Happy Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux!
by Father Jacques Philippe, The Way of Trust and Love – A Retreat Guided by St. Therese of Lisieux
Thérèse wanted to be a saint not out of ambition or vainglory, but in order to love God as much as he can be loved. That is completely in accordance with the Gospel.
She also very much wanted to be useful to the Church, and she felt that the only way she could do that was by aiming for holiness with all her strength.
But … alas, I have always realized, when I compared myself to the saints, that there is between them and me the same difference as exists between a mountain whose summit is lost in the heavens, and the obscure grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by.
Thérèse very soon realized that what she wanted was impossible. Despite all her good will and her ardent desires, she was quickly brought face-to-face with her limitations and had the feeling that her desire for holiness was inaccessible, unrealizable. She felt as though there were the same distance between that ideal of holiness and what she could actually do as between a high mountain and a grain of sand.
It should be said that at the time she lived, at the end of the nineteenth century, people still tended to identify the idea of sainthood with the kind of exceptional perfection that involved heroic enterprises, extraordinary graces, etc.
Thérèse felt an insuperable distance between that model and what she was in her everyday life. Her words should be taken very seriously. She was faced with a real difficulty and unquestionably went through a real inner crisis. The temptation in that kind of situation is discouragement: I’ll never get there!
How did Thérèse react? She goes on:
Instead of getting discouraged, I said to myself: “God could not inspire us with desires that were unrealizable, so despite my littleness I can aspire to holiness.”
Here is a very beautiful aspect of Thérèse’s spiritual personality: her great simplicity, her trust in God. If God has put this desire in me—and I’ve had it for years, that’s why I entered Carmel—then it must be realizable. The desire has always been with me. It can’t be an illusion, because God is just in all his ways.
We are looking at one of the paradoxes of Thérèse’s life: on the one hand, great psychological weaknesses and great sufferings; but despite this, on the other hand, always great desires.
Lest we idealize Thérèse, recall what she was like at almost fourteen, before the healing grace that came to her at Christmas 1886.
She was a very intelligent little girl, but she had not followed a normal school life because she could not adapt to the school run by Benedictine sisters to which she had been sent. She was hypersensitive, very dependent on others, and had an enormous need for gratitude.
When she had done some little act of service, such as watering the flowers, and no one thanked her, it was a full-scale drama for her. If by chance she had hurt someone she loved, she cried about it, and then, as she says, “cried for having cried.” “I was so oversensitive that I was unbearable.”
She was “enclosed in a narrow circle that she could not get out of.”
Yet at the same time she had a very deep life of prayer and a true desire for holiness. It took the grace of Christmas 1886 to sort out this tangle, so to speak. I shall say a little about it here, and invite you to read the passage where she describes it.
Briefly, then, after Communion at Midnight Mass, our Lord inspired Thérèse to make an act of courage to overcome her hypersensitivity. The youngest of the Martin girls, she was still treated rather like a child: at Christmas, there were gifts left for her by the fireplace, and so on.
Their father, Mr. Martin, despite his affection for his youngest child, was beginning to be a little tired of all this. The comment escaped him, “This is the last time, luckily!”
Thérèse heard this and it hurt her terribly; she was tempted, as usual, to cry like a child, which would have spoilt the whole family’s Christmas.
She tells how she received a grace at that moment which can be understood as follows. It was as if God made her understand, “That’s it, finished.”
She received a sort of intuition, like a call from the Holy Spirit: “No, Thérèse, that childishness is over, you can’t let yourself go and spoil Christmas for the others!” That is not exactly what the text says, but I think that’s what it means.
So she made an act of courage: she acted as though nothing had happened, looked as joyful and happy as she could, unwrapped her presents with laughter and thanks, and, astonishingly, was cured from that moment on.
She herself says she recovered the strength of mind she had lost at the age of four when her mother died, an event that traumatized her and lay at the root of all her emotional fragility.
After that, she was able to enter Carmel and embark on her wonderful, courageous way of life, undertaking a “giant’s race,” as she puts it.
I am telling you this to help you understand something:
It may happen that God works a deep cure in us through totally insignificant events. Sometimes we are called by God to come out of ourselves, to take several steps forward, to become more adult and free.
We turn round and round inside ourselves, enclosed in our immaturity, complaints, lamentations, and dependencies, until suddenly a day of grace arrives, a gift from God, who nevertheless also calls upon our freedom.
We have a choice to make, for it is at the same time a cure and a conversion: our freedom has to opt for an act of courage.
Making an act of courage even over some very small thing, which is what God is asking of us, can open the gate to in-depth cures, to a new freedom granted us by God.
We all need cures in order to become more adult in the faith, to be courageous in waging the battle that we must wage in the Church today. To be a Christian in this day and age is not easy.
We will receive the courage and strength it requires if we can say yes to what God asks of us.
So let’s put this question to God: “What is the ‘yes’ you are asking me for today? The little act of courage and trust you’re calling me to make today?” What is the little conversion, the door that opens to let in the Holy Spirit? For if we make it, God’s grace will visit us and touch us in the depths of our being.
I am convinced that many of us will receive new strength from God. The door through which this strength enters us is the “yes” we say to our Lord to something he asks of us—something perhaps very small, perhaps rather more important, according as he gives us to understand.
“At a certain moment when going to confession to a Capuchin father, St. Therese came to understand that it was just the opposite: her “defects did not displease God” and her littleness attracted God’s love, just as a father is moved by the weakness of his children and loves them still more as soon as he sees their good will and sincere love.” -Fr. Jacques Philippe,The Way of Trust and Love, http://amzn.to/2fpXVzl Painting by Millie Childers
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