"Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
for praise is fitting for loyal hearts." - Psalm 33
"This grace has been given to me: to proclaim to the nations the infinite riches of Christ." - antiphon from evening prayer for St. Luke
* * *
On this beautiful day in 1997, a hundred years after St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, entered eternal life, Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed her the 33rd Doctor of the Universal Church.
And on this lovely day in 2016, almost 20 years later, our sister Therese changed my life forever by sending me a rose that is still blooming, a rose beyond any I could have imagined, and one that continues to charm me with its ever fresh color and fragrance which enchant me on a daily basis.
Five years ago I had been writing about Therese in a manuscript that has since become the book Something New with St Therese, Her Eucharistic Miracle. I finished the first draft on October 19 and asked her to give me a sign showing me that what I'd written pleased her. Never one to skimp on signs, and, more importantly, always eager to show forth God's infinite love for us, she came through with what could only be called, now that I think about it, a torrent of roses, rather than simply a shower, let alone a single rose.
For that day (or rather this day) five years ago, her little brother's book showed up in my mailbox. Therese had promised her sisters that after her death they would "find her in the mailbox," and her prophetic words continue to ring true. Servant of God Marcel Van's Conversations (with Jesus, Mary, and St. Therese) entered my life via my mailbox, and I haven't been the same since!
I had read, some years before, of this Vietnamese boy with whom St. Therese chatted from heaven during the 1940s, and I had hoped he'd written down her words. He had, but they were originally in Vietnamese, then much later translated into French by Marcel's spiritual director, and unavailable in English until the wonderful translation of Jack Keogan was published in 2008. They then took eight years to find me, but when they did - POW! Not only did they knock my socks off, they sent me reeling barefoot for joy like Snoopy doing a happy dance!
For in the book of Marcel's Conversations, I found - and have continued to find - the pure doctrine of the gospels as brought into focus by St. Therese, and then spelled out by Jesus and Marcel in primer fashion for the very little ones who need constant instructions because they (or rather we) are bears of little brain and keep forgetting everything. No worries, Jesus assures us, and even all the better, for He can remind us again and again of the truth of His love for us and the confidence and abandonment He wants from us in return.
He asked Marcel, when He began their conversations in 1945, to write down everything - not just what Jesus Himself said (and Mary and Therese), but what Marcel said too. Our Lord explained that while His usual method was to have mystics write down only His words, in the case of Marcel he should write down his own part in the conversation too - that way we could see just how typical our own littleness is, and how much He loves that in us as He loved it in Marcel!
This is Therese's Little Way of Spiritual Childhood. God is not far away, He is not disinterested in us, nor is He waiting for us to impress Him. No, He loves us in our littleness! If you think about it, He has plenty of bigness already!
The book that brought Therese's little doctrine to the world was her Story of a Soul, and it continues to captivate readers and bring hearts to Christ with a freshness and intimacy that will never fade. Conversations does the same, and it is remarkable to me in how many ways it repeats and then expands on all she taught.
To take one example, Therese concluded her memoir in 1897 with an explanation of her confidence in God's mercy. She wrote:
"Most of all I imitate the conduct of Magdalene; her astonishing or rather her loving audacity which charms the Heart of Jesus also attracts my own. Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus' arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love . . . "
In Conversations, on May 9, 1946, Jesus explained to Marcel:
"Little brother, you do not know that I know man's extreme weakness. Even if men offend me deliberately and as gravely as you can imagine, their sin is nothing in comparison with a hint of Love . . . Love is infinite and infinite, repeat it to men; yes infinite and infinite. Have confidence in me and never, eternally never, will you be separated from me. Even the devil must despair of a soul in which the word 'confidence' is found."
Or as Therese wrote to her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart in 1896: "It is confidence, and nothing but confidence, that must lead us to Love!"
Lately I've been enjoying the simple descriptions of prayer, the simple ways to pray that Jesus, Therese, and Mary teach Marcel (and us) in Conversations. On May 5, 1946, Marcel tells Mary:
"I wanted to have many rifles and aeroplanes to fight the communists and prevent them from reigning over Vietnam, my country. Mother, I even asked little Jesus to grant me what I wanted, but He was content to answer me: 'The best weapon for safeguarding the interests of your country and to snatch it from the hands of the communists is prayer. Do not stop looking towards Me, little brother, and that will be enough. Each of your glances with this intention is enough to make me understand the situation of Vietnam, your country.' My sister told me the same thing as well."
Our Blessed Mother replies:
"And I, my child, I tell you the same thing also. The only way to save your country from communism is prayer. This is very easy; it requires neither cunning nor rifles, nor ammunition. A glance, or a smile, or a sigh toward little Jesus is enough; it is like a game within reach of everyone."
These passages echo the teaching Therese left us as quoted in the Catholic Catechism:
For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558.
Finally, what thrills me to the marrow is the way that Conversations shines a light on Therese's Act of Oblation to Merciful Love. Therese helped Marcel make this Act of Oblation, and Jesus explains it to him on numerous occasions, helping him (and us) to understand its pervasive beauty and power over His Heart.
On this day of anniversaries, I pray that Conversations will bring Therese's little doctrine to you too!
Draw me, we will run!
"We can never have too much confidence in the good God. He is so mighty and so merciful. We obtain from Him as much as we hope for." --Little Therese following St. John of the Cross
"After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses." --St. Therese of Lisieux
Have you been holding out on little St. Therese?
Is there a desire of your heart you have forgotten, neglected, or been shy of presenting to her? Maybe something you've almost given up on, or not even almost?
Well today is your day!
Dig deep, and speak to her openly (even if in secret) because today is our sister's feast, and she wants to show you how much God loves you!
We're finishing our novena, but that's just the beginning. Therese has roses from heaven to let fall around your ears and into your lap, roses beyond counting! So without further ado. let's summon up all our intercessions and ask for hers:
O Little Therese of the Child Jesus
Please pick for me an abundance of roses from the heavenly garden
and send them to me as a message of love.
O Little Flower of Jesus,
please ask God to grant the favors
I now place with confidence in your hands . . . those I have been sharing with you and those I have been forgetful of, those commended to my prayers and those hidden deep in my heart and known only to God.
St. Therese, help us to always believe as you did,
in God’s great love for us,
so that we may imitate your “Little Way” each day.
* * *
If you haven't experienced it before, I pray that today and in the upcoming days you feel the sweet attentions of our sister Therese pouring out God's love and roses on you. And if you have experienced this exquisite mercy in the past, I pray that you are bowled over by it again far beyond your hopes and expectations!
One of the the most beautiful roses that Therese always has available for the asking is her little doctrine, the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood. I've been marveling lately at how perfectly she expresses this Way in a letter she wrote to her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. Our gift to you today is from this letter, and I pray it speaks to your heart and imbues you with His peace beyond understanding.
Marie had asked Therese to explain her little doctrine, and Therese had responded with what became the center section of her memoir Story of a Soul. Marie loved her sister's words, but feared they excluded her from loving God as Therese did because Therese's aspirations and desires to love Him were so great, whereas Marie constantly felt her own littleness and weakness. So she wrote to Therese again (they lived in the same monastery but passing notes is always so much more intimate than whispering in the hallway! Besides, Marie wanted to make sure Therese knew her request was important), this time asking quite specifically if it was at all possible for her to follow Therese's way of loving God.
What a great question! Can we, little Therese, follow you on the path you bushwhack for us? Our machetes are dull, our arms are weak, but you forge ahead. Does it make sense for us to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even while we feel we are losing ground and almost losing sight of you?
Here is Therese's answer:
LT 197 From Thérèse to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart
Jesus September 17, 1896
Dear Sister, I am not embarrassed in answering you… How can you ask me if it is possible for you to love God as I love Him?...
If you had understood the story of my little bird, you would not have asked me this question. My desires of martyrdom are nothing; they are not what give me the unlimited confidence that I feel in my heart. They are, to tell the truth, the spiritual riches that render one unjust, when one rests in them with complacence and when one believes they are something great. ... These desires are a consolation that Jesus grants at times to weak souls like mine (and these souls are numerous), but when He does not give this consolation, it is a grace of privilege. Recall those words of Father: "The martyrs suffered with joy, and the King of Martyrs suffered with sadness." Yes, Jesus said: "Father, let this chalice pass away from me." Dear Sister, how can you say after this that my desires are the sign of my love?... Ah! I really feel that it is not this at all that pleases God in my little soul; what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy.... That is my only treasure, dear Godmother, why would this treasure not be yours?...
Are you not ready to suffer all that God will desire? I really know that you are ready; therefore, if you want to feel joy, to have an attraction for suffering, it is your consolation that you are seeking, since when we love a thing the pain disappears. I assure you, if we were to go to martyrdom together in the dispositions we are in now, you would have great merit, and I would have none at all, unless Jesus was pleased to change my dispositions.
Oh, dear Sister, I beg you, understand your little girl, understand that to love Jesus, to be His victim of love, the weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more suited one is for the workings of this consuming and transforming Love. ... The desire alone to be a victim suffices, but we must consent to remain always poor and without strength, and this is the difficulty, for: "The truly poor in spirit, where do we find him? You must look for him from afar," said the psalmist. ... He does not say that you must look for him among great souls, but "from afar," that is to say in lowliness, in nothingness.... Ah! let us remain then very far from all that sparkles, let us love our littleness, let us love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to look for us, and however far we may be, He will transform us in flames of love....
Oh! how I would like to be able to make you understand what I feel!... It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love.... Does not fear lead to Justice (1)?... Since we see the way, let us run together. Yes, I feel it, Jesus wills to give us the same graces, He wills to give us His heaven gratuitously.
Oh, dear little Sister, if you do not understand me, it is because you are too great a soul.. .or rather it is because I am explaining myself poorly, for I am sure that God would not give you the desire to be POSSESSED by Him, by His Merciful Love if He were not reserving this favor for you.. .or rather He has already given it to you, since you have given yourself to Him, since you desire to be consumed by Him, and since God never gives desires that He cannot realize. ...
Nine o'clock is ringing, and I am obliged to leave you.' Ah, how I would like to tell you things, but Jesus is going to make you feel all that I cannot write....
I love you with all the tenderness of my GRATEFUL little childlike heart.
Thérèse of the Child Jesus rel. carm. ind.
(1) To strict justice such as it is portrayed for sinners, but no this Justice that Jesus will have toward those who love Him.
* * *
That's a lot to digest! But here are the morsels and drops that feed and water my hungry dry soul again and again:
"Ah! I really feel that it is not this at all that pleases God in my little soul; what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy.... That is my only treasure . . . why would this treasure not be yours?"
"Oh, dear Sister, I beg you, understand your little girl, understand that to love Jesus, to be His victim of love, the weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more suited one is for the workings of this consuming and transforming Love. ... "
"Ah! let us remain then very far from all that sparkles, let us love our littleness, let us love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to look for us, and however far we may be, He will transform us in flames of love...."
"It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love.... Since we see the way, let us run together. Yes, I feel it, Jesus wills to give us the same graces, He wills to give us His heaven gratuitously. "
These last two paragraphs especially provide endless surprises. St. Therese is assuring us that God wants to love us the way He has loved her! He wants to give Himself to us completely, freely, beyond our imaginings. And He wants us to trust Him - Jesus, we trust in You! - to accomplish this even in the midst of, even thanks to, our utter poverty. He is rich, we are poor - it is a match made in Heaven! He will supply for all we lack! He will even give us His love with which to love Him! And finally we will be able to love Him enough!
"Let us love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to look for us, and however far we may be, He will transform us in flames of love..."
I can't help but pray that today you feel a little something! Namely the truth of Therese's words and the love of God she desires so much to share with you. But if you feel nothing, don't despair! This is precisely a fitting condition for ones as little, as blind and deaf, as we are. And far from sending God away, this poverty will attract the Fatherly Love that dominates His Merciful Heart!
May the ever ancient and ever new doctrine of the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood be yours! May Therese shower you and those you love (and the whole world!) with roses on her feast and in the days and years to come. And may your littleness never keep you from the lap of God, but draw you closer and closer into His loving arms!
Draw me, we will run!
P.S. If all goes as planned, I will be a guest on Johnette Benkovic Williams' live Women of Grace show today on EWTN (via skype). If you've missed the 1pm ET airing, it will be rebroadcast at 11 p.m. ET. Then tomorrow, feast of the guardian angels, I'll be (pre-taped) talking to the Catholic Click and Clack, the amazing Tom and Dan (or is it Dan and Tom?) on their 13th Apostle show which airs in Boston on Catholic radio. You can listen "live" at 11:30 a.m. ET when it broadcasts Saturday (and the next episode the following Saturday) HERE at WQPH Catholic Radio, or later find it there as an archived show. May the angels guide us to meadows full of roses!
I've written books and articles and even a novel. Now it's time to try a blog! For more about me personally, go to the home page and you'll get the whole scoop! If you want to send me an email, feel free to click "Contact Me" below. To receive new posts, enter your email and click "Subscribe" below.