Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reflections on the Little Flower: “The Story of a Soul” Chapters 1-4*

I have been reading “The Story of a Soul”, by St. Therese of Lisieux, which I borrowed from my friend Loren Christie (who has been posting her own thoughts on the book on her blog). It is well that I finally get around to reading the story of my own patron saint.

You see, when I received confirmation through RCIA at the age of 15, I had a very cursory introduction to the Catechism and no education in the lives of the saints. I am reluctant to admit that I picked my confirmation name Therese only because I thought it was pretty.

Therese would understand, I think. She too was constantly confessing to crimes of vanity, and was thankful to have been saved from her own weaknesses by being sheltered by the convent. Her virtues she never takes credit for, believing them to be either part of her soul or ingrained in her by her parents (who were canonized last year) and sisters.

After reading the first few chapters, I now understand thoroughly the concepts behind the formation of the Little Flower group, of which I was a teacher for two years. I used to research for a whole week in preparation for teaching about one of the saints and their respective virtue. I was afraid to admit my own ignorance, for fear the other mothers would not think me fit to teach their daughters. I should have known their hearts were much softer than this. I learned so much in this process. The fact that I am doing everything backwards I think is part of God’s plan for my own formation. The lessons in humility as I am shown my own ignorance just keep coming.

The first chapter talks much of people as flowers, a symbol to be used repeatedly and in many contexts throughout the book, and she offers herself as Jesus’ “little flower”.

“…I understood that if all the little flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose its springtime adornment, and the fields would no longer be sprinkled with little flowers…”

Therese’s older sister Pauline, who became her second mother when their earthly mother passed away, and later would become her Mother at the convent, made her a book to help in her preparation for First Communion. “…Each day I did a great number of practices that yielded as many flowers. I fulfilled a still greater number of objectives that you had written in my little book for each day, and these acts of love formed the flower buds…” In the modern Little Flowers group, young girls try to check off as many actions as they can toward forming one of the virtues. Humility, of course, was one of them.

I had another lesson in humility this past Sunday. While I was in church on Palm Sunday, I was conscious that I was thinking about how pretty we all looked. “Stop it!” I told myself, “How can you be thinking vain thoughts right now!” And then I started thinking about a good act that I was planning on performing that afternoon. “Pay attention!” again I reprimanded myself.

Circumstance prevented my planned act of charity. It was so obvious to me then, that God was preventing my doing something good if I was going to do it out of vanity.

Therese recalls seeing the Blessed Virgin smile at her, and her sister convinces her to tell the Carmelite nuns about it. She knew in her heart she should keep her secret, and that the telling of it would take away the happiness of it. She suffered greatly from this and learned a valuable lesson from it. “Soon God let me feel that true glory is the one that will last forever, and that to obtain it, it isn’t necessary to do outstanding works, but to remain hidden and to practice virtue in such a way that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing [Mt. 6:3].”

Later I was thinking about my blog and of all the efforts a modern writer must go through to self-promote. Even good Catholics are not immune to these worldly necessities. It requires a constant self-reflection and prayer to be sure the motivation is a Godly one. For me, I want to utilize my God-given talent for his purpose. I also would like to be able to stay home forever, and be somewhat financially independent.

But in the past several years vanity has also played a part in how I define my role. Although I love being a stay-at-home mother, I am aware of the lowliness of my title in the eyes of many. I have often felt that I wanted to be seen as MORE than “just” a stay-at-home-mom. I wanted people to recognize me for all the other things I was doing.

All those things have been stripped away, as I have explained in past posts, with no book contract in sight, so I can’t even call myself a “writer” without explaining further. Now ALL I am doing is being “just” a stay-at-home-mom. St. Therese shows me that this is my calling at the moment, and what the world thinks of that is entirely beside the point. Thank you, St. Therese. As you wished, your being accepted into heaven has caused a continual shower of flowers to fall on those below.

*The chapter divisions differ from translation to translation. The one I am reading is translated and edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, 2006. The writings that have come down as “Manuscript A” comprise the first eight chapters of this book.


Leticia said...

I spent many years in the hidden life, and was amazed when I began blogging that anyone wanted to read my writing.
I needed to be hidden so that I could learn, by suffering, how to love Christ.
He will use you, little by little, to be salt and light to a dark world.
You are to me!

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Thank you Leticia!

Loren Christie said...

Hi Elizabeth! I'm glad you are enjoying the book as much as I did. I do understand how you feel, but I truly believe that your work as a mother is most important,(and I know you do as well). It is beautiful how much you give of yourself to your family. Your children are roses.
Hi Leticia!

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Thank you Loren! You and Leticia are both such dedicated mothers and also find the time to reach out to the protect the "least of these", setting wonderful examples for your children. I saw the highlighted section in St. Therese's book on the "millstone around the neck" and leading little ones the right way and recall the commentaries after you posted on that scripture in your media blog, Leticia. I hope you get to meet each other - you are both such sensitive and thoughtful souls.