St. Thérèse de Lisieux
St. Thérèse de Lisieux is remembered by many of us for her Little Way, for her endearing simplicity that often bridges the distance between us sinners and the lofty sanctity of other saints. What is a way in which this Little Flower can speak in particular to the young people of today? Thérèse died at an age when many of us are taking our first steps into the grander world, graduating college, starting a job, changing our permanent addresses. But she died a saint, and many of us, even with her Little Way, feel perhaps farther than ever from that hope.
I think that one way in which St. Thérèse may speak to us is in her boldness. While she did not charge armies as St. Joan of Arc (only ever attacking the spiders in a closet) Thérèse was bold in her attempts for sanctity. Many of us look at how far away we are from holiness, at how often we commit sins of impatience and judgment, gossip or slander, the list goes on and on… and we stop there, at our sinfulness. We listen to that little voice that says we cannot go on. We’re stuck.
Thérèse was bolder.
She saw all of her littleness. But the key to her sanctity did not first lie in eradicating these, it lay first in continuing to hope that Christ could take her higher. Even when Thérèse was still broken, she believed that Christ could still help her reach sanctity. Thérèse first needed that hope and trust in Christ in order to keep trying to root the brokenness of sin from her heart. And that hope was tied to the belief that Christ authentically loved her. He was not withholding His Tenderness until she was further along the road to sanctity. He loved her tenderly and intimately in the here and now. And Thérèse let His love touch her not despite but through her brokenness.
She was bold enough to believe in Love.
A nun once told me that “our brokenness is an entry point for the Holy Spirit”. While our brokenness may be ugly and brutal, there is still hope for us, even when that brokenness is of our own making. John Paul II says that “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.” Indeed, it is not our brokenness that defines us, but the hope in Love that transforms us into whom God calls us to be.
St. Thérèse is also an example for us young people today in her boldness about her vocation. While it is no doubt generally true that people matured younger in her age, she was still considered extremely young for her time in her vocational aspirations. Her certainty in her calling was so strong at such an early age that Thérèse had to apply to the Pope for permission to enter the cloister at 15.
Many of us are perhaps jealous of Thérèse’s certainty. We feel adrift in a world drowning under so many choices. The blessing of relative wealth and transportation means we can pick any religious community from around the world to join and we can date any person, even those we haven’t yet met (aka online dating). How can we be certain of God’s Providence in such a whirlwind of choices, our own judgment amongst so much that is new, our strength when we are exposed to so much all at once?
For many of us we may not yet know Christ’s calling. In this age, it seems He has seen fit to allow times of singlehood in which we can more single-heartedly serve and name Him Our First Love.
Yet I have been blessed to meet young people who do know what He calls them to. And with Thérèse’s boldness they leap into their vocations. A couple weekends ago I saw my 21 year old friend get married. In grade school she questioned aloud in a class discussion how there could be the One person meant by God for her out of the 3.937,884,265+ men in the world. Her skepticism could not stop the Providence of God that made her and her future spouse bus buddies on their high school bus rides. Last summer I also met a young woman who had already travelled the world, but was choosing to enter a cloister at age 19. I met her for only a couple brief days, but her courage and that of my classmate’s is something that Thérèse had.
Again, some of us are still adrift, unsure of whom God calls us to, whether it be a spouse or a religious community. God calls us to the courage of waiting well, striking our roots deep into the relationships of family and friends, pouring ourselves into the task of the day-to-day around us. In doing so we draw a quiet strength that finds its eternal source in Him.
But for those of us who do know where Christ calls us, or sense a calling, let us have the boldness of Thérèse to pursue it. Without being caught up in concern or self-pity that we do not yet know with certainty, let us be bold. Christ could indeed simplify our lives by teaching us what we are called to be, yet He often chooses to teach us in the journey. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam end up winding their way to Mordor through many apparent mistakes, yet in the end it was revealed to be the only way. If they had let themselves stubbornly remain upon the path they had first thought to be right, or spent too long bemoaning the road, all would have been lost. In the end, it is through the dead ends and the mistakes that the way is ultimately found. What was most vital to the quest was not the flawless road, but the resilience of even the flawed adventures.
Frodo muses upon his quest about an old saying of his guardian, Bilbo Baggins, that “He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.'”
The Road ahead may not be as clear for us as it was for Thérèse or for others in our lives. Yet that should not keep our feet behind our doorsteps. Both those whose way is clear and whose way is unclear are travelling upon the same Road. And what is integral for both of us is the boldness to begin and to keep going.