Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Truth About St. Therese

I finally finished reading The Truth About St. Therese: An Unflinching Look at Lisieux, the Little Flower, and the Little Way.  The author, Henri Gheon, was not attracted to the Little Flower, initially.  He found her cult too sickly sweet for his taste, and he set out to look deeper into what was so attractive about her.

I've always said that Therese's autobiography, The Story of a Soul, written at the request of her sister Pauline who was prioress at the time, influenced my life the more than any other.   It did, but I think it was in that sickly sweet way that Gheon detested so much.  I was not Catholic at the time, and I was only just beginning to grasp the bare essentials of what a saint was, and that they are alive in Christ, while we are still asleep, so it is not surprising that I would have comprehended her writing in the most basic terms.   I remember a discussion with my husband about saints, probably Therese, when I said it was too bad they didn't know they had been canonized.   He laughed, and said, "Oh, they know!"  It's funny, but that was such a revelation to me!

I talked about her all the time, and I thought I understood her Little Way to sainthood, so I chose her for my patron saint, but now I see how little I truly knew about her!  St. Therese was no mealy-mouthed, pudding-faced little girl.  She was a beast!  (And I sure hope she's laughing about that high form of praise from my teenagers' vocabulary.)

Oh, sure we can all do little things with great love, which is the same thing that St. Teresa of Calcutta said, but have you ever noticed how hard it is to do those things?  I think many of us are used to making sacrifices that we don't even think about:  taking the smallest serving at dinner when there's not quite enough for the crowd, taking the burnt piece, doing one more load of laundry for someone who needs their clothes cleaned, etc.  But then there are those little things we are called to do:  Oh, hey, I'll make this small sacrifice for so-and-so today!  But then, oh, that's too small, I can't really be called to do such a little thing.

St. Therese, on the other hand, trained herself from childhood to do every. little. thing. for her playmate Jesus.   Everyone who knows about St. Therese knows the stories of how she went out of her way to show love to the Carmelite sister that she really couldn't stand, so much so that the sister really felt that Therese had an unusual affection for her.  Or she moved closer to the sister who was splashing too much on laundry day, so she would get splashed more, not less.  Or when she coughed up blood for the first time as she was going to bed, she refused to re-light her candle to see what it was and waited for morning.   She developed amazing self-control for one so young who was living the dark night of the soul for most of her 9 years in the convent, even to the extent of forgoing the society of her beloved sisters.

In this book, it suddenly struck me how heroic her virtues really were.  They were not just "little ways" to sanctity, but an all-encompassing, ongoing passion for the Lord, and a total subjugation of her own will.  Gheon says that she was rarely warm during her years in Carmel because it was so cold, except during the hottest days of summer, and she refused to go near the fire in the common room to get warm! That seems like such a little thing, (ha!) doesn't it?  Surely God doesn't want us to be constantly cold?  Can't we perform our duties better if we are warm?   Even on her deathbed when she broke down emotionally and requested prayers for her pain, she immediately offered those prayers for others who were suffering, instead of keeping them for herself.

Her faith told her that she had done well, for she said, before dying, that "God will have to do whatever I want in Heaven because I have never followed my own will on earth!"  She wanted everything from God, and she gave absolutely everything she had in exchange for it.  Upon reflection, St. Therese's Little Way of sainthood is anything but little, which is probably why she is a Doctor of the Church.  

Do you have a devotion to St. Therese?  Do you find it easy or hard to practice her Little Way?


  1. have you read "shirt of flame"?

    1. No, Jen, I hadn't heard of that. It looks very interesting!

    2. i highly recommend it. the best way to read it is to do a chapter a day so that you aren't putting it down in the middle of a reflection.

  2. Thanks for the review. I look forward to reading this book. I so enjoyed Everything is Grace for the insight it gave me to her life. I think this one will give me some insight to her spiritual life. I do love her little ways. When we are most challenged to submit to God's will we can do it her way.

    Have you read Consoling the Heart of Jesus yet?

  3. I have not read Consoling the Heart of Jesus, yet. I want, too, but I just ordered Shirt of Flame yesterday!

  4. I liked Shirt of Flame better than this one, if only for the contemporary writing style (1930s work in translation can be a little cumbersome). But you're right--she is a beast, and most of the time no one gets to see her that way.

    1. Shirt of Flame should be here today and I'm looking forward to it! This translation didn't bother me---it's not as bad as the book on the French Revolution I'm trying to slog through.


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