Saint Relationship Status: It's Complicated.
Okay, I will admit it... I did not always have a good relationship with St. Thérèse de Lisieux. In fact I would go as far as to say I had no relationship and even a bit of resistance to the whole idea. I don’t know what it was about having a devotion to her that bothered me…
Perhaps it was the assumption that as a young Catholic woman you were just supposed to automatically love her: “You haven’t read Story of a Soul? You have to read Story of a Soul! You’re not Catholic, or a woman, or sweet, or virtuous if you don’t read Story of a Soul.” Ever the obedient follower, I read Story of a Soul. I hated it. I found her whiny, dramatic, and overly saccharine.
Perhaps it was the identification of St. Thérèse de Lisieux with femininity. Thérèse was girly… with her roses and sentimentality. I had discovered St. Teresa of Avila in high school--what a badass! She was bossy and revolutionized her order--a strong leader! This was my girl… I always felt I identified more with Avila or Edith Stein or Joan of Arc.
Perhaps it was my inability to finish a novena to save my life… Meanwhile, my friends were special ordering every color of flower from St. Thérèse depending on their crush of the day--“St. Thérèse de Lisieux, please send me a yellow rose if we should just be friends, a white rose if I should ask him out, or a red rose if we’re going to get married. P.S. We will make Thérèse the middle name of all of our kids. I promise.” We didn’t specifically cover horticulture from heaven in my Masters in Theological Studies program, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. You don’t become a Doctor of the Church for being the heavenly version of 1-800-Flowers.
Meme Design: Amy Stout of Absurd and Dignified
Regardless, I knew I needed to give St. Thérèse another try--because women I really respected had beautiful and mature devotions to her. I reread Story of a Soul about four more times over the next decade. I realized that once I had pushed through the chapters about a childhood very different from mine… and teenage years equally hard to relate to mine (I mean insisting to see the pope when you’re 15 and demanding to get your way--well maybe that was more relatable than I like to admit) St. Thérèse de Lisieux wasn’t so bad--in fact she was kind of a badass too.
While I had grown in respect for St. Thérèse, I would not say I had a devotion or even an affinity for her. It was not until my best friend Claire joined the Missionaries of Charity that I started warming up to the idea of a saint-friendship with Thérèse. After all, Agnes Bojaxhiu took her name from St. Thérèse, and she’s now known to us as St. Teresa of Calcutta.
I learned after Claire joined the MCs that St. Thérèse had had a large influence on her vocation. In fact, while in formation with the MCs her spiritual director intimated that she had dedicated her whole vocation to the guidance of St. Thérèse. He intimated this during Sister Claire’s funeral homily--like her saint-friend, Sister Claire died all too young--at 28 to Thérèse’s 24. Like St. Thérèse, she was known by her fellow MCs to selflessly serve and go above and beyond in her own Little Way. One of Claire’s fellow sisters in Mexico wrote to me that Sister Claire used to grab everyone’s dirty dishes so that she could wash them all--the other sisters would chase her around the kitchen but she would insist on doing their chores for them whenever possible. Which I found particularly hilarious because I lived with Claire for 2.5 years and she never begged to do my dishes. It’s amazing what the influence of St. Thérèse can do for you.
St. Therese's Little Way + Little Elbow Grease
But the fact that shoved me over the St. Thérèse wall I had built up was one simple fact… Sister Claire Metrejean, my best friend and sister, died on April 9, 2016--the anniversary of St. Thérèse de Lisieux’s entrance into Carmel. Record Scratch. You read that right, Claire died on Thérèse’s entry date. Claire was able to enter heaven on the anniversary of St. Thérèse’s entrance to her heaven-on-earth.
After learning about the dedication of her vocation and the incredible similarities of her life and Thérèse’s life, I got to work on my relationship with the Little Flower. Around that time two things happened:
I read a book that was recommended to me by a dear friend who has spent a great deal of her life studying the life of St.Thérèse. This book revolutionized my relationship with not only Thérèse but with the communion of saints… Shirt of Flame by Heather King. I can’t even. Check back at the blog tomorrow to read my Book Review of this work that ROCKED my world & CHANGED my relationship not just with Thérèse but with the communion of saints!
I was invited to join a women’s prayer group called a Theresian community--an international organization based in the spirituality of St. Thérèse. There are over 2000 women in 150+ different communities in 9 different countries. This was my 3rd attempt to join a Theresian community in the 6 years I had been back in Lafayette. [Commitment is hard.]
My Theresian Community is named Les Amies de L’Avent (the Friends of Advent). We are 15 women who meet together monthly to pray, learn, grow in community, explore our vocations, and reach out in service. We are a mix of married, unmarried, mothers, and childless. We have different fears, anxieties, insecurities, hopes and dreams… and yet, because we come together to pray and to share about those differences we find a great deal of commonality. My Theresian sisters have been a gift and a joy.
And I really believe Sister Claire led me to my Theresian community and led me to St. Thérèse, in her own little way.
So if you don’t have a relationships with St. Thérèse or if there is another Saint you just can’t relate to, just remember--the Saints were people. Not just holy concepts… they had struggles, and aggravating friends, and hangnails, and wisdom, and heroic charity. They have much to teach us even when we’re being hardheaded. They weren’t perfect--only the Blessed Mother was perfect. But they figured life out. Find some saints that you want to get to know better… I recommend starting with St.Thérèse.
Dear St. Thérèse,
Thank you for being a comfort to my dear little sister. Her final weeks, like yours, were filled with the frustration that comes from being limited by these finite bodies. Teach me to wash more dishes with love, to pick up the paper towels that don’t quite make it into the waste basket, to be an example of childlike love. Help me to choose all. And if you are taking requests, I do love daisies--they are the friendliest flower, don’t you think?
Teach me to love,