I confess that I did not have a devotion to St. Thérèse until recently. I had read almost half of her autobiography when in high school and even with my fascination with her thoughts about God, the real depth of it was lost on me. It seemed very naive. In my defense, we had just moved from the Middle East to India and I was bitter and angry at life. I mean, here I was in the throes of my teenage years, struggling to fit into a society I was never exposed to and this saint here describes life as a garden with roses and lilies.
I thought her to be an over-idealized saint who had reached impossible levels of sanctity, inaccessible to a plain Sunday-Catholic like me. I dismissed her words as childish ramblings and soon forgot about her.
For some reason a couple months ago, I decided to take up A Story of a Soul once again. My life looked different with this attempt. I was no longer a pretentious teen and had become more than a Sunday-Catholic. I was a jaded traveler who, weathered by the storms of life sought solace in the Church and in the company of saints. And I wanted to give Thérèse another chance. Or rather, I wanted another chance with her.
So in the days leading to her Feast, I poured myself into her book. But this time, the words I had earlier dismissed began to shed new insights into my own life. I felt myself adoring her innocence when she acted out of the purity of her heart. I agreed with her on the difficulty of French grammar. I found myself marking her wise words in the pages, so beyond her years, but clearly flowing from the depth of her communion with God. I wept when she breathed her end, still battling the shreds of doubts about Heaven which felt so elusive towards the end of her life.
Thérèse no longer appeared childish or naive. Instead, I recognized her as a woman who navigated many of life's crises. From the death of her mother at a young age, her sisters leaving to the cloister of Carmel, her father's illness, and to the dark nights of her faith and mental distresses, Thérèse's vulnerability disarmed me. Her's was a soul very much accustomed to the sorrows of life.
But her secret to attaining perfection despite the hardships consisted in being 'little' so that Jesus Himself could lift her up to it. She wanted to teach souls this little way of spiritual childhood.
And it is this Little Way of trust and complete surrender which turned out to be an antidote not just for Jansenism which plagued France during her time, but also for my world-weary heart.
In Thérèse's writing, I found answers to my questions on faith and suffering- especially mental suffering. Her efforts to hold fast to her faith while having only doubt as a friend in the deepest darkness were just as valiant as those of the greatest martyrs.
Theologian Karl Rahner said of Thérèse - ''Here is a person who died in the mortal temptation to empty unbelief, right down to the roots of her being, and who in that condition believed.''
Also, for Thérèse everything was a grace. All her distresses were a grace so that she could intentionally choose to love God in their midst. Her consolations were a grace so that she could imprint the love of God deeper than her fears.
Fr. Marc Foley, OCD explains the greatness of her seemingly simple actions in this way -
''Thérèse ’s life was a real life. As it unfolds before us on the pages of Story of a Soul, we see a pilgrim soul who made its way home to God through many raging storms and dark nights. The specific nature of Thérèse ’s trials may differ from our own, but their psychological and emotional sufferings we all share. For example, we may not have known the pain of our mother dying when we were four, but we all have known the pain of the loss of a loved one. The sufferings that we share with Thérèse are universal—physical pain, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, loneliness, doubts of faith, to name a few. These sufferings make doing the will of God difficult, but they are the context of our choices. They are the context of holiness.''