Understanding Thérèse's Relics
Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face was buried in the Lisieux
municipal cemetery on October 4, 1897. She was the first to be buried in the new
plot her monastery had purchased in response to the city's new legislative directives
prohibiting interment inside the cloister. In view of what took place after Thérèse's
death, we can now say that the new directives were providential, since they enabled
hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to visit her grave over a period of twenty-five
years. Had Thérèse been buried inside the cloister, this would never
have been possible. Only in 1923 on the occasion of her beatification were her
mortal remains transferred to the Carmelite chapel where they are kept to this
When speaking of Thérèse's relics, we must return to the initial
stage of their veneration in the town cemetery. Everything began there, to the
point that Thérèse's grave became the cradle of the pilgrimages.
But isn't this the case with Rome, Compostela, and so many other shrines spread
throughout the world?
Anthropologists have taught us that burial is an indubitable sign of the presence
of human beings, because only humans bury their own. The Church respects the custom
of gathering to pray in the presence of the mortal remains of those we have known
and loved. When each year millions of men and women of every culture and social
condition visit cemeteries, they draw near the "relics" (that is, the remains)
of their dear ones. We understand well enough that we do not really rejoin our
loved ones there, but we are not pure spirits and we need signs.
The saints' relics are poor and fragile signs of what went to make up their bodies.
When we are close to their relics we can more easily evoke their human condition:
that with their own bodies they acted, thought worked, and suffered.
At times God wishes to use such tenuous and seemingly foolish signs to manifest
his presence and make his power and glory shine forth. It is God in fact who works
through these signs. Here we enter into the perplexing divine logic, different
from that of the world. The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of this: "Rather,
God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of
the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27). But the same apostle had just declared; "For
the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger
than human strength" (1 Cor 1:25).
To return to Thérèse's case, it is a fact that when people stand
in the presence of her mortal remains or have some contact with her poor relics,
as with petals from an unpetalled rose, God, who received through her humanity
so many signs of love, is pleased in turn to manifest his love through her bodily
From these poor signs, God's salvific power reveals and unfolds itself. To become
convinced it is enough to read the many volumes recounting favors and cures obtained
through contact with Thérèse's relics, as well as the abundant correspondence
that arrives daily in Lisieux.
And who can name all those who cherish in their wallets or among their personal
papers an image bearing the words "cloth touched to the relics of the Saint?" Truly
we find ourselves in another logic, arising from the words of Jesus: "I give you
praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike" (Lk 10:21).
From Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Life, Times and Teachings,
edited by Conrad De Meester. Copyright 1997 by Institute for Carmelite Studies.
Used with permission.