St. Therese of Lisieux is often called “The Little Flower,” as she loved nature; she often picked roses and threw them at the crucifix to bless God, or made a garland for Mary. St. Therese’s way to holiness is referred to as the Little Way. So…what were the Little things in Lisieux? My few days in Lisieux were those of pilgrimage. Being a Catholic, I am of course familiar with the concept of pilgrimage but the opportunity for pilgrimage.
My first stop in Lisieux was the childhood home of St. Therese, Les Buissonnets. Therese was 4 and 1/2 when she moved there with her four older sisters and her father after the death of her mother. The home now is hidden on a side street among modern buildings and it takes a bit of imagination to think about the open space and countryside visible there in the late 1800s. The garden in the back is sweet and small and covered in flowers. The front has flower boxes and a cat who quite rightly believes that this is his/her domain and welcomed us as such at the end of his day on duty. He did,however,deign to be caressed and petted.
The next morning, we managed to miss the Basilica, built to honor St. Therese, which is rather hard to do, as it is immense! But so thick was the Norman fog that we did take the wrong road. I am told a heavy fog presages a warm and sunny afternoon in Normandy and this in fact proved to be true. After turning the car around, we landed in the Basilica parking lot. The Basilica, which Pope Pius XI wanted built ‘big and beautiful and quick,’ was started in 1925, only 28 years after the death of St. Therese. Nothing is little about this Basilica, so I am not sure how St. Therese would feel about it. It is lovely though with 18 side altars given by countries around the world and with a crypt done in mosaics and a section now devoted to Zelie and Louis Martin, St. Therese’s parents, who are now declared Blessed in their own right by Rome for their saintly family life. A little blessing did come to me: we were there at 9 am and off season so I had the Basilica all to myself to wander, pray and imbibe…few other early pilgrims to dodge.
Afternoon, found me at the birthplace of Therese in Alençon. Here St. Therese was little; she was four and a half at the death of her mother. Her mother was a lace maker. Despite running an atelier of fellow women lace makers filling orders from Paris, she found time to make doll clothes, lace trimmed, for St. Therese and her sisters.The home itself was little, by modern standards, a kitchen, dining room and front room on the first floor and upstairs three bedrooms all small. The home was a small living space for parents, 5 daughters and a business in the home.
Normandy countryside was lovely in the late afternoon light as we meandered the byways and traversed little towns and farms on our way back to Lisieux avoiding the pay-as-you-go autoroute. The ‘Little’ things in and around Lisieux were a ‘Big’ blessing.