victorious because of their complete dedication, surrender and connection to God.
Therese was designated a Doctor of the Church
by Pope Paul II even though her education was minimal, because she captured the essence of living and loving God in such a universal and simple way. Each of us can learn from her insights and example.