Meeting St. Therese of Lisieux

Converts to the Catholic faith (such as myself) sometimes have difficulty with aspects of Catholic piety known as sacramentals — the tactile, real-world things having to do with the faith.  We don't grow up with things like saints and relics and Mary; for me, having been raised Baptist, the Christian life was all about knowing the Bible, being nice to people, and not using bad words.  (Sex? "Um — well, no.  Just don't… uh… On second thought, read this — um, science-type book, and then we'll talk, OK?")

Although all those things describe a believer's behavior, the Christian faith for me was more an intellectual thing than a true lifestyle, a true way of being.  The experience described below is one of the doorways God provided for me to begin to understand how certain pieces of the Catholic way of life — spirit, soul, flesh, and the practice of good that results in holiness and peace — fit together.

In 1999, about 6 months after I became a Catholic, St. Therese of Lisieux's relics were touring the world.  She made a stop at a church near me called St. Joseph's in Vancouver WA, and I went up there to — I don't know, really — see her?  See what all the fuss was about, maybe.  Receive a blessing in a new sort of way, I hoped.

I drove up there (about half an hour's ride from Portland on the freeway) and stood in line outside the church for over an hour.  It was November; very cold and sprinking a little, but not raining hard, thank God.  I was standing next to two old ladies, and we struck up a conversation.  We talked for half an hour before we realized we were part of the same parish!  They were sweet and wonderful; sisters, one was widowed, but they were obviously very close.  They told me some about St. Therese, since I didn't know much of her story, and they gave me a pamphlet and a holy card with her picture.

 We finally got inside the church, and it was a big, long procession, a line filing down the aisle to the front and past the reliquary (a dark-colored wooden trunk) which contained her bones, and then up the far aisle and out again.  At various positions around the sanctuary, there were Knights of Columbus standing at attention and watching everything, guiding people around, and handing out single-stem roses.  I had heard of these folks, but I had never seen them do anything besides serve pancakes in the church fellowship hall before.  Here, they were all cleaned up and decked out in their full regalia — tailcoats, white shirts, colored sashes, ceremonial swords, and huge black Napoleon-shaped hats with colored plumes.  It almost looked weird and costumey, but then I realized that in this little world, the spiritual reality created by this strange intersection of history, mourning, hope, the sacred space, and the imagination, these guys were providing security for a visiting dignitary.  Ah.  The impression that settled on me was like the one you get at a really great "Roadside America" homespun tourist attraction — all the art, all the stuff, all the spectacle just bursts forth so honestly from the love of human hearts, you can't help but respect it, even if it seems tacky or bizarre at first glance.

Anyway, I slowly made my way up toward her.  As I approached, I saw people take things like medals, jewelry, papers, and pictures and press them up against the glass museum case that enclosed the reliquary.  All I could think of was the flower I'd been given by one of the Knights, and though I didn't really know the protocol for this sort of thing, I supposed it'd be okay if I just touched that to the glass.  (Looking back on it, I think anything I would have done would have been fine; it was people's personal expressions of devotion that they were enacting, after all.)

I arrived at the reliquary and stared at it for a moment, and then gingerly touched my flower to the glass.  I wondered if I'd miraculously be able to see inside, or if I'd hear her speak to me (with the answers to all my problems) in the same sort of way that I hear Jesus' voice in my heart, or what.  Nothing, except a small sense of excitement and warmth, like when you shake a celebrity's hand and say "I love your work", and you do sense a sincerity in their manner and response, but they're busy, after all, and there are so many other people…

If I could put the blessing I received into words, I think it came most from the way it led me to meditation on the Incarnation.  Here were the bones of a person who suffered and was made holy by God, a true temple of the Holy Spirit.  This didn't go away after her spirit left her body; she was somehow still there — a presence, a will, an intention. The holiness and integrity that Christ had given her somehow imprinted and soaked into those bones, leaving a spiritual aroma that attracted us all, that we sensed as we gathered in faith to honor her.  If I heard words from her in my heart, I guess they were, "Thanks for coming.  It's nice to meet you."  She seems to be someone who's willing to travel with those who suffer and wants to make a difference in people's lives, even after she's been dead almost 80 years.

Sometimes I pity those who know Jesus but don't realize the wealth of friendship and support we have through the heart of Christ in the communion of saints.  Then I realize, that never stopped the saints from loving us before.  It doesn't stop them now.  It can't; it never will.

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  • Guest

    A beautiful story.  I was told that as an infant I was very ill, and went into convulsions, when my father picked me up, and held me in his hands as he stood before a statue of St. Therese, and prayed.  I stopped convulsing, was taken to the hospital, and now 79 years later, I still pray to St. Therese and ask her to pray for me.  I married a woman named Theresa, and we lived together for almost 55 years; she is now in Heaven, and in my heart I know that she and St. Therese are praying for me.  Yes, I believe that we can still feel the love of our "Saints", if we would just take a moment and rest in their presence.

  • Guest

    I too am a convert and it was, I have no doubt, St Therese who helped lead me to the Church. She helps me in so many ways, I know I would leave things out if I tried to enumerate them. I am blessed to have some "stories", but nothing dramatic or fascinating enough to share.

    In some countries she  is the "hopeless cause" Saint — and wow, it's true – if she can reign in someone like me, then we should all have confidence in the intercession of the saints! If anyone is feeling hopeless today, or an all around lost cause – why not give St Therese a chance to turn things around? 

  • Guest

    I converted to the Catholic faith in 1988.  Like you I never really got a full understanding of the saints.  I was really only giving them some a sort of "lip service".  But in the mail I received this packet of sample saint cards they some publisher wanted me to buy.  I looked through them put them away thinking this is another mailing list I need to get off of.  But for some reason I picked up the packet again and was drawn to the card of St Teresa de Avilla.  As I read her card it mentioned she was a patron saint to people who suffered form headaches.  I suffer from chronic migraines and even had one at the time I was reading the card.  So I asked St Teresa to pray for me.  In a few hours my migraine went away without the use of medication.  And then one night when I couldn't sleep I got up to watch TV.  At the time I rarely watched EWTN but that night it was a channel I went directly to and for some reason that night they had a movie of about St Teresa.  It was in Spanish but dubbed in English.

     

    Ever since then I have learned that learning about our saints help us become closer to Christ.  And asking their intercession really and truly helps.

     

    In case you wondering.  St Teresa is my patron saint now.

     

    Tarheel

  • Guest

    October marks my three-year mark as a Catholic revert.  I have to give St. Therese some credit, as well. There was nothing fascinating or fanciful for me.  Just a still, small voice.

    Three years ago…could have been today…I went to see the Therese movie that was playing in public movie theaters.  Curiosity, maybe.  There was something about the humble, simple, prayerful, “Saintly” life that Therese led in the convent there with the Sisters, that stayed with me. We didn’t experience spirituality quite like that as evangelicals.  I called my friend, Kathie, a Catholic convert,who I knew well from my protestant evangelical days,  and asked if I could attend Mass with her that very Sunday.

     

    St. Therese movie on Friday… Mass on Sunday.   (No Eucharist, though, I knew that would have to wait). By Monday, I was Catholic.  Bang.  No fireworks.  As simple as that.

    It wasn’t necessarily the story or the movie that was inspirational to me.  It was the lives of young Catholic children whom I taught, who were excited about the movie, and I just bet they were asking St. Therese to intercede on behalf of fallen-away Catholics like me. 

     

    Thank you, St. Therese,

    Pray for us.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    I have no personal reflection on this great saint of humility.

    However, permit me to reflect that as she showers us with roses of God’s graces, she knows that these beautiful blossoms are on vines laden with thorns. That we suffer as she and her beloved Christ did is no shame for her. Sharing the suffering makes Christ and His saints more endearing, more revered. That suffering is part of what makes embracing the rosy graces so wonderful. Suffering the thorns is as much a gift as the gracious, sweet, tender kindness of the rose flower.

    And, sharing the sweet suffering in God’s will is to share in our Savior’s life and passion as we can in no other way. For dearest Therese of the Child Jesus, daughter and sister, Sister and Saint, it led to unfathomable humility; it led straight Home to Heaven, and the arms of her Beloved.

    Of thorns, we are reminded of our Crucified Christ. Look – His arms are spread out – and He wants but one thing to fill them, in all His human and Divine love – He wants you and me, as He did (and still does) Saint Therese.

    O, sweet Saint Therese, pray for us as you shower your gifts of roses and God’s graces upon us.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    When Saint Terese's relics came to a Carmel in my area the crowd was enormous, comin in to fill the chapel with about 150 people at a time.  After they went through another 150 were admitted.  By chance my daughter and I were in the group that was held over for a Mass.  She was then about 16 years old at the time.  We knelt at the reliquary and prayed for a minute or two before moving on.  Immediately in front of me was the reliquary with my daughter behind it.  Behind her in my line of vision was the tabernacle and above it was a crucifix.  I prayed to Therese to pray for my daughter in her life as an adult.  I sensed that my prayer was heard.  This daughter, now 25, announced this summer that she had spent a year discerning that she had a religious vocation.     

  • Guest

    I'm a convert 15 years this past Easter. When I lost my 4th baby we were in the process of a move and I had packed up our school room and when I went back in that room after my miscarriage to pack some more (the same day) to get my mind off of it what do I find on the table but my prayer card of St. Therese that I used to pray each day when getting dressed in the morning. I had lost it until then and I have no idea how it just happened to be laying on the table because I hadn't put it there nor my husband. I cried and cried and realized that she wanted me to find it to let me know that she was praying for me and she was holding my little one in heaven up to God and watching over him until we will be united one day in Heaven. :) My next girl I'm naming Therese!

    God Bless this was a great article.

    KellyWink

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