Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 October 2023
Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She is one of the patron saints
of our church, together with Luke, George, Margaret, Cecilia, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin
Mary. You may have noticed that we have been naming our patron saints at each Mass during
the Prayers of the People.
At St. Mary’s, we have two relics, one is that of Thérèse, and the other, Cecilia, a second-
century martyr. Both are designated as first-class relics. There are three categories of relics. A
first-class relic is a body part, such as bone or hair. Both our relics are bone fragments. A
second-class relic is a saint’s personal possession, such as clothing or a rosary. A third-class relic
is an object that the saint has touched or that has been touched to a first or second-class relic.
You didn’t know you were going to get a lecture on relics this morning, did you?
After the service, at the end of the Postlude, you are invited, if you would like, to come to
the altar rail to venerate the relic of St. Thérèse. It is custom to touch, kiss and/or simply gaze
upon the relic. The veneration of relics has a long history and goes back to the days of the early
church. For those of you from Protestant backgrounds who may not be familiar with the
tradition, please be assured that this is not worship. We are simply expressing our respect and
reverence for St. Thérèse, whose life and witness point us to God.
Thérèse was a Roman Catholic nun belonging to the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Born
in 1873 in France, she lived a brief and tragic life, dying at the young age of 24 after a long
struggle with tuberculosis. Together with Francis of Assisi, whose feast we will observe next
Sunday, Thérèse is one of the most beloved and popular saints in the Church.
But she is a very different kind of saint than most of the ones on the official Church
calendar. She was not a martyr. She was not a towering theologian. She was not the founder of a
major religious order or movement in the Church. On the contrary, she was quite ordinary, living
the life of an obscure monastic in her Carmelite convent in Lisieux, France.
It was only after her death that she became famous through the publication of her
spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul. In the book, she recalls how she once had visions of
doing great things for God and Church. Shortly after becoming a nun, she volunteered to become
a missionary to Vietnam to help establish the Carmelite order there. She wanted to offer her life
for evangelization and even martyrdom. But her poor health prevented her from realizing this or
any other dream of achieving a great spiritual feat.
So, why has Thérèse become such a beloved saint? In her book, she presents what she
calls the “little way.” Limited by the circumstances of her health, she came to the realization that
she may not be able to offer God a big sacrifice like dedicating one’s life to spreading the Gospel
to distant, foreign lands or dying a martyr’s death. What she can offer, however, are “little”
sacrifices of prayer and good deeds every day. She calls these daily offerings, expressing her
love for God, her “little flowers.” And the phase has come to be associated with her name.
Thérèse is often known as the “Little Flower of Jesus” or the “Little Flower.”
It is because Thérèse faithfully lived out the little way in her life, dedicated to prayer and
good deeds, that she has become a saint. And she has set a simple and yet powerful model of
piety for the rest of us. We, too, have the potential of living holy lives by following the little way
of prayer and good deeds. Not many of us will make a big name for ourselves in the annals of
church history through momentous accomplishments. But we do have countless opportunities to
offer our sacrifices of prayer and good deeds, our little flowers, to God every day.
If I might take the liberty of extending Thérèse’s metaphor of the little flower, the flower
not only symbolizes love; it is an object of beauty. We pay a lot of attention to beauty in our
liturgy – the space in which we worship, our vestments, the incense, the music, the Elizabethan
language. A common phrase that you will hear in Anglo-Catholic circles is “the beauty of
holiness and the holiness of beauty.” The solemn, dignified worship is what attracts many people
to our tradition. But the beauty of holiness is to be found not only in our liturgy; it is also found
in our piety, the other cornerstone of our Anglo-Catholic identity. To put it another way, there is
beauty in prayer and good deeds.
Here at St. Mary’s, I have constant encounters with the beauty of holiness, or, to borrow
Thérèse’s language, little flowers of prayer and good deeds. Just a couple of days ago, I saw the
beauty of holiness in our parishioners who gathered here for Mass to pray for First Responders,
Military, and Veterans. Every Sunday and throughout the week, I see the beauty of holiness in
our acolytes who faithfully serve at the altar. I see the beauty of holiness in our volunteers who
quietly work behind the scenes filling blessing bags for the homeless or cooking in the kitchen
for Cherith Brooks. I see the beauty of holiness in our clergy and volunteers who visit the sick
and the lonely. These are all examples of our little flowers of various forms and colors, offered in
love to God.
So, we have quite a garden here at St. Mary’s, a spiritual garden, that is. There are little
flowers of prayers and good deeds all around us – beautiful, holy flowers. But there is room for
far more. We have yet to reach our full potential as a community. To begin with, we need to pray
more. We are the only church in our diocese that offers Daily Mass, but so many of our
parishioners have yet to experience it. If you can’t come to Daily Mass, you might make a
special effort to come to special Masses on our feast days during the week. Or if you can’t come
in person, please join us online. And how is your private prayer life? You might want to try
praying the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. Or praying the rosary? Or come this
Saturday morning to Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer. We are called to be a people of prayer.
As the Apostle Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
We also need you in our various ministries. For a small church like us, we do a lot around
her. Just look at our weekly newsletter. So, we are always in need of volunteers for liturgy,
outreach, as well as all sorts of other jobs, like helping with our weekly reception or decorating
the Nave for different seasons. As Advent and Christmas approach, the Church will get even
busier, and we need your help.
As God called a young girl named Therese more than a hundred years ago, He is calling
you to the little way of prayer and good deeds. And as the little flowers that you plant at St.
Mary’s proliferate and flourish, may God take delight in the beauty of His garden.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!