Therese Martin was a stubborn and childish little girl. Her mother Zelie was terribly worried about her and her future. She wrote in a letter, “As for [Therese], one cannot tell how she will turn out, she is so young and heedless … her stubbornness is almost unconquerable. When she has said no, nothing will make her change; one could leave her all day in the cellar without getting her to say yes. She would sooner sleep there.”
Something had to change. If it didn’t, God only knows what would have happened.
Therese sets the scene of a life-changing event that occurred on Christmas Eve 1886 in her autobiography, Story of a Soul. She was 13 years old and up to this point had stubbornly hung on to the Christmas traditions of a child.
When I got home to Les Buissonnets from Midnight Mass, I knew that I should find my shoes standing at the fireplace, filled with presents, as I had always done since I was little, so you can see I was still treated as a baby.Father used to love to see how happy I was and hear my cries of delight as I took each surprise packet from my magic shoes, and his pleasure made me happier still. But the time had come for Jesus to cure me of my childishness; even the innocent joys of childhood were to go. He allowed Father to feel cross this year, instead of spoiling me, and as I was going upstairs, I heard him saying: “Therese ought to have outgrown all this sort of thing, and I hope this will be the last time.” This cut me to the quick, and Céline, who knew how very sensitive I was, whispered to me: “Don’t come down again just yet; you’ll only go and cry if you open your presents now in front of Father.”
Typically Therese would have done just that, cried like a little baby in her usual way. However, this time was different.
But I was not the same Thérèse any more; Jesus had changed me completely. I held back my tears, and trying to stop my heart from beating so fast, I ran down into the dining room. I picked up the shoes and unwrapped my presents joyfully, looking all the while as happy as a queen. Father did not look cross anymore now and entered into the fun of it, while Céline thought she must have been dreaming. But this was no dream. Thérèse had gotten back forever the strength of mind she had lost at four and a half.
Therese would later call this her “Christmas Miracle” and it marked a turning point in her life. It propelled her forward in her relationship with God, and two years later she joined a local Carmelite order of nuns.
She saw the miracle as an action of God’s grace flooding her soul, giving her the strength and courage to do what was true, good and beautiful. It was her Christmas gift from God and changed the way she approached life.
Therese finally understood what she must do to love God more intimately, and left her childish ways to become a true child of God. She would still retain a little stubbornness but in a good way, united to God’s will, entrusting her life entirely to God.
5 Quotes from St. Therese of Lisieux for a fruitful Advent
Pope confesses he shares Therese’s weakness, sometimes sleeps in prayer