Thérèse and Her Little Way

“Holiness does not consist in this or that practice;
it consists in a disposition of the heart, which makes us always little in the arms of God, but boldly confident in the Father’s goodness.”           Thérèse , 1897

Born into a family utterly devoted to God and Christian holiness, Thérèse Martin was early shown her destiny. Walking one evening with her father, she looked up at the sky where she saw stars in a T-formation. “Look, Papa! My name is written in heaven!”

Her short life of 24 years was one continuously in communion with God. She realized that she could never aspire to a “great” vocation, such as being a priest or a missionary, so she contented herself with what was available to her. She was gifted with a total commitment to divine love that led her to seek constantly little ways of showing God how much she loved Him, and by total abandonment to God’s loving will. She chose to live this life of commitment in the Carmelite monastery in the town of Lisieux, France.

Here she taught herself to accept with joy the many little opportunities to show her love. Here are a few that have always struck me for their unimportance.

During quiet prayer in community, one of the nuns would rattle her rosary beads. At first, Thérèse found this annoying and distracting, but she applied herself to not only accepting this nuisance but even anticipating it with joy. And again, while doing laundry it was not unusual to feel a splash of soapy water on her face. She would refrain from wiping it off!

10-laundry-1894
The Saint, second from left, 1894

These were the kinds of sacrifices that had the added benefit of being totally unnoticed. There was no way that anyone would realize she was doing anything that could be called good, much less holy.. So hidden were her practices of self-denial that one of the sisters remarked, as Thérèse lay dying, “What ever will we say about Sister Thérèse in her obituary? She hasn’t done anything!”

In this way, Thérèse  was able to maintain a humility that was her  “little” way of spiritual childhood as Christ taught: Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Pope Saint John Paul validated  Thérèse’s little way to holiness by naming her a Doctor of the Church in 1997. Thérèse’s  Memorial Mass is celebrated October 1.

I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.

rose-1

Audio: Chansons des Roses. Words by Rainer Maria Rilke;
Music by Morten Lauridsen

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Celebrating Mother Teresa

We always knew Mother Teresa was a saint, but now it’s official. This week Pope Francis, representing the whole Church, formally recognized her life of heroic holiness, through her dedication to the poorest of the poor, the abandoned of Calcutta.

Not long after her death, letters to her spiritual director were published, as required to review her cause for canonization. To those unfamiliar with the journey of the the spirit, it was thought that Teresa had “lost her faith” when she described her experiences of  apparent abandonment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Her persistent service to the poor, in spite of her lack of inner consolation only served to prove her heroism.

There’s an important trait of Mother Teresa’s that we don’t hear much about, but which is, in my humble opinion, an essential aspect of holiness: a sense of humor, the handmaid of fidelity. This anecdote illustrates Mother Teresa’s ready wit.

About 30 years ago, I was watching newswoman Diane Sawyer interview Mother Teresa on TV. By that time, reports written by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge [author of Something Beautiful for God] had brought Mother Teresa to world wide attention. Diane Sawyer was clearly in awe of her. In quite a breathless voice, she asked this question:

“Mother Teresa, is it true that you talk to God?”

With a chuckle and a big smile, Mother Teresa made the motion of picking up a phone and said, “O yes! I say, ‘Hello, God!”Mother Teresa

Poor Diane! I can’t remember a thing that was said after that exchange. May we always joyfully remember that the Gospel is Good news.

To hear Mother Teresa’s acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, follow the link.

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On the First Day of the Week

 Mary Magdalene at the Tomb

A mutilated body,
Once strong and noble,
Lies in cold aloneness and emptiness.
Nothing good could come out of Galilee.

The great stone, pregnant with uncountable fears,Mary at the tomb
Big with hosts of indifferent hearts,
Bars entry to the cave:
The tomb of dead hopes and desires.

A weak and weeping woman comes.
Flaming tears of faith melt stone,
And cause explosions of love.

Faith bursts throughout the globe.
Hope is resurrected!
Fear dies, extinguished by Trust!

July 22, 2016

Odyssey of an Oblate

It didn’t take much to persuade me.

A couple of years ago I made a short retreat at Transfiguration Monastery. One of my purposes was to learn more about monasticism. Not that I was thinking of entering the monastery, but rather, drawn to the spirituality of monasticism, I wanted to learn about the “monastery of the heart.”

The very concept of monasticism – the totality of its dedication to the interior life, to a growing intimacy with God – had appealed to me long ago, even in my teens. But life takes us on different paths and here I was, close to where I had wanted to be so long ago.

After a short but substantive conversation with Sister Mary Donald, she gave me copies of some of her articles, along with the Esther de Waal book, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. That sounded like just the thing, as indeed it was!

 I resumed going to Mount Saviour Monastery which is less than a ten-minute ride from my home and had some conversations with then-prior Father Joseph Gabriel. He told me I needed to write him a letter requesting acceptance as an Oblate of Mt. Saviour. I composed and sent the letter that very day. He later described the simple process: I would attend a brief rite to publicly express my desire and choose a name. This part was easy too, and just seemed to pop out of my mouth. My patroness? Mary Magdalene whose feast just “happened” to be within the next 10 days!

 Father Joseph steered me to the writings of Michael Casey, OCSO, who explores in depth every word of the Rule. I was formally received last year, shortly before Father Joseph left.

 While the whole process of my becoming an Oblate seems very short and maybe even inordinately swift, I must emphasize that this had been in my mind and heart for many years. The decision was relatively quick only because it had been gestating in my spirit for literally decades, even if at times it had been submerged beneath other activities.

Mary MagdaleneHow did I decide so spontaneously on Mary Magdalene? Certainly, Thérèse of Lisieux has long been a favorite of mine since girlhood. But Mary Magdalene seemed closer to the adult me. She was one of the few to endure watching the lengthy dying of Jesus crucified. How much love and strength did that require! She was then the first to see and speak to the risen Christ. In her great love and joy, she threw herself at his feet, clinging to him, not wanting to be separated from him. Christ commissioned her to give the good news to the brother apostles. He had total trust that she would do this, even though this was a very bold action for a woman.

 There is much we do not know about Mary’s apostolate after that. Pope Francis has just “upgraded” her feast day, July 22, to the same level of celebration that is accorded to the other apostles. After so many centuries when she was associated with practically every fallen woman in the Gospels, it is a true grace to have her honored in this way.

 Yes, she had needed serious help from our Lord. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had expelled seven demons from her. Like any other Christian, she undoubtedly was flawed. And with us, all of us flawed, she received forgiveness with great joy and gratitude. We’re in good company.

St. Benedict

Like us, Benedict needed to search and try out different ways of serving God.

Mt Saviour Sculpture
Wood sculpture at Mt. Saviour Monastery, Pine City, NY

I enjoyed hearing about St. Benedict in the homily given on his feast day, July 11.

Like us, Benedict needed to search and try out different ways of serving God. That he would be known as the Father of western monasticism – which he’s noted for – did not come to him in a single great flash of insight or experience.

No. First, he was an “ordinary” Christian like us, going to Mass, reading and pondering Scripture. Because he lived in a somewhat degenerate Rome, he soon realized that living as a hermit would allow him to make a greater space within, a quiet space for the Spirit to fill. He therefore withdrew to a cave near the town of Subiaco, mentored by a monk by the name of Romanus.

He must have lived an exemplary life, for soon a group of monks appealed to him to be their spiritual leader, according to the biography written by St. Gregory the Great. But life lived by the Gospel and as taught by Benedict turned out not to be to their liking, and they planned to get rid of him by poisoning his wine. As Benedict blessed the carafe, it suddenly shattered, saving Benedict’s life, and saving the irritable brothers from grave sin.

For more reading on Benedict, his Rule, and the proliferation of priests, religious and laity dedicated to his teachings, see the following:

  • The Order of St. Benedict
  • Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict, by Esther de Waal
  • Strangers to the City, by Michael Casey, OCSO