Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Seeing the Little Flower in a new light

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 1, 2021

As a child I concluded there was no way I’d ever become a saint. After all, the martyrs were eaten by lions, while I had trouble refraining from eating pepperoni pizza on Fridays. The missionaries courageously traveled to distant lands, while I refused to leave my mother’s side for summer camp.

One popular saint among my classmates was Thérèse of Lisieux, who had entered a cloistered convent in I888, when she was 15, and died of tuberculosis nine years later. Her Little Way was based on Jesus’ words, “Unless you change and become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” For her, littleness meant being humble, making small acts of love and trusting in God as her father.

I didn’t think I could live up to her standards. For one, she was depicted smiling angelically, while my somber expression brought to mind someone whose parakeet had just died. Also, Thérèse had been a pious child, who actually knelt before the pope to get permission to enter the convent at such a young age. By contrast, when I was 15, I was bringing home report cards containing unfortunate comments about my conduct.

Problem was, I found many things funny that the teachers didn’t, like the time when an elderly nun delivered a squeaky solo in front of the class. I tried hard to stem the tidal wave of laughter by thinking about death and diseases, but laughter prevailed—and I was banished from the room.

As an adult, I saw Thérèse in a new light, when I realized portraits of the smiling girl bedecked with flowers didn’t do her justice. I was delighted to learn, for example, that she also thought saints sometimes were presented in such a pious fashion it was hard to relate to them.

In “Story of a Soul,” her autobiography, she admitted she wasn’t keen on sermons that  portrayed the Virgin Mary as vastly different from ordinary people. She said, “They raise her as much beyond our love as beyond our imitation.”

I also realized that Thérèse’s Little Way, which involved making small sacrifices to God, could have helped me when I was 15. In her book, she writes about an elderly nun, who sat behind her in the chapel and produced clicking noises, probably with her false teeth.

Thérèse’s efforts to block out the sound drenched her in perspiration. Finally, she decided to give her discomfort to the Lord, so with great effort, she concentrated on the noise as if it were a magnificent concert. She wrote that her “entire meditation was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.”

I love Thérèse because her feet were firmly planted in reality, where weeds sometimes threaten to overcome flowers. I experienced my parents’ death in my 20s, then a cancer diagnosis, then my husband’s death. And despite her serene smile, Thérèse was no stranger to suffering.

When she was 4, she lost her mother to breast cancer, and later wrote: “My happy disposition changed completely.” Another bitter blow was her father’s paralysis after a stroke, and his death when she was 21. She wrote there were no words to explain how much she loved him.

In the convent, Thérèse struggled with spiritual darkness. One day, when she was praying, she heard a voice whispering: “Heaven, for which you have been striving so feverishly all your life, does not exist.” In a fervent response, she re-committed herself to her faith by writing down the Apostles’ Creed, using her own blood instead of ink.

Stricken by tuberculosis, she endured months of excruciating pain, unquenchable thirst and breathing difficulties before her death. She refused to take morphine, however, because she was offering her suffering to God as a prayer for sinners.

I’m a huge fan of flowers and delight in arranging them in a vase to take to church. Sometimes the bigger and brighter flowers start wilting before the ones that are small and unassuming. That reminds me of Thérèse, who was a humble woman with courage and great staying power. Frankly, I don’t think she would have flinched before the lions.

Artwork “In Her Father’s Garden” is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. Her email address is