As we approach Lent, it seems like time is flying by. Wasn't it just yesterday that we began a New Year liturgically with the First Sunday of Advent? Now we are two weeks from Ash Wednesday. What was that about tempus fugit?
In this hectic pace, we must continue our pursuit of practicing virtue in order to climb the rungs of the ladder of holiness, and sanctity. That is why it has been placed upon my heart that we need to take a look back at those great saints we have read about in these lessons, and learn that which we might not have learned to date: Growing in virtue is a process, dependent upon our willingness to correspond to the graces God gives us, through the intercession of His Most Holy Mother Mary, and of all the angels and saints of Heaven. While those saints we have read about were blessed creatures, having received singular graces from birth to grave, most of God’s creatures are not chosen for such expansive apostolates. That does not mean, however, that we are not called to be truly holy, to become saints in transit to our Heavenly Home.
In reading these brief lessons, I pondered if anyone has become discouraged in the pursuit of virtue in this time of such evil, when The Great Apostasy shows no signs of coming to a grinding halt.
I know I sometimes feel a bit frustrated in the pursuit of virtue. I seem to take a step or two forward, only to find that my human frailties take me backward further than I could have imagined possible. However, the key is not to let those failures discourage, but rather encourage us. Remember, God looks at our hearts, at our intentions, and at our effort, more than at our successes. He alone can grant us the grace to bring our efforts into the realm of success. He keeps the books; we shouldn’t be concerned about that! We should be striving, not anxiously adding and subtracting success vs. failure.
The few great saints we’ve examined led lives of such obvious holiness, that we cannot help but note that they gained this sanctity by living in total self-abnegation, total denial of the world, often accompanied by severe mortifications of the flesh in order to subject their frail mortal passions to the greater honor and glory of God. We shudder, we think, “I could never do that! I’m not called to do that.”
Truthfully, few are called to such austerities. In this evil time of The Great Apostasy, Our Blessed Mother revealed to Venerable Mother Marianna de Jesus Torres, a Conceptionist Nun in Quito, Equador, in the early 1600’s, that in these very times there would be few saints walking the earth. She spoke of the few who would remain faithful to the One True Faith, and how severely they would be tested…severely tested in the virtue of patience, as progress in stemming the evil would be excruciatingly slow, and the Sacred Scriptures must be fulfilled, thus leading to great chastisements for all of mankind.
Where, then, do we fit in, and how do we achieve virtue in a world totally lacking in it?
Ah, there is an answer, and a saint to fit the bill, if you’ll pardon the expression.
We have a saint that I hope all of you have heard of, read about, and have studied, for it was God’s Perfect Will that near the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, He provided for us this young girl who lived a most unextraordinary life. Her name? St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.
You’ve read "The Story of a Soul" her autobiography?
It’s fairly short, very easy to read, but perhaps not so easily understood in our hectic world today.
Thus, let’s pause and examine her life, her rapid advancement in virtue toward sanctity, so that we understand that such holiness is not only possible for each one of us, but absolutely a command from God for us, if we are to attain Heaven.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus did not teach anything new. No saint taught anything new. They expressed the truth of Christ’s gospel, each in a clarifying light given them by the Holy Ghost. St. Therese, hidden in a cloistered Carmelite convent, was chosen by Almighty God to teach those of the ‘modern’ era that holiness does not consist so much in what we achieve via a career, the success of that career, etc. It consists of loving God above all created things, and of uniting ourselves at every moment with the Most Sacred and Sorrowful Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in our exile here on earth.
What did this young girl, turned a mere twenty-four before her death in 1987, do that was so tremendously sanctifying as to merit her canonization by Pope Pius XI in 1925? Having read about St. Therese from early childhood (my mother, who was born in 1919, had a tremendous devotion to St. Therese and passed that devotion to me when I was but a child), I can tell you that her “little way of spiritual childhood” has been such a tremendous occasion of graces for me, a poor, weak sinner. She should be an inspiration to everyone in this world gone mad, for she understood through grace that it is the “little” things that we do that count more than any great undertaking we are not called to accomplish.
She was a shy child, deeply affected at age five by the death of her pious mother. She was left to the care of her elder sisters and loving father, Louis. From them she learned that it is the simple things of God’s creation that speak to our souls, not the things man creates.
It is simplicity that attracts God, for even though He is Infinitely Wonderful in every aspect, He is simple. His Only-Begotten Son taught us the way to holiness: It consists of the double-thread of charity and suffering. There is no one who can be left out of this equation, for the Holy Ghost weaves the cloak of charity and suffering, the gold and silver threads His alone, that we don as we ascend to the heights of sanctity.
Difficult, yes. Possible, yes. Beyond our ability? Never! If it were so, Christ would have told us that to ‘be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect’ was an unattainable goal. On the contrary, Christ encouraged His apostles and disciples to strive for this perfection, and in doing so, to walk in His footsteps.
St. Therese understood this precept, perhaps more clearly that most of her own time, and of our time. She was a homebody, a shy child who was uncomfortable around a group of her peers in school. She much preferred to receive her education at home, for the cliques and gossiping girls at the Benedictine school where she was sent were not for her.
She lost her mother, and adopted her older sister as her new mother. Then, just when she thought things were settling down, she was subjected to another great loss, that of her sister Pauline, who entered the Carmel. Pauline was to become Mother Agnes, often St. Therese’s superior in religious life. The older sisters Marie, Leonie, and Celine, plus her beloved father, became her whole life, and in this way God taught her that such delights, however noble they appear (since her entire family was pious and devoted entirely to the things of God), are transitory, and not worthy of a soul truly in love with God.
He proved this to Therese by taking Marie away to the Carmel a short time later. Leonie, who had some difficulties finding her place in the spiritual life, eventually, after many false starts, entered the Order of the Visitation, and there, through the spiritual advice given her by her youngest sister, Therese, and through God’s goodness, she remained until her death. Celine, who’d remain at home to care for their aged father until his death, would be the last to leave home.
This shy, home-loving little girl, who was so traumatized by the loss of her mother, then Pauline, grew quite ill. I will not speculate as to the nature of that illness, except to say that many noted theologians have already done so, and continue to do so. I will only say this: Therese suffered intensely for a child of barely ten. It was her sisters who began a novena to Our Lady of Victory as this illness intensified, threatening to take Therese from them. As the novena neared its conclusion, Therese’s sufferings increased. She was able to gaze upon a statue of Our Lady of Victory, which Marie had placed in her bedroom. The statue took on life, and Therese saw Our Blessed Mother smile at her. At once, she was cured.
Rejoicing greatly, Therese resumed her normal routine, but there was something different now. She prepared for First Holy Communion with fervor, and found that after her reception of Our Blessed Lord, she thirsted for Him with ever-increasing desire. Thereupon, she made Him a promise that she’d never refuse Him anything He asked of her.
With Marie in Carmel along with Pauline, and Leonie having gone to another convent to try her religious vocation, Celine and Therese became soul mates, sharing their love of God with one another. They spoke of God, loved Him, and found the idle talk of the world an annoyance and a distraction.
Thus, Therese resolved to follow the impulse of the Holy Ghost and sought to enter Carmel, where she was to devote her life to suffer for priests in their all-important vocation, and to discover that her true vocation was to be “love” within Holy Mother Church.
She showed this love to her family at first, even to extended family. However, once she crossed the threshold of Carmel, a whole new family awaited her, and they brought with them fresh trials and much sufferings, of a whole new and different nature.
Within the cloister, where she was not free to escape to her bare cell to think of God, Therese learned her “little way.” This ‘little way’ was meant to be practiced by all people, not just those cloistered behind a heavy grill, with a door locked from the inside to keep the world out.
The personalities of the other nuns in the Carmel provided Therese with all the suffering necessary to gain Heaven. With these personalities, Therese wrote that her own nature was so differently inclined, that she was driven to sweat heavily, even losing her ability to meditate and pray as the rule prescribed, because one nun fidgeted endlessly, clicking and clanking her heavy Rosary beads. Another, riddle with painful arthritis, had grown old, cranky, and argumentative. The cooks of the Carmel testified at the process for her beatification and canonization that for the nine years she lived among them that no one knew what kind of food she preferred. She ate whatever was put in front of her. Thus, she frequently received the last of the leftovers, while the other sisters got the fresh food, for Therese never complained.
Ah, never complained! Do we do that? Let us follow St. Therese’s example, and cease complaining when things do not go as we have planned. What else did she do? Well, she confessed that saying the Rosary was truly penance for her, as she was inclined to that spontaneous prayer of a contemplative soul that speaks to God from the heart of the soul. However, she offered the repetitive nature of the Rosary, which the nuns said every day, to Jesus, uniting her sufferings to His Most Sacred and Sorrowful Passion. She offered the weight of the wool habit during the heat of the summers, and she offered the freezing cold of the winters when all she had was her nightshirt and a small, thin blanket to keep her warm. She offered to Him the walk she had to make each night after community prayers along the cloistered walk to her cell, which took her outdoors.
She offered the weeding of the garden, the sweeping of the cloisters and the spiders she frequently discovered in her dusting. She was terrified of spiders, and offered her fear to Our Lord.
On laundry days, she offered to Our Lord the impetuous nun who knelt next to her, who invariably splashed dirty water on St. Therese’s face and habit during the beating of the laundry against the sides of the laundry area. She scrubbed, she set places in the refectory, she walked the arthritic nun to the refectory, and patiently cut up her food, while her own got cold!
She obeyed all commands from her superiors, and even though she was artistically inclined, she gave first place to other nuns who believed she had no talent, and that she was incapable of even a simple flower arrangement.
Therese smiled when she hurt, and hid her tears from others, saving them for Our Lord.
She encouraged others in their vocations, and molded them to be as “little children,” who trusted in Our Lord with such totality, that their confidence in His Providence for them could not be shaken.
This confidence, which formed the bulwark of her “little way,” was put to the ultimate test when she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis of the lungs, and her life began slipping away with every labored breath she took. During her final illness, she did not complain. She did not speak about being a useless nun who lay in the infirmary for months. She did not complain when the doctor made infrequent visits, applying tremendously painful treatments to her body, none of which had any positive effect.
She drank the milk prescribed for her, even though it made her condition worse. She endeavored to keep her smile for everyone who bothered to visit her, and was conscious of the work of the infirmary nuns who cared for her. She once asked for a glass of water.
The nun on duty, thinking she was doing St. Therese a big favor, had covered her with a wool blanket on a warm day, when Therese was burning with fever.
When she asked for a glass of water, the nun gave it to her, then sat down and promptly fell asleep in the chair next to the invalid’s bed. St. Therese had every right to somehow, by clearing her throat, arouse the sleeping nun. Instead, offering all to Jesus Crucified, St. Therese held that glass until the nun woke up, rather than interrupting the sleep the nun needed.
Obediently, she wrote the story of her life on scraps of paper she was allowed to gather by the Mother Superior. She scribbled in pencil on these scraps during her little free time, and wrote in a style far different from the style of the early saints, or even those of the high middle ages. She wrote as a little child who possessed great wisdom, but Therese was not childish. She was mature beyond her years, and this is the lesson she was to leave behind as her soul took flight to Heaven: Little things done with exceptional care, patience, and with love for our neighbor, are the necessary ingredients to sanctity.
Our lesson is this: In our various lifestyles, wherever God has placed us, it is the everyday, humdrum, monotonous things of life which we are required to do for the mortal body, that bring sanctity to the soul. Every thought, word, and deed can and must become a prayer offered in union with Our Lord’s most Sacred and Sorrowful Passion, if we truly desire to Love Him.
Making food for the family, even for ourselves, becomes an act of charity, if we offer it to Him. Brushing our teeth, scrubbing floors, cleaning the bathroom, doing the chores, shopping at the supermarket, and trying not to let the obscene titles on magazines and books distract us, is a supreme act of prayer when offered in union with Our Lord’s Passion. Taking time to be alone with Him, despite the responsibilities of the day. Giving ourselves time to recreate properly, not plopping down in front of the TV to idly, passively entertain our baseness by watching offensive programming. Watch less, and get yourselves some good movies from long ago, if necessary, if you want to watch something uplifting. Trust me; you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything on TV that isn’t scandalous, especially the commercials. If you happen to find a program worth watching, then close your eyes and ears during the commercials, lest you fail in purity, for God does judge what we willingly allow to pass through our senses. If obscene language is used, turn it off! If it is suggestive in any way, off it goes! If the program succeeds in not offending, then be certain the commercials will offend—and have your hand on the off button the second it switches to commercials. You won’t lose out on anything, and you’ll gain in virtue and sanctity in this ultra-modern world that flaunts grossness, greed, obscenity and the moral perversion of a society in sync with God's adversary.
Accept with joy whatever comes your way, for nothing happens that God does not permit or will to happen to us. Put up with life’s inconveniences with a smile, and pray for patience. Even if you have to grit your teeth when something annoys, do so, but do it for love of our Crucified Savior and in reparation for your own sins and the sins of the world.
Give to others so generously that you always take the last place, seek the least, and ask for nothing. This allows you the freedom your soul needs to soar into God’s presence, and provides an excellent opportunity for your neighbor — be that your spouse, your children, your parents, or a true neighbor — to extend to you that exquisite charity God requires of us all.
Little things done extraordinarily well for love of God: this is the formula of St. Therese’s “little way.” Let us imitate her in our journey through the virtues, for God gave her the special mission of teaching us this simple little method of sanctity in an ever more complicated world. Above all, he willed that St. Therese should be universally known and loved, so as to allow her intercession to bring a ‘shower of roses’ to all who invoke her assistance. She foretold this nearer to her death when she said to those gathered near her invalid bed that she’d spend her Heaven doing good upon earth. She has kept her promise by God’s Will, and we, who are her devoted clients, can do much good here on earth before we are called to our eternal home, by doing as she did: little things offered to our Crucified Savior with all the love by which we are capable due to grace and God’s Providence for us.
Remember, God looks at our hearts, our heart’s intentions, and our effort. The success of our effort is up to Him. Likewise, He counts the effort, not the successes. Therese did nothing extraordinary in life. She lived like a caterpillar, concealing herself in a monotonous world of day-in, day-out routine that would drive the modern person mad, and she did it because she loved Him and offered all to Him for the holiness of priests!
Don’t let the counterfeit church of conciliarism confuse you about Therese’s mission. She never advocated for women priests nor for ecumenism. Rather, her zeal for the salvation of souls was such that she offered her life to God as a holocaust of Love, and He accepted her oblation. She died from TB, but in truth she died of Love for Him. Can we do less?
This coming Lent, my dear friends, all of us can imitate St. Therese of the Child Jesus. She showed us the ‘little way’ of spiritual childhood, and she was proven right by the very fact that at the moment of her death, her soul flew to Heaven, and a nun who kissed her feet was instantly cured of a malady. Therese’s first miracle was to those with whom she’d lived, and through whom she’d gained the knowledge of sanctity in little things. The caterpillar had become a beautiful butterfly forever to flutter gracefully about the celestial regions.
She will help us, if we only ask for her aid. Call upon St. Therese every day, and before you know it, you’ll be living the virtues as the greatest of canonized saints did, even if you never wear a hair shirt, scourge your body into submission, fast until you faint from hunger, or wear your body out by neglecting the basics of food and sleep. You can find the time to pray, to meditate, to be alone with God without the distractions of the world, if you practice the ‘little way’. You can climb the ladder to the summit of sanctity by performing your daily duties with such love, that no one will ever know, except God, what it costs you to be patient, long-suffering, and charitable in the course of your life.
We, my dear friends, are called to be holy. Let us then resolve, as the only important new resolution we need ever make, to imitate the ‘little way of spiritual childhood’, and live a truly holy life one day at a time, until we are freed from time and, like Therese, freed of her finite cocoon, fly to God in eternity.
St. Therese will be waiting for us. Let’s work on this together, and make progress in the virtues as she did. Being ‘little’ should not be hard, if we learn to subdue our ego, and give to others first and ourselves last. Although the world is truly possessed by the Prince of Darkness, we must not be discouraged or afraid. Rather, smile and be a living example of Christ, and watch what happens in your own life, and, eventually in the world.
God loves a cheerful giver. St. Therese was one such cheerful giver. Will you also be one? For love of Him Who shed every single drop of His Most Precious Blood for us, I pray you are, and ask your prayers that I may be a cheerful giver as well.
Yours in Jesus and Mary,