I have been reading “The Story of a Soul”, by St. Therese of Lisieux. See below for links to my previous posts on this book.
In this final chapter, Saint Therese awes me with her very high sense of charity. It is not enough for her not to be attached to the material things of this earth. If one of her sisters claims one of Therese’s ideas for her own, she forces herself not to be possessive of the products of her mind. “That thought belongs to the Holy Spirit and not to me,” she writes.
She compares herself to a little paintbrush that is used by Christ to add the small details needed to a painting that is another soul. The first time she was used in this way was at the age of fifteen, when she felt called upon to speak to an older sister in a loving way about how some of her behavior was less than desirable. Their human affection then became a truly spiritual bond.
Although she dislikes correcting others, she does not shy from this as she considers it her duty. In this way she is teaching others to be more holy. She shares with them her own faults so that they are more likely to confide in her; and yet she is strict and firm. All teachers and mothers can take her example to heart in learning to truly make a difference in their students’ lives.
I love what she has to say about prayer. She says there are many beautiful prayers in books but that is not how she prefers to pray. “I very simply tell God what I want to tell Him, without making beautiful phrases, and He always understands me…For me, prayer is an upward rising of the heart, it’s a simple glance toward heaven, it’s a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trials as much as in the midst of joys. In short, it’s something big, something great, something supernatural, that expands my heart and unites me to Jesus.”
She writes that she does feel right when saying prayers together with the others sisters, but this is how she prays alone. I have always felt this way about prayer, and feel this is the way to follow the instructions of St. Paul to “pray without ceasing”. Sometimes a prayer has no words; it is simply an open communication with God, like when you sit with a friend without speaking, just enjoying her company.
Yet when I say the “Our Father” or Nicene Creed in Church, or recite the Rosary in the company of my Pro-Life group, I feel the joy of the prayer of a community. I have often felt like I was lacking in devotion by not often saying the Rosary at home, as many of my devout Catholic friends do. Or, like St. Therese, I will only recite one decade, very slowly so that I can focus on the meaning and the meditation.
St. Therese makes me feel that my way of prayer is right. Indeed, there is no one right way of prayer. It is the product of one’s unique relationship with God, and so everyone will have his or her own unique way of praying. And yet we must not forget that united prayer in the Christian community is important as well.
She talks about how Christ covers her imperfections, both interior and exterior, with a veil. We all wear veils in public, don’t we? We wear makeup to cover our exterior imperfections; only with family do we bare our flawed skin. We don’t let all our interior flaws hang out either. But when we become comfortable with a trusted friend, we are able to let our guards down. When we show them we are not perfect, they are better able to confide in us their own challenges and anxieties. Therese found that to be true with her sisters, too.
I really had to laugh when I read about the little challenges she faced in trying to be charitable to all of her sister, especially the most annoying ones. Her descriptions brought me back to times when I sat in the pew in the church trying not to listen to someone pick their nails, click a pen, scratch their skin, or tap their heels, repeatedly. (Then I remember my own habit of twiddling my thumbs, which my husband is quick to remind me of, and sit on them to keep myself from doing it.) She would offer this up as a prayer, and when the annoyance disappeared she would actually miss it!
Therese’s little brothers were taken up to heaven, and it was a great prayer answered when she was given two priest brothers to hold up in prayer. She sets a great example for us in showing how important prayer is for other people, even at a great distance and with little personal contact. I think my ten-year-old daughter has it right when she says at Grace every night at dinner, “And please bless everyone in the whole world.”
“A soul aflame with love can’t remain inactive,” she writes in her closing pages. The prayers of the saints, ignited by love, will lift up the whole world. The perfume of this flame will attract more and more souls. And we will always know “in which direction to run” because of this holy fragrance.
*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 C” comprise chapters 10-11 of this book.
The Society of the Little Flower web page can be found here.
For my reflections on the first nine chapters, please see my previous posts: