Falling in Love with St Thérèse.
Today I have a confession to make. In July I made my annual five day silent Ignatian retreat with the monks of St Joseph’s Abbey from Flavigny in France. The retreat was held in the Ards Friary retreat centre in north Donegal and, as I told my wife on my return, I met a beautiful woman there and I fell in love with her. No it wasn’t Our Lady! It was St Thérèse of the child Jesus and the Holy Face.
Many years ago I had begun to read St Thérèse’s autobiography ‘Story of a Soul’ but I didn’t get past the first two chapters as the book didn’t ‘do’ anything for me. It seemed like a nice childhood story, a little sentimental perhaps, appealing to women but not for someone manly like me! I knew about St Thérèse’s promise to send roses to those who asked her and, in the same way that I have found St Anthony good for finding lost items, I found St Thérèse great for sending roses to those for whom I asked her to send them. But as for her spirituality and her ‘little way’ I never got to understand it because I stopped reading the book. I now realise that I wasn’t manly enough for her deep doctoral ways.
St Thérèse introduces herself
Here’s what happened. Before my retreat I was recommend a book by a Father Michael Gaitley called ’33 days to Morning Glory’. When purchasing this book on-line I noticed another title by the same author called ‘Consoling the Heart of Jesus’ which I had seen before in a friend’s house that I visited. I have great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and on closer inspection I noticed that this book was also based around the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Perfect for my retreat I thought, so I purchased a copy along with the other book to bring with me on retreat.
Meals during the retreat are eaten in silence and usually a CD on some spiritual topic or other is played during the course of the meal. The CD played during this retreat was St Thérèse’s auto biography and I became a little irritated with the narrator when he tried to tell us that we should not look upon St Thérèse as a little flower, for little flowers are weak and delicate. Rather, he insisted, that we had to see St Thérèse as a mighty oak, tall and strong. This man does not understand nature I thought but then a female narrator began reading the story of St Thérèse and Thérèse herself explained why she is indeed a little flower in the garden of God.
All flowers in God’s garden are beautiful
“Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers he has created are beautiful, how the splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet of the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers.
And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to Lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.” (Story of a Soul – Carmel Publishing Centre)
The grace of Tears.
That evening I began reading the book ‘Consoling the Heart of Jesus’ and once again St Thérèse was quoted many times. At the next meal I found myself becoming emotional listening to the beautiful story of St Thérèse’s life. For those not familiar with the St Ignatian retreats, they are divided into four time periods known as weeks. In the first and third week one prays for the grace to weep for one’s sins. However during this retreat no tears came for my sins but I found myself in tears listening to St Thérèse’s life story. I spoke with one of the directors about this and he asked me what exactly it was that was bringing me to tears.
God’s Love for us is overwhelming.
I said that St Thérèse has a profound way of bringing out the reality of just how much God loves us and that I was overwhelmed with the realisation that God loves me with an infinite love and that he cares for me and for my wife and family to a degree that cannot be put into words.
I began looking at the crucifixion, not from the point of view of looking up at Jesus dying miserably on the cross for my sins, but from His perspective. Jesus on the cross, is performing the greatest act of love for His Father in Heaven and simultaneously the greatest act of love for fallen mankind. I began to see that there is joy and great glory in suffering and that suffering is the currency through which Jesus wishes to give glory to God and to save souls.
“Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:1-5)
The desire to Suffer with Christ.
St Thérèse experienced the desire to suffer the day after her first holy communion. “Suffering became my attraction; it had charms about it which ravished me without my understanding them very well. Up until this time I had suffered without loving suffering, but since this day I felt a real love for it. I also felt the desire of loving only God, of finding my joy only in Him.”
Now please don’t get me wrong. I am still a man who loves his comforts and I am certainly no suffering saint but I realise that suffering has an immense value when united to the sufferings of Jesus Christ and I realise that souls can be saved from hell through those human sufferings which are accepted with joy because they draw us closer to Christ making us more like to Him who suffered voluntarily for us that we might be saved.
In the next article we will look at what we can learn about family life & prayer from St Thérèse’s family.