For some time now I have felt drawn to St. Therese. I wrote about her on her feast day last year in St. Therese Teaches Us to Live Simply in Great Love. To be quite honest, I am not sure when exactly she became a force in my life. It seemed to increase when I became a wife and mother. My life slowed down considerably with marriage. I no longer travel extensively or live in the noisy, fast-paced lifestyle of Washington, DC. I left it all behind in 2009 and shortly thereafter met my husband, we married 10 months later, and had a daughter 11 months after our wedding. In other words, my life changed dramatically in a matter of a year. I had to adapt to no longer working outside of the home, something I still struggle with six years later. Don’t misunderstand me, I chose to stay home and homeschool for my daughter’s sake, but stay-at-home moms who used to work struggle too. I had to discover a different way of looking at the world, which is not dictated by deadlines, prestige, and well, pride. It’s hard not to catch the egotism bug living in DC and even harder to get rid of when it’s taken hold. There are good and holy people working in that city, but my personal struggle with intellectual pride meant God had to move me out of the Beltway.
When I was pregnant with my daughter I started to sense St. Therese in the back of my thoughts. I had a short book on her Little Way that my father had given me some years prior, but I never seemed to finish it. Through my middle name, I was named for the great Carmelite and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, but I didn’t read much of her work either even though I have had her autobiography on my bookshelf for 15 years. I have spent much of my life drawn to the works of the Dominican saints, in fact, my graduate program emphasizes Dominican theologians. Saint Thomas Aquinas takes pride of place, which I happily agree with as I have a more Thomistic mind. I have discovered recently, as St. Therese has made herself more known to me, that while I learn much theologically from the Dominicans, they are too much like me in many areas. As someone who struggles with intellectual pride, I need to learn from those who have different gifts and understandings from my own.
This past Holy Thursday I decided for the first time in my life to stay with Our Lord in repose after the Liturgy until Midnight. While I was praying in Adoration, I realized that I was surrounded by Lay Carmelites from my parish. There was something about their mannerisms, devotion, and prayer that really struck me. It was then that St. Therese really stepped forward and said: “You”. For some reason, which I will never understand on this side of the veil, she has chosen to befriend me. I was finally open to her guidance and intercession in my life and was able to recognize this interior shift; a shift, which incidentally, happened the time I made my Marian consecration.
St. Therese’s deep love of Our Lord and her desire to be a small flower in His garden is a lesson I need. In my own struggles and battles with pride, she is there showing me that the dishes and laundry I have to do almost constantly have their place in my sanctification. She shows me that homeschooling my daughter, even though it is not easy, is where God will teach me holiness. Her memories and thoughts on her parents teach me where I need to improve in my marriage and as a mother.
She was a great observer and lover of God’s creation. She cultivated a sense of wonder and joy in the face of beauty that I completely understand. This is where she met me first. I am easily stopped by beauty. I eagerly wait for each new season as the flowers in my gardens and around the area come into bloom. I stop my daughter and point out to her the smallest of flowers and their intricate beauty. Wonder and awe are things that I have cultivated since childhood. Beauty and wonder are themes I have written about multiple times because they help us grow in awe and love of God. Wonder is a childlike quality and God calls us to be childlike. Wonder helps us to stay humble and small in the face of the greatness and glory of God. It is also a posture in which God can fill us up so that we can go forth and share His love with others.
After my experience on Holy Thursday, I decided to pick up St. Therese’s autobiography, Story of a Soul, and began reading it. As with St. Teresa of Avila, I have had St. Therese’s autobiography on my bookshelf for years. People had warned me of the style or that it may be hard to get a lot out of it for a lay woman with a family, but I have found the opposite to be true. I love poetry, so St. Therese’s story reads more like a poem to me. I have also found that regardless of our different vocations, time periods, and level on the journey to holiness, her faith, charity, and simplicity are exactly what I need. She chose to befriend me and intercede for me precisely because of my need to learn to embrace and live my vocation, as simple as it is to the world, with great love. I must learn to bloom where I am planted now, not where I used to be.
St. Therese has also shown me a different spirituality which has been largely foreign to me. It has piqued my curiosity and after I finish A Story of a Soul, I plan to finally read St. Teresa’s autobiography. It is human nature to be drawn to those who are similar to us. Our friends are often similar to us or have a lot in common with us whether by situation, temperament, or interests. C.S. Lewis’ great quote on friendship sums this up perfectly:
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one…. It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The great thing about friendship is that it is initially born of commonality or fellowship, but true friends challenge and help us on the path to holiness. The Communion of Saints understands this more than most of us still in the Church Militant. St. Therese stepped forward and sought my friendship precisely because of my weakness and struggles. She can see my battle with pride and that while study is a part of the intellect God gave me, I need to temper it with humility, simplicity, and charity. St. Therese’s friendship is meant to keep me on the right path. She can wonder with me while also teaching me humility.
I have learned on this journey that we can’t only study the saints who have personalities or interests exactly like our own. Our friends, including our Heavenly ones, should challenge us and help us to grow. In seeing what we lack in our own lives, we are able to forge ahead and grow. If we never seek out our defects or weaknesses, then we can never begin to overcome them. So be open to saints who choose you and want to befriend you. It is God moving in your life through His saints. There is something you need to learn or I need to learn. Let us be thankful for the saints who choose us through no merit of our own. All you holy men and women, ora pro nobis.