Near the beginning of her autobiography, St. Therese of Lisieux, very honestly and openly discusses her questions to God in prayer about why He has preferences for certain souls. She says: “I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace.” She is struggling to understand the abundant graces and gifts He gives to specific saints that allow them to accomplish great feats and triumphs for the glory of His name, but leaves some souls seemingly alone or with “lesser” gifts.
This is a question we all struggle with at times as well. In fact, it is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to many and the source of envy for countless souls. Look at how many times throughout Church history a saint has been the victim of the envy of their brothers and/or sisters in Christ who sought their ruin. Envy is very much a part of what led to Our Lord’s crucifixion. In our own lives it is frequently on display within ministries, parishes, families, friends, and Catholic social media is rife with it.
The ego is a tyrant if we do not keep it under firm control. It can lead us down many wrong paths guided by the the temptations of the Enemy to pride, anger, and envy. St. Therese’s question to God is an honest one not born of sin, but of charity, since she is concerned about souls who she thought were abandoned by God. In the right spirit, we too can bring this question before God, but we must be prepared for the answer and learn to submit in holy obedience to His will.
I’ve had to battle through, not envy, but jealousy, in that I cannot have anymore children. I had my only living child when I was 30-years-old. After each one of my four miscarriages, I would struggle through the Baptisms during Mass with a mix of joy and sorrow in my heart. I questioned God frequently about why I could not have anymore children and I would cry out in anguish and agony to Him. Why could everyone else around me have many children, many never experiencing the grief of miscarriage at all? My own mother never experienced miscarriages. I didn’t understand.
For years I didn’t hear an answer. He couldn’t give me an answer. I wasn’t ready for it because I was still clinging to my own will. I wanted to walk a different path from the one God has placed before me. Until I stopped trying to go my own way, there was no way for God to work within me. I couldn’t be led at the time.
The answer to my own questioning is the same as the answer St. Therese was given about the saints. Our paths are all meant to be different. We are called to trod the path Christ has ordained for each one of us. It is the path He knows will lead us to become the beautiful saint He has created us to become. It is a path He knows is the only way for each one of us. St. Therese recounts the answer she received in prayer:
Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtime beauty, and the fields would not longer be enameled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater their perfection.St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 28.
The rose does not envy the lily or the daisy. Flowers simply grow as they have been created by God as a reflection of His beauty and goodness. The same is true for us. We are not called to be overly concerned about the paths of those around us. St. Peter asks Our Lord about St. John’s path and Christ tells Him that it is not of his concern. He must follow his path. To use St. Therese’s imagery, we are not called to question the other flowers in the garden and why we are not a different flower. We are simply to bloom and become radiant before God and men for the salvation of souls.
I can’t say this lesson came any easier for me than it did to St. Peter or that I had the simplicity and love of St. Therese to embrace this answer right away. I struggled mightily to embrace my own path, to walk the Way of the Cross with Christ and Our Lady of Sorrows. I battled for years to be a different flower in the garden. I learned the hard way that Christ cannot reveal our path to us until we fully embrace it, until we open ourselves up to His will. So long as we are fighting Him and trying to be what we are not, He cannot lead us where He wants us to go.
When I finally surrendered to Him things began to make sense. I had to accept that I am simply a different flower from the women who are called to raise lots of children. I have my one daughter on this side of eternity, but He’s asked me to embrace the Cross of secondary infertility for His priests as their spiritual mother. He’s called me to stand on the line between two different vocations as a mother during a time when the priesthood is suffering immensely.
I could not for the life of me understand the connection to my infertility until multiple priests of their own volition explained to me that my secondary infertility allows me to suffer alongside priests who have taken a promise of celibacy and give up natural children of their own. It allows me to walk in these two worlds, one of marriage and family life, and that of the celibate priest. I still didn’t fully understand it since most spiritual mothers to priests have many children or are celibate religious, but I’m called to this in between in accordance with His will and for the sanctification of His priests. I’ve had to accept that much of it remains a mystery. I know it is what He is asking and that is enough.
The next time we are struggling to embrace our own path and the unique gifts we have been given let us remember these words from St. Therese:
They [the Gospels] threw a clear light upon the mystery of my vocation and of my entire life, and above all upon the favors which Our Lord has granted to my soul. He does not call those who are worthy, but those whom He will. As St. Paul says: “God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.Ibid, 27
Our path is ultimately up to God. The gifts He bestows on us, as well as others, are up to Him. Our neighbor’s path is ultimately up to God. It is our job to follow Him and go wherever He leads us. It is only in embracing our path fully that we can become the saint is calling us to become for His greater glory.
In discerning her own path, St. Therese saw that she was not called to be one of the great saints of the Church; the “giants” as she called them. She wanted to walk the little way, completely dependent upon God. In one of the most beautiful expressions of God’s goodness and love for her, she was elevated to Doctor of the Church because of her littleness. She did achieve “giant” status, but only because she sought to live God’s will for her life, not her own will or the will of others. God will elevate each one of us where He wants us to be if we fully surrender to Him and His plans for our lives.