When a saint is being honored in the Liturgy, more often than not I opt to read the lectio continua, the ongoing daily readings, instead of anything from the "Common" selections for the type of saint he or she is (e.g., martyr, doctor of the Church, holy man who worked with the underprivileged). How the daily readings and the saint's celebration often illuminate each other without a great homiletic stretch, I consider a sort of divine arrangement.
Jesus placed a child by His side and told the disciples that "whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me" (Lk 9:48). The parallel passage in Mark (9:33-38) is followed by yesterday's Gospel, which featured Jesus' admonition against giving scandal to "little ones."
In both Gospels these passages are separated by John's tattle-tale expose of a rival exorcist. Although St. John is traditionally considered the youngest of the disciples, he doesn't seem to be the most immature, as several of them had been arguing about who was the greatest (Mk 9:33-34; Lk 9:46). Traits associated with children, such as "telling on" rule-breakers, aren't always shed by the time one reaches adulthood; we just exhibit them in a more sophisticated fashion, and with clever justification.
Pan to our saint, Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin (1873-1897), who would tell on herself when, for example, she once hit her sister. Coddled as an infant and toddler, Therese soon became mischievous and stubborn to the point of throwing tantrums. As is often the case, the better part of Therese's humanity could not be separated from her worst: if the Hokey-Pokey were around in her day, she would have "put [her] whole self in" and stayed in the center of the circle.
One classic example in Therese's life points to her "all-or-nothing" thinking, curiously also a characteristic of addicts: when older sister Leonie had outgrown dolls and their dresses, she offered the basket of paraphernalia to younger sisters Celine (age 6) and Therese (age 2). A ball of yarn sufficed for Celine; but Therese grabbed the whole basket, declaring, "I choose all!"
Childish behavior attracts attention, if not appreciation; but somehow the self-centered child can become father to the self-diverting man, whose (saintly? neurotic?) eccentricities point not so much to himself as to God.
On several occasions before she turned fifteen, Therese unsuccessfully petitioned to join the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Her father, who had already given three daughters to religion, offered his full support (perhaps by that point he knew better than to refuse). While on a pilgrimage to Rome with her father and her sister Celine, Therese boldly approached Pope Leo XIII to ask him personally. She would enter, the Holy Father said, "if God wills it."
As God willed, Therese entered Carmel three months into her sixteenth year. She would survive her father, whose decline she had perceived in a childhood vision. In the brief course of her cloistering, Therese would reflect on the events of her childhood, experience the joys and frustrations of community living, and grow in her relationship with God. She never left Carmel after her entrance, but as Pope John Paul noted, she is considered Patroness of the Missions because of her simultaneous and expansive love for souls and love of God.
Therese retained the whole-self-in attitude of her earlier years. She thought it "impossible...to grow up, so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections." There was no choice but to remain little, raising her arms to Jesus like a child to her daddy.
Utter dependence on the strength and love of those above: in senses physical and spiritual, this is the better part of childhood--precisely what Jesus was extolling in the above passages. Sure, children are needy and greedy, capricious and precocious. So are adults! Yet the Lord would have us anyway, despite our best adult attempts to cover our baseness. To "receive this child" is, in reality, to allow ourselves to be received, as we are, by One who will raise us up.