I have always had a certain kinship with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus (also known as Saint Theresa of Lisieux and every combination thereof) and for years the reason for this bond alluded me. Most find a connection to a saint because of some aspect of the saints’ life mirrors their own or simply because they find their story to be attractive and exciting (see Saints John de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, and companions for a clear example of what a heroic adventure of a life looks like) but Saint Thérèse’s life, while beautiful, is not exactly what most would characterize as a classic “adventure” of a life. While she did trek to Rome to ask Pope Leo XIII for a dispensation to enter the convent at an earlier age than normal, this really was the extent of her travels; she did desire to be a missionary and found herself writing letters back and forth with missionaries traveling to new places to bring the Gospel message. With a life relatively boring to the average, restless, thrill-seeking millennial, the question still remains: why exactly have I, for my entire life, been so drawn to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux?
I played soccer from the time I was in kindergarten through college and what remained a constant was that I always wanted to play on a better team; if I was on JV, I wanted to be with the varsity kids or if I was on one travel team, I longed to be on a better travel team. If I am honest, a little part of that was pride and wanting to be associated with the accomplishment of being “called up” to a more successful team playing on a higher level, but after years of careful reflection, there is another reason why this was always the case. I have always felt a connection with those who are better than myself at things: soccer, school, prayer, life! There is a unique and mysterious beauty in being around the almost supernatural talents of someone who has found that which they were made to participate in. What’s more, is that surrounding myself with those who are better than me had always called me to work harder and strive all the more earnestly for perfection in those areas, trivial or not, and when it came to finding a saint to “call my own”, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was that saint.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux can undoubtedly attribute her desire for holiness and love for God to her parents' (who are also canonized saints, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin) upbringing but also there was something about Thérèse that was naturally holy in the same way that people seem to have a natural gift for drawing, speaking different languages, or playing a particular sport. She is holy in such a way that leaves me profoundly aware of my own sinfulness but also (and the also is so very important) calls me to desire the same level of holiness that she was able to reach in this life. I have read almost all of her writings and among my favorites is a book of short reflections from her; there is one reflection that can sum up her attitude towards like…an attitude that does not necessarily come natural to myself. She wrote:
“In the world, on awakening in the morning I used to think over what would probably occur either pleasing or vexatious during the day; and if I foresaw only trying events I arose dispirited. Now it is quite the other way: I think of the difficulties and the suffering that await me, and I rose the more joyous and full of courage the more I foresee opportunities of proving my love for Jesus, and earning the living of my children – seeing that I am the mother of souls. Then I kiss my crucifix and lay it tenderly on the pillow while I dress, and I say to Him: “My Jesus, Thou hast worked enough and wept enough during the thirty-three years of Thy life on this poor earth. Take now Thy rest…my turn it is to suffer and to fight.”
The sufferings and trials of her life are now the tinder for the fire of courage that burns in her heart, to do the good which the world so desperately needs for love of Jesus Christ, as one who longs to console Him day in and day out. I want that! We should all want that! Who would not want to see the burdens of one’s life as something that could be transformed to the good? Who would not want to wake up in the morning thinking about all the suffering’s that lie before you that day and think, “Good, more opportunities to win souls and console Jesus!”?
I cannot necessarily see into the mind of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux but as someone who has spent more time with her writings or speaking with her in prayer, I can say with absolute confidence that she was graced with a special love for the faith. She was graced with a love for Jesus that may not come as easily for some but her capacity for love, which at times is almost too much to fathom, should not be a source of frustration or envy but rather, a wellspring of hope that we are capable of loving more deeply than we may have ever before, daily. Find that saint who challenges you in ways that may not make you the most comfortable because that which you may attribute as your greatest weakness might be their greatest strength. Find the saint that calls you to holiness, to love, to greatness without words but by the very way in which they have already run the race of life. Find someone better than you, so that you may raise your eyes to heaven and say with clarity and firm purpose, “Take now Thy rest…my turn it is to suffer and to fight.” God Bless and be saints, nothing less.
In Christ & Mary,