St Therese of Lisieux

Beyond friend or foe

Once again, listening to St Theresa of Lisieux in her autobiography ‘Story of a Soul’ her thoughts struck with relevancy. I have been missing Ann strongly the last couple of days. Drawing people to me at the Shrine, comfortable in life, invigorated by a calling, I properly and authentically long for her voice, her influence and presence reaffirmed in my life. When I heard the following quote I laughed with recognition. Within the Little Flower’s peculiar sincere way existed the potency of my interaction with Ann. There is not a spiritual voice in my life who has elevated my spiritual life as she does. I am positive it is God working and gracing our being together. It is painful at times, yet I cannot deny the truth and overall lifting I experience.

And now, dear Mother, I will tell you wherein I gain most with the novices. You know they are allowed without restriction to say anything to me, agreeable or the reverse; this is all the easier since they do not owe me the respect due to a Novice-Mistress. I cannot say that Our Lord makes me walk in the way of exterior humiliation; He is satisfied with humbling me in my inmost soul. In the eyes of creatures all is success, and I walk in the dangerous path of honour—if a religious may so speak. I understand God’s way and that of my superiors in this respect; for if the Community thought me incapable, unintelligent, and wanting in judgment, I could be of no possible use to you, dear Mother. This is why the Divine Master has thrown a veil over all my shortcomings, both interior and exterior. Because of this veil I receive many compliments from the novices—compliments without flattery, for they really mean what they say; and they do not inspire me with vanity, for the remembrance of my weakness is ever before me. At times my soul tires of this over-sweet food, and I long to hear something other than praise; then Our Lord serves me with a nice little salad, well spiced, with plenty of vinegar—olive oil alone is wanting, and this it is which makes it more to my taste. And the salad is offered to me by the novices at the moment I least expect. God lifts the veil that hides my faults, and my dear little Sisters, beholding me as I really am, do not find me altogether agreeable. With charming simplicity, they tell me how I try them and what they dislike in me; in fact, they are as frank as though they were speaking of someone else, for they are aware that I am pleased when they act in this way.

I am more than pleased—I am transported with delight by this splendid banquet set before me. How can anything so contrary to our natural inclinations afford such extraordinary pleasure? Had I not experienced it, I could not have believed it possible.

One day, when I was ardently longing for some humiliation, a young postulant came to me and sated my desire so completely, that I was reminded of the occasion when Semei cursed David, and I repeated to myself the words of the holy King: “Yea, it is the Lord who hath bidden him say all these things.” In this way God takes care of me. He cannot always provide that strength-giving bread, exterior humiliation, but from time to time He allows me to eat of “the crumbs from the table of the children.” How magnificent are His Mercies!


Notice the Carmelite habit underneath the Joan of Arc theatrical costume of St Theresa.


Surrendering in order to give

Driving home from work, I was listening to ‘St Therese of Lisieux: the Story of a Soul’, enchanted to hear the Little Flower edify upon working with souls. Deeper in scope yet similar in style, I admired the connection of her words to the training provided by the Hospice of the Western Reserve. The Hospice stressed over and over that my agendas and ideas must be abandoned. I must approach the patients with no intent nor plan. As a volunteer, I provide fellowship, allowing my role to develop in accordance with the needs and desires of the patient. The patient is the one granted control. I acquiesce not only to the administration of the Hospice, yet even above that, the patient is the one to determine the role I will play in their life. I adapt and cater to the needs of the patient. Kindly, caringly, and with compassion, I bow to the patient’s demands. To be of service is to listen and understand. The feeling grows stronger that I will be working with children. To be honest, I realize it is a great responsibility, yet I became so consumed with the conviction I called my superior, leaving a message for her to seek out a child, one who has no father, informing her I prayed intently upon her words emphasizing the need for men to work with boys from broken homes. God continues to astound. I absolutely never thought of working with a young boy dealing with terminal illness. My superior’s insight points me in such a direction. I accept the challenge, absorbed within the emotion: the faith, hope, and charity; knowing God will perform spectacular things through me, knowing I will be deeply hurt.

Read the words of the Little Flower from her autobiography, comprehending their relevant coalescence.

From the moment I entered the sanctuary of souls, I saw at a glance that the task was beyond my strength. Throwing myself without delay into Our Lord’s Arms, I imitated those tiny children, who, when they are frightened, hide their faces on their father’s shoulder, and I said:

“Dear Lord, Thou seest that I am too small to feed these little ones, but if through me Thou wilt give to each what is suitable, then fill my hands, and without leaving the shelter of Thine Arms, or even turning away, I will distribute Thy treasures to the souls who come to me asking for food. Should they find it to their taste, I shall know that this is due not to me, but to Thee; and if, on the contrary, they find fault with its bitterness, I shall not be cast down, but try to persuade them that it cometh from Thee, while taking good care to make no change in it.”

The knowledge that it was impossible to do anything of myself rendered my task easier. My one interior occupation was to unite myself more and more closely to God, knowing that the rest would be given to me over and above. And indeed my hope has never been deceived; I have always found my hands filled when sustenance was needed for the souls of my Sisters. But had I done otherwise, and relied on my own strength, I should very soon have been forced to abandon my task.

From afar it seems so easy to do good to souls, to teach them to love God more, and to model them according to one’s own ideas. But, when we draw nearer, we quickly feel that without God’s help this is quite as impossible as to bring back the sun when once it has set. We must forget ourselves, and put aside our tastes and ideas, and guide souls not by our own way, but along the path which Our Lord points out.



Maturing self-knowledge

“Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what You want me to be – and becoming that person.” 

“Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. He cherishes simplicity.”  –Little Flower

Lectio Divinia, advancing simple thoughts to the profound, the understanding of my perceived needs in contrast to Divine Will.  The things I think I need, self-esteem and the bolstering of interior lacking, oppose the acceptance and love God graciously extends.  God loves me exactly the way I am.  My imperfections, wanderings, and weaknesses only call forth distancing complications.  Oh Mary Undoer of Knots unravel the twisted complexities entangling my life.  Even in my most authentic approach to God there is a bothersome separation.  Even in the genuine acceptance of myself there is pain and wounds.  Even amidst the strengthening of an independent confident individuality there is a recoiling, diverting back into wrath and fear.  Even in my sincerest and humblest prayer there is such an awareness of estrangement.  Even in the acute perception of Your presence before the Eucharist there is confusion. Help me to comprehend I am not a mistake. Strengthen me Lord to continue the stripping down of myself, the embracing of the simplicity the Little Flower expounds upon.  It is not such a simple matter to attain such divine simplicity.


May the month of Mary

To Our Lady

Mary, I’m awkward at work or play,
And from the path of duty often do I stray.

Mary, Mother, guide me in all I do or say,
For I’m a willful child and often have my way,

Mary, make me gentle as the winds of May,
Mary, make me see the right and do it every day.

Oh Mary, hear an awkward,
Listen to her prayer–
Watch over her, dear Mother,
And keep her in your care.

By G. H. Harriott


Nurtured on the fruits of the Holy Spirit, St Louis de Montfort amazingly identifies a startling reality about Mary. More than even God, Satan despises Mary. Arrogant to the highest degree, Satan can comprehend God’s ability to thwart his diabolical ways, however the thought of a mere woman, a lowlife handmaid of the Lord able to dominate him sends him into the greatest outrage. Our Blessed Mother makes my heart blossom into the brightest of joy. St Louis de Montfort’s words from ‘True Devotion to Mary’.

“Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God.”

In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.”. –Saint Therese of Lisieux


Simplicity enough

“When one loves, one does not calculate.”  –St Therese of Lisieux




John Paul II on “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

A face of sorrow

25. In contemplating Christ’s face, we confront the most paradoxical aspect of his mystery, as it emerges in his last hour, on the Cross. The mystery within the mystery, before which we cannot but prostrate ourselves in adoration.

The intensity of the episode of the agony in the Garden of Olives passes before our eyes. Oppressed by foreknowledge of the trials that await him, and alone before the Father, Jesus cries out to him in his habitual and affectionate expression of trust: “Abba, Father”. He asks him to take away, if possible, the cup of suffering (cf. Mk 14:36). But the Father seems not to want to heed the Son’s cry. In order to bring man back to the Father’s face, Jesus not only had to take on the face of man, but he had to burden himself with the “face” of sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

We shall never exhaust the depths of this mystery. All the harshness of the paradox can be heard in Jesus’ seemingly desperate cry of pain on the Cross: ” ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ ” (Mk 15:34). Is it possible to imagine a greater agony, a more impenetrable darkness? In reality, the anguished “why” addressed to the Father in the opening words of the Twenty-second Psalm expresses all the realism of unspeakable pain; but it is also illumined by the meaning of that entire prayer, in which the Psalmist brings together suffering and trust, in a moving blend of emotions. In fact the Psalm continues: “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you set them free … Do not leave me alone in my distress, come close, there is none else to help” (Ps 22:5,12).

26. Jesus’ cry on the Cross, dear Brothers and Sisters, is not the cry of anguish of a man without hope, but the prayer of the Son who offers his life to the Father in love, for the salvation of all. At the very moment when he identifies with our sin, “abandoned” by the Father, he “abandons” himself into the hands of the Father. His eyes remain fixed on the Father. Precisely because of the knowledge and experience of the Father which he alone has, even at this moment of darkness he sees clearly the gravity of sin and suffers because of it. He alone, who sees the Father and rejoices fully in him, can understand completely what it means to resist the Father’s love by sin. More than an experience of physical pain, his Passion is an agonizing suffering of the soul. Theological tradition has not failed to ask how Jesus could possibly experience at one and the same time his profound unity with the Father, by its very nature a source of joy and happiness, and an agony that goes all the way to his final cry of abandonment. The simultaneous presence of these two seemingly irreconcilable aspects is rooted in the fathomless depths of the hypostatic union.

27. Faced with this mystery, we are greatly helped not only by theological investigation but also by that great heritage which is the “lived theology” of the saints. The saints offer us precious insights which enable us to understand more easily the intuition of faith, thanks to the special enlightenment which some of them have received from the Holy Spirit, or even through their personal experience of those terrible states of trial which the mystical tradition describes as the “dark night”. Not infrequently the saints have undergone something akin to Jesus’ experience on the Cross in the paradoxical blending of bliss and pain. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, God the Father shows Catherine of Siena how joy and suffering can be present together in holy souls: “Thus the soul is blissful and afflicted: afflicted on account of the sins of its neighbour, blissful on account of the union and the affection of charity which it has inwardly received. These souls imitate the spotless Lamb, my Only-begotten Son, who on the Cross was both blissful and afflicted”.13 In the same way, Thérèse of Lisieux lived her agony in communion with the agony of Jesus, “experiencing” in herself the very paradox of Jesus’s own bliss and anguish: “In the Garden of Olives our Lord was blessed with all the joys of the Trinity, yet his dying was no less harsh. It is a mystery, but I assure you that, on the basis of what I myself am feeling, I can understand something of it”.14 What an illuminating testimony! Moreover, the accounts given by the Evangelists themselves provide a basis for this intuition on the part of the Church of Christ’s consciousness when they record that, even in the depths of his pain, he died imploring forgiveness for his executioners (cf. Lk 23:34) and expressing to the Father his ultimate filial abandonment: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).