Saturday, October 4, 2008

"The Greatest Saint of Modern Times"

Who do you think that might be? Tough call. Other than someone like, say, Mother Teresa, there's not too many folks that probably come to mind.

Back in the early part of this century, Pope St. Pius X used the above quote to describe a young Carmelite nun who died at the very young age of 24. He was speaking of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower.

Talking about St. Therese is difficult. Her life was short. From the age of 15 on, she lived in a cloister. She was not some sort of intellectual giant like Aquinas or Augustine. She herself believed that there was nothing extraordinary about her life:

Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.

All this considered, her simple holiness, known as The Little Way, is a marvelous teaching for anyone looking to live out their faith. So profound was her instruction on The Little Way that she was granted the title Doctor of the Church in 1997.

If I (and others) want to describe The Little Way in a single quote of St. Therese, I suppose it is usually this one:

I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.

Note how this dovetails with the prior quote. One does not have to be a giant or larger than life to get to heaven. One must love. This means doing all things out of love and making every act, even the smallest and most insignificant, a sacrifice for love. Therese herself wrote much about her own "smallness" and how she would never be an Augustine. Instead, she embraced her "smallness" and made it the "obscure sacrifice" her mission in life.

Towards the end of her life, we encounter a scene that almost makes one fearful of being so holy. As is often the case in those so precious to God, The Adversary expends every effort to destroy them as death approaches. She endured a spiritual dryness and a fearsome attack of scrupulosity during the last 18 months or so of her life. Her body was wracked by tuberculosis. Enormous physical and spiritual suffering were constant during this period. She spoke of being surrounded by darkness. At the end, though, as Paul says, he who perseveres shall be saved. Her suffering was not greater than her faith.

Like I said, it's difficult to talk about her and do her justice. My advice is that you read her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. She does a much better job of explaining herself than I ever could.

St. Therese, pray for us.

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