By Fr. Dwight Longenecker
The First World War broke out just 17 years after her death. There were some 40 recorded apparitions of Thérèse to soldiers on the battlefield. She appeared holding a cross or sometimes a sword. The soldiers reported that they saw her, spoke to her — and she to them. She helped them with temptations, calmed their fears and protected and converted them.
The stories were recorded and published in 1920, just before her canonization. The Laudem Gloriae blog records how the French soldiers called her “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.”
More astoundingly, the men of the French military named artillery pieces and planes after Sister Thérèse. Whole regiments were consecrated to her, and witnesses said relics of the saint miraculously stopped rifle bullets like real shields, saving the lives of the soldiers who carried them.
In our modern world, where warfare is total and Christians seem wary of war, Thérèse reminds us that we are all engaged in a fight to the death. Our adversary — the devil — stalks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). St. Peter reminds us to, therefore, be alert and awake — never letting down our guard; and if we need a patroness in battle, a guide and guard, we can rejoice that in a world of massive military might it is a fearless little child who takes our hand and wins our hearts and leads us to victory.
Father Dwight Longenecker is the author of St. Benedict and St. Thérèse — The Little Rule and the Little Way. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch at DwightLongenecker.com.