26 August 2009


St. Thérèse of Lisieux was named by Pope Pius XII secondary patron of all of France, after Mary. Though we're all familiar with her Story of a Soul, which some unfortunately interpret as revealing a saccharinely sweet, tender, and weak saint, we are less familiar with the fiery aspect of her soul, the one that longed to "die in a battlefield, arms in hand.” St. Joan of Arc as her model, St. Thérèse had a burning desire to literally go to war for Christ:
Oh no, I would not fear going to war. With what joy, for example, at the time of the Crusades, I would have gone to combat heretics. Yes! I would not have been afraid to be shot; I would not have feared the fire!
And later,
When I think I’m dying in bed! I would want to die in an arena!
Those who knew her testified, "Under a suave and gracious aspect [she] revealed at every instant, in her actions, a strong character and a manly soul." Pope Pius XI even called her “a manly soul, a great man.” This iron resolve was channeled into conquering sin and striving with her utmost toward sanctity, offering herself as a victim soul to suffer and atone for others' sins.

Her wish to do battle, however, was fulfilled, but only after her martyrdom. She prophetically dreamed once:
I went to sleep for a few moments during prayer. I dreamt there were not enough soldiers for a war against the Prussians. You [Mother Agnes] said: We need to send Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. I answered that I agreed, but that I would prefer to fight at a holy war. But finally I went all the same.

Well known to the French, there were numerous reported apparitions of St. Thérèse on the French battlefield during WWI. All of them were recorded in the little book PLUIE DE ROSES: Interventions de Sr Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus pendant la guerre in 1920, before her canonization. As far as I know, there is no English translation, but for those who can read French, the accounts are online and prove fascinating and inspiring reading.

In 1914, when the First World War breaks out,
Saint Thérèse appears some forty times in various battlefields, at times holding a cross in her hand, at times a saber! The soldiers see her; she speaks to them matter-of-factly, resolves their doubts, overcomes their temptations and calms their fears. She protects, consoles and converts them.

French soldiers would invoke her as “my little sister of the trenches,” “my war patroness,” “the shield of soldiers,” “the angel of battles” and “my dear little Captain.” A soldier wrote, “In fact, that gentle Saint will be the great heroine of this war.” Another commented, “I think of her when the cannon thunders with great roar.”

Countless were the artillery pieces and planes named after Sister Thérèse; whole regiments were consecrated to her. Countless relics of the saint that miraculously stopped rifle bullets like real shields, saving the lives of the soldiers who carried them, are in her convent of Lisieux, a testimony to the great prodigies of the one who, in fact, “died with arms in her hand.”
Novena to St. Thérèse