St. Therese knew the world of suffering. She lost her mother when she was only four and a half; she had terrible experience at grammar school because she was picked on by the other students. Some of the older students were jealous of her abilities. She lost her second mother, her older sister Pauline, when Pauline entered Carmel. So, Therese went through a period of depression and then several years of extreme sensitivity. Therese lived in a day when Freud was just getting started and the supportive environment that counseling can provide did not exist. Therese did believe in Gods love for her and reports in her autobiography that on Christmas Eve, 1886, she was cured of her hypersensitivity. After receiving communion and during her thanksgiving she felt charity enter my soul. The simple fact is that her life did change. She was able to move away from excessive self-preoccupation and begin to accept others into her life and to become interested in the lives of other people. In fact, she understood that humility was a virtue whereby a person could center on other people and recognize the gift that other people are in ones life.
St. Therese suffered in particular from tuberculosis. In fact, it was the very illness that claimed her life. She spent over a year in the gradual erosion of her bodily life. In the very process she was also assailed by severe temptations to doubt her faith, especially the existence of heaven. She described a sense of separation from God in terms of a total lack of consolation. She fought the temptation to despair and made frequent acts of faith in Jesus Christ and Gods love for her. St. Therese wrote: while I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least. I believe that I have made more acts of faith in this past year than all through my whole life.
In suffering Therese always united her heart to Jesus Christ. She believed that even suffering, however difficult, had a place in Gods redemptive love for us. She was convinced that our suffering, in union with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, could help to transform the world. What is the greatest truth of all may not be the most obvious. There is a hiddenness to the wisdom of God that catches fire in hearts and events and places and over time ever so gradually consumes the earth in love!
Rev. John F. Russell, O.Carm.