What is the origin of this remarkable doctrine? It goes back to Therese’s childhood, when she was about to turn 14. The previous years had been difficult ones. Her mother had died when she was four, her second mother, her sister Pauline, had entered Carmel when Therese was nine, leaving her doubly orphaned. The family tried to compensate. They lavished affection on the baby of the family. Her father became mother and father to his “little queen” and her older sisters doted on her. But Therese was not at peace. She was high-strung, super-sensitive, breaking into tears at the least provocation, unable to relate to outsiders, even children her own age. She was caught in a vicious circle “without knowing how to come out” (SS 101). She wrote of this time: “God would have to work a little miracle to make me grow up in an instant” (SS 97).
The miracle happened early Christmas morning in l886, when papa, Celine, Leonie, and Therese came home from midnight Mass. As in each Christmas of the past, Therese had placed her shoes at the chimney for Santa Claus to fill them with goodies. Therese and Celine were putting their hats away upstairs, and they overheard their father complain a bit testily that Therese was getting too old for the childish foolishness of the shoes. Therese was devastated; the tears flowed down her cheeks. Celine begged her not to go downstairs in this condition. “You will ruin Christmas for every one,” she said.
Therese drew herself up, wiped away the tears and said: “I am okay.” She wrote in her autobiography: “Therese was no longer the same; Jesus had changed her heart” (SS 98). She skipped down the stairs and enthused over the gifts as if she had heard nothing.
A great healing had taken place. Later Therese summed up the conversion experience in these lucid words: “I felt charity enter into my soul, and the need to forget myself and to please others; since then I have been happy!” (SS 99)