I used to be really skeptical about Thérèse. Many of my friends raved about her autobiography, Story of a Soul, but I was unsure. I wondered how this young girl from a small town in 19th century France could teach me anything about prayer or sacrifice. She seemed to have been given everything as a child, and she entered a cloistered monastery before she had the chance to do anything I thought could be impressive.
I’m so grateful I was wrong.
I checked out Thérèse for myself. I read her story, learned about her teachings of mercy and love, and found that, in truth, my life was changed. In this blog, I’ll highlight five things Thérèse taught me. She’s a woman of great faith and deep love. Here are some things she showed me how to do.
How to laugh at myself
Thérèse grew up struggling against scruples, a deep and dangerous scrutinization of one’s spiritual actions and merits. She worried she might never be good enough and frequently found herself in violent fits of apology, trying to win back a worth she feared she’d lost. However, when she writes her story as a young adult, she has gathered the grace to look back upon her childhood with goodness and levity. Having gained a powerful perspective of mercy, she understands that the worries she once thought severe now seem to pass like vapor in the wind, trusting that God’s goodness outweighs her failings.
How to grow up
Thérèse shines to me as a remarkable example of growth. What we now call her autobiography was originally a series of letters to her religious superiors who had asked her to recount her spiritual journey (hence the work’s famous title). She wrote upon the request of others who saw greatness in her, and, perhaps while she wrote, she smiled to see how far she’d come. She, who started as a frightened little girl in a small town, grew into a strong leader of prayer and devotion, even working to train new members of her Carmelite religious community. Unashamed of where she started, Thérèse gives great glory to God for guiding her into her present.
How to receive mercy
Thérèse offers us powerful teaching of mercy. While Saints like Paul and Augustine of Hippo tell of their dramatic conversions from serious sin to deep grace, it seems Therese never had a “pre-conversion” life. She writes about knowing Christ’s love for her since her beginning. Her spiritual director even declared that she had never committed a mortal sin! How then can she teach us about mercy? Thérèse describes moments in her prayer when God showed her even the worst sins of Hell, only then to reveal that His mercy had infinitely greater power. Through her quiet devotion and daily prayer, she knew that no sin was too great for the Lord’s ocean of mercy. And she rushed with joy to God at every chance He had to forgive her.
How to pray with confidence
When Thérèse was a young girl, her sister presented her with a basket of different dresses, telling her to choose her favorite. Therese shouted out, “I choose all!” and took the whole basket (Story of a Soul, 27). This cry of joy has become a motto for many under her patronage, for it reminds us that nothing is impossible for God. Thérèse comes before God, having emptied herself; thus, she can be filled to surplus with grace. She often prayed that God would make her a great Saint, even greater than Teresa of Avila! Without fear before her Heavenly Father, Therese bears her heart and trusts that God will show her His abundance.
How to love without fear
Thérèse is a patron saint of mission, yet she hardly traveled anywhere during her life — she was even a cloistered nun! But, her patronage comes from the great love she poured out to her sisters in community and even in letters to those beyond her convent walls. She trusted that her intercessory prayers had a veritable impact on her world, and she believed that God would carry her love to the hearts of those for whom she prayed. Learning not to fear the sting of unrequited love, she poured out compassion and patience to her sisters in community, even when some of them could hardly stand her. She knew that love was a gift given in deep freedom, having learned how best to love from her Father in Heaven.
Thérèse is a powerful spiritual example for us, shining with patience, grace, and love and growing from a frightened child into a confident woman of devotion; Thérèse models a little way of realistic holiness for all of us. She desired to be great, not in her performances or actions, but in the quiet of her heart, learning to love as Christ Himself loved. So may she serve for us all as a great model of Christian virtues and a generous heart. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, pray for us!