This flower still blooms
By Fr. Sean Coyle, SSC
Henri Pranzini was a notorious criminal who was sentenced to death in France on July 13, 1887, four days after his trial opened. At the time Therese Martin was 14. Her father Louis, a watchmaker, was a widower. His wife, Zelie Guerin, had died ten years before. Louis did not allow his children to read the newspapers, even though he subscribed to La Croix, the Catholic daily which is still published in Paris. However, Therese had heard about Pranzani because the whole of France was talking about him, even I those pre-radio, pre-TV days. Everything she had heard pointed to his not having repented. She decided that she would pray in a special way for him. And she asked God for a sign.
God granted this sign. Therese read in the paper, judging that under the circumstances she was not being disobedient, that just before he placed his head under the guillotine Henri Pranzini “took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times!” then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinners who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance as the saint wrote in her autobiography Story of a Soul.
Therese’s response to the situation of Pranzini was one of concern for his eternal salvation. She felt that alone she could do nothing and so, “I offered to God all tie infinite merits of Our Lord, the treasures of the Church, and, and I finally begged Celine to have a Mass offered for my intentions.” Therese was afraid that Celine, her older sister would laugh at her if she knew what this intention was but when she discovered it “she asked if she could help my sinner.” Therese also asked God for a sign that her prayer had been heard. She was absolutely sure that God “would pardon the poor, unfortunate Pranzini...even if he went to his death without any signs of repentance or without having gone to confession,” She begged God for “for a ‘sign’ of repentance only for my own simple consolation.” And she did received a ‘sign’.
Through this incident Therese, who was to enter Carmel with special permission at the age of 15, began to live one part of the mission for Carmelite nuns which is to pray for sinners. Another part of that mission, which Therese also began to live, was to pray for priests.
The insight of the young Therese into the mercy of God was something that she lived by until her death ten years later as a Carmelite nun in Lisieux, the place with which she is now eternally associated. The prevailing image of god at the time was that of a stern judge, not that of a loving, merciful Father.
St. Therese, canonized in 1925, has captured in an extraordinary way the imagination and devotion of Catholics throughout the world. She has left us with her “Little Way” of following Jesus, a way in which she saw herself being at the heart of the Church, at the total disposition of Jesus. She was sure that her daily humdrum activities were used by God to bring life to others. She “understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget herself.”
Therese lived this out, with much suffering, in a Carmelite monastery. Her “Little Way” is a key to the Gospel for everyone, especially those who live “unexciting” Lives. After her death one of her companions asked, “What can we write about her?” little did this nun realize that Therese would be declared a saint less than thirty years later. In 1927 Pope Pius XI declared St. Therese co-patroness of the missions along with Francis Xavier
Therese is a saint whom the young, the sick, the “unimportant” those with loved ones in jail. Parents who find it painful to allow their sons and daughters to enter religious life, those with family members suffering from mental illness, can claim as one of themselves. She is a person now in the eternal presence of a loving God whom all missionaries, all with physical and mental illnesses, and sinners, especially those condemned by society, can claim as a friend.
‘She was sure that her daily humdrum activities were used by God to bring life to others.’