What lit the spark?

The following article, written by—very quaint—Joe SPARKS, essentially summarizes why I wrote The Smallest Spark:




Excerpt: Ch. 6 The Smallest Spark

“Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.”Thérèse…

I see Papa sitting on a well outside, with his hands folded, appearing to be in deep thought, nature’s beauty radiant behind him. As I approach him, I can feel my chest getting tighter and tighter. I don’t know how this is going to work. Marie, Pauline, and Leonie, that was one thing—or three—but now me, his “queen”? All I can do as I draw closer to him is pray and try not to cry. at has always been a pretty frustrating habit. Always crying at the drop of a hat. Even crying about crying… Was this not actually worth crying over, though?

As I slowly sit down beside my father, my “king”, my resistance to tears quickly fails. Papa immediately notices and gently guides my head to his chest.

“What’s wrong my little queen? Tell me.”
The words come out choked and abrupt.
“Papa, I must enter Carmel now.”
He stands up with my head still pressed to his chest, and begins walking with me. I guess he’s taking his time, processing. He then responds gently. “You’re very young to be making such a serious decision.”
My emotions pour out. I’ve kept this from him for too long.

“The decision is not mine, but my belovéd Jesus’s. He is calling me there now, Papa. I know it! It started with a thirst that arose in me to win souls for Him, which drove me to pray for Pranzini. Now I know He calls me to win so many more at Carmel. He wants me there to Himself…AND EVERY DAY I AM UNABLE TO ANSWER THIS CALL IS PURE AGONY! PLEASE PAPA! HELP ME!”

Papa stops walking. My words must be like a knife to his heart. He holds me tighter. After what feels like an eternity, I feel his breath on top of my head.

“I will, my child. I promise you.”

I feel his cheek rest on top of my head, and after a few moments, he lets me go.

I can hardly believe what I just heard nor the confidence and reassurance in my father’s dark eyes. Is this real?

He takes me by the hand, and we begin walking again, looking to into the horizon. As we walk, he suddenly smiles and looks at me again.

“God is giving me quite an honor, taking my children away from me. Four He has taken to be with Him in Heaven, two to Carmel, one to the Visitation…and now He comes for my little queen.” He pauses. “So much the better…”

Reflections on St. Therese

Written by Fr. John Russell, O. Carm. and originally posted on http://www.littleflower.org/therese/reflections/a-woman-born-to-love/

A Woman Born to Love

In 1997 Carmelites and many others marked the centenary of the death of St. Therese of Lisieux, called by many the Little Flower ( September 30, 1997 ). What draws people to this woman, this saint of the Church? Her story as told in her autobiography, THE STORY OF A SOUL, is engaging.


She reveals so honestly her struggles in life and how she forged a meaning, a commitment that made a difference. She lost her mother when she was only four and a half. Her older sister Pauline took over the role of mother but she departed from the family home to join the Carmel of Lisieux when Therese was only nine and a half. She missed her terribly and suffered a period of extreme anxiety and depression.

Therese had a hard time fitting into elementary school because some kids picked on her and she found it hard to relate to many of them. But she was bright and capable and had a great love for history and religion. She recognized that her early life experiences made her very self-centered and overly sensitive. She believed that Jesus Christ alone helped her to overcome this selfishness. When she received communion at the Christmas midnight mass of 1886 in her parish church in Lisieux, she experienced a mysterious renewal. I felt charity enter my soul. No longer would she walk around with a weepy and self-pitying disposition. The fact is that she did change her behavior and quickly developed a new sense of direcrequesttobishoption, one centered on love. She wanted to become a Carmelite in the Carmel of Lisieux. Already she had two sisters living in the Lisieux monastery. One might think that she was just following her sisters, but St. Therese makes it quite clear in her autobiography that she desired to enter Carmel on her own terms: to give her love to Jesus Christ and to those with whom she would live in the Carmelite community and also to pray for sinners and for priests. She had no illusions about the monastic life being demanding. She sought the permission of Pope Leo XIII to enter the Carmel at age fifteen while on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome. The Pope told her to listen to the leadership of the local church of Bayeux-Lisieux. After some hesitation, the local Bishop granted her wish but not with a great deal of conviction about her maturity. The truth is that no one really knew her outside her own family and her cousins, the Guerins. Few were aware of the deep religious faith conviction that motivated her desire to give her life totally to God.

Her sense of commitment led her to a profound experience of the love of god and of neighbor. She never had an easy life, but she did live with a great sense of peace and joy. What made such joy possible? Fundamentally, she found that love could only be captivating when a person trusts completely in a loving God. That trust has to be stated every day in the way we pray and live out the responsibilities and demands of our lives. She found the power of love in her relationship to Jesus Christ.

Fr. John F. Russell, O.Carm.
Seton Hall University

Excerpt: Introduction to The Smallest Spark

9781504951838This work covers the life of Marie-Françoise- Thérèse Martin (a.k.a. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux or the Little Flower) from her teenaged years until her death at age twenty-four from tuberculosis, with some aftermath. Also included are appendixes that contain an updated version of a lecture that I have presented on Thérèse to different audiences, which includes selected quotes from Church documents relating to Thérèse’s canonization and being made a Doctor of the Church, and a reference guide for works on her that may or may not have inspired some of the scenes that I have written into this story.

Thérèse lived in Lisieux in France’s lower Normandy in the late 1800’s. She was a woman who intended never to be known and, viewed only on the surface, should never have been known, and yet is a Saint and Doctor of the Catholic Church, who is known to Catholics and non-Catholics alike—or so I have read. Sadly, at least on a personal level, I find myself encountering people who have never heard of her, and if they have, then their knowledge is only superficial, since they have not gone beyond the stereotypical floweriness often attributed to her, and so are unable to see just how valuable knowing her life can be in finding meaning in one’s own life.

She is also known, thanks to Pope Pius XI who canonized her, as the Greatest Saint of Modern Times. According to Pope John Paul II, her autobiography, Story of a Soul, and other works pertaining to her have had a profound positive impact not only on the Catholic Church but also on Protestants and non-Christians. In other words, there seems to be something for everyone, regardless of background, when it comes to Thérèse.

Why is this so? How does a girl who enters a cloistered convent (meaning she was willingly cut o from the outside world) at the age of fifteen and ends up dying at twenty four, totally unknown to the world, and barely known by many of the religious sisters with whom she lived, end up being canonized a saint just over two decades later, and, on top of that, declared a Doctor of the Church?

It all started with what would seem like chance circumstance and simple obedience. e circumstance was that Thérèse had older biological sisters who lived in the convent with her and the act of obedience was for her to write about her life and her relationship with God, something she never would have done if she had not been told to by her superiors in the convent.

The work, which came to be known as The Story of a Soul, was never intended to be published. It was merely going to be a memento for her convent and especially her biological family living within its walls. Yet it became one of the most beloved works of literature in the world.

In my opinion, the attribute that has drawn so many to love Thérèse over the many years, since her death in 1897, is her bold confidence which she began tapping into at an early age. This confidence is not to be confused with arrogance, and it does not mean she always felt certain about what she was doing, or that she never suffered. She knew it was not going to be easy to be allowed to enter a Carmelite monastery at age fifteen, and the task of appealing to certain people to bring this about, such as Pope Leo XIII, must have seemed daunting. After entering, while still a teenager, her community was hit by a flu epidemic, and she was one of the few left standing who had to attend to all of the sick. She was also tasked, at an earlier than normal age, with aiding in the instruction of incoming novices. Thérèse saw these things through faithfully, though they seemed bigger than her.

Her confidence really shined, ironically, when she was hit with tuberculosis in 1896, which, eighteen months later, brought about her death. The disease caused tremendous physical suffering. In the midst of that she also experienced a sense of abandonment. Everything she grew up believing in suddenly felt like a lie. To summarize that, she was not only experiencing outer physical suffering, but also internal emotional and spiritual suffering. Yet the confidence she held onto caused many in her community to not even believe she was sick, much less experiencing spiritual darkness.

Thérèse’s confidence also clung to a belief that any suffering that we experience, no matter how apparently trivial or devastating, can be used for good. It is a confidence that has touched many people and helped them to find a sense of meaning and direction in their lives that they might not have otherwise known.


Welcome to my blog. Please continue to check back as I share the journey of Thérèse Martin and my book The Smallest Spark: A World Set Ablaze by a Little Life and a Little Way. I encourage you to ask questions, give feedback and engage. Share your journey and inspirations with me!