St. Therese was very close to my family - more than I realized.
Though my mother was a divorced, remarried Catholic who stayed away from Mass and the sacraments, she continued to pray, make novenas, send her kids to Catholic school, support the Church and the missions and so on. I found out on her deathbed that she was very devout as a child and wanted to be a nun. Indeed she attended boarding school at the Motherhouse of the School Sisters of Notre Dame for that purpose. Midway through high school, my grandmother took her out of school and had her get a job to help support her brothers through seminary. Her vocation was lost, she was 'forced' into a marriage by her mom, had two kids, divorced and remarried the love of her life, my dad. Then I came along and her devotion to Therese was revealed in naming me - Terrance, to be called, Terry. Seriously - I only came to realize it recently - I mention it hoping to demonstrate what I understand to be St. Therese's patronage of sinners. I'm not sure how to express myself on that, but I will try.
The table of sinners.
I always thought I adopted Therese to be my patron, when I asked her at a very young age to be my godmother. As it turns out, I see clearly that she adopted me. Much as she did my mother, and my dad, who only became a Catholic after my mom's death - a conversion he attributed to Therese. St. Therese was always a hidden presence, silently influencing and guiding our lives. This reminds me of her saying that she wished to be found at the 'table of sinners'... expressing that in the depths of her dark night, her trial of temptations against faith before she died. In that abject state, she experienced the faithlessness of the atheist, the bitter taste of rancor of the unbeliever, even the hollow, vacuous, hopelessness of those who hate the faith. Like her Master, "who had not known sin, yet became sin," thus she, who was innocent (as she had been once assured she had never committed a mortal sin), became sin, as it were. Not in the exact same sense of Christ of course, but she shared, or imitated His redemptive suffering in and through that experience... seated with Christ crucified, at the table of sinners. That is the secret of St. Therese.
"While Jesus was at table many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him... " - Mark 2: 13-17
Souls complain that they lack her innocence, that they lack her love, that all they find in themselves is misery and the awful despair of knowing they are too sinful to attain the heights of sanctity. Yet it is precisely for those of us who find ourselves powerless and unfaithful, "miserated" by our selfish self indulgence and sin, who attract Therese and are most fitted to her little way. We do not have to worry about merit or accomplishments to attract her patronage, or much more, to attract the merciful love of God. This is what Little Therese teaches and demonstrates in her little way of confidence and love. It is our misery which attracts the divine mercy. It is our sins and our faults which so attracts God that he sent his only Son to be crucified for our sins. Therefore, who can not trust in merciful love when one is vulnerable enough, humble enough, to be embraced by it? The mystery is so deep, so wide, I can't express it.
Whoever is a little one, let him come to me... seated at the table of sinners.
I have so much trouble trying to express these things, but I'm convinced that St. Therese is much more the patron saint of sinners than she is anything else. It is almost like saying that Jesus Christ is the God of sinners as far as he made himself the bread of sinners, likewise he ate and drank with them, and most certainly, he came to call sinners, not the righteous... the Gospel proclaims that, and so does the life of St. Therese.
Some more random thoughts on the little way ...
A saint like St. Therese, St. Simeon Salus, loved humility so much he was convinced one can only attain it perfectly by loving humiliations. Thus he took the last place even amongst those whose lot he shared - the wounded, the lame, the outcast, the prostitutes and the sinful.
To the Deacon John, the only one who knew his holiness: I beg you, never disregard a single soul, especially when it happens to be a monk or a beggar. For Your Charity knows that His place is among the beggars, especially among the blind, people made as pure as the sun through their patience and distress. . . . [S]how love of your neighbor through almsgiving. For this virtue, above all, will help us on (the Day of Judgment)." - Simeon Salus, Source
"I was unable to believe there were really impious people who had no faith... [but] Jesus made me feel that there were really souls who have no faith, and who, through the abuse of grace, lost this precious treasure, the source of the only real and pure joy." - S. Therese
Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical ritual.
At bottom there is always hidden pride at work when criticism of the Church adopts that tone of rancorous bitterness which today is already beginning to become a fashionable habit. Unfortunately it is accompanied only too often by a spiritual emptiness in which the specific nature of the Church as a whole is no longer seen, in which it is only regarded as a political instrument whose organization is felt to be pitiable or brutal, as the case may be, as if the real function of the Church did not lie beyond organization, in the comfort of the Word and of the sacraments which she provides in good and bad days alike. Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical ritual. They live on what the Church always is; and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present not where organizing, reforming and governing are going on but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them." - Ratzinger: "Introduction to Christianity." Holy, Yet Mingled with Sinners: The Church of the Pope Theologian
Happy feast day!