By Sister Mary Scholastica, O.C.D.
I did not like St. Therese. At all. First off, prior to the convent, I was a bit clueless about saints. Saints did not feel like real people. Their holy cards always looked a bit too “fake”. I also didn’t know saints belonged to certain orders because, at that time, I also didn’t know about the existence of orders. So of course, after entering Carmel, I heard about her.
St. Therese. Without really knowing her, these words will give you a feel of how I judged her. Saccharine. Goody two-shoes. Plaster statues (with pastel colors that looked cheap and chintzy) of an overly sweet-looking lady holding roses. And the list goes on. The level of devotion people had towards her piqued my interest as well as having the opposite effect of not wanting to get to know her better. But as you will hear many friends of Therese say…“She found me”. Nothing earth-shattering by any means, no roses received after a novena. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even asked. I just happened to read a book about her (Everything is Grace by Father Joseph Schmidt) that changed my entire perception of the quality of person she was.
If you are reading this blog, I don’t need to tell you her story. You must know it or at least a part of it. I’ll just cut to the chase as to what was so striking to me. Her seeming ordinariness and her faithfulness to living each moment as faithfully as she could. It sounds so mundane, doesn’t it? It’s not. The level of heroism that Therese lived is awe-inspiring. It feels so trite to try to explain this. She suffered deeply after her mother’s death, the loss of her sisters when they entered Carmel, her father’s suffering and death. She endured a lack of understanding, the pettiness of others, many who tested her, ill health, many opportunities where she fought against her own self. She welcomed irritations, others’ idiosyncrasies, and pathologies and made those whom she struggled with feel like they were beloved by her. She always sought to bend her will to that of others and placed her preferences and desires last. She saw everything as a grace. She lived these words. Every day.
If this is holiness…then holiness means going into a battle every day, rising and re-adjusting your gear after each skirmish, re-engaging and moving closer to victory…which for Therese was HEAVEN. She fought intense battles to conquer self and for the sake of bringing innumerable souls to the Lord through her many acts of love and sacrifices. Nothing saccharine about it. This took place every day but looked insignificant in the eyes of those around her.
How can one little nun who died at the age of 24, who never left the confines of her cloister walls after entering Carmel end up becoming a friend to millions, the patron saint of missions, known to the entire world? It’s amazing. Her “little way” is simple. It’s profound. It’s tough. It’s a grace.
Therese is no longer a stranger to me. She is my sister and friend. She inspires me. I still don’t like many of the statues made of her and I think many artists miss the point of really capturing her spirit. However, knowing her heart and knowing the roses she’s holding speaks of the shower of roses she continues to pour out over all of us. I have conceded and now count myself as one of her many followers. She definitely found me and I’m glad.