As we head to another round of midterm elections, the rhetoric has risen to obnoxious levels. I suppose that it would be easier to tolerate all this if the talent level of the hopeful candidates ever rose above barely mediocre.
Just the other day, a woman came to the door touting a new organizing strategy for one of the parties—it doesn’t matter which one—that was going to reach out to the grassroots, and find out what the people really wanted. She was dead serious, and was quite sincere. She also wanted a donation.
When I suggested that even if the pols DID find out (better late than never, I guess) what the people really wanted, they would still have to implement these programs, and that would bring us right back to the pathetic members we already have. Unless she had a means to bring talent into Congress, she was on a fool’s errand. This did give her pause, but only for a moment, as she was sure that if only more people from her party were elected, all would be well.
Yes, it’s stubbornly all about (and only about) Team “D” and Team “R.” How depressing.
Despairing of any mechanism that I could foresee that would ever lift our country out of this miasma, my thoughts turned from the political to the spiritual. October 1st marks the feast day of Thérèse de Lisieux, more formally known as Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte Face (“Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face”).
One of the most popular saints of all time, and definitely the champ of the last 200 years, whom Pope Pius XI called the Star of his pontificate, never actually did very much at all, at least in terms of great visible works, except perhaps for writing a best-seller, published posthumously. Characteristically, she had no idea or intent that the book would be widely disseminated.
So, just what was so special and so inspiring about this St. Thérèse, called the “Little Flower,” who died very young at 24? Born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in Alençon, France on January 2, 1873 into a devout family, Thérèse was the favored youngest child and was clearly spoiled.
While her laugh was said to be enough to make a gargoyle smile, she was hardly perfect. Her mother noted to her older sister Pauline: “She (Thérèse) flies into frightful tantrums; when things don’t go just right and according to her way of thinking, she rolls on the floor in desperation like one without any hope. There are times when it gets too much for her and she literally chokes. She’s a nervous child, but she is very good, very intelligent, and remembers everything.”
Fate was to intervene, and quickly. Her mother died when she was only four, and this shattered her father enough that he was to sell his prosperous watchmaking business, and move to Lisieux. Pauline acted like a second mother to Thérèse, but would leave to enter the Carmelite order of nuns when Thérèse was nine. Thérèse was to nearly die from a never-diagnosed illness some months after Pauline left home. She credited her cure to the Virgin Mary.
Thérèse wanted to follow Pauline into the Carmelites, but would have to wait a few years, finally convincing the local bishop that she was ready at age 15. Thus, a spoiled teenage girl, with no particular talents, would enter the strict and austere realm of cloistered nuns.
Some of us, bombarded with the assaults of 21st century life, might think that this silent environment of prayer and contemplation would be quite a sanctuary. However, there are still other people around, and humans are humans, whether on a New York subway, a stressful office, or even the Carmel of Lisieux, where Thérèse was to spend the rest of her short life.
She had to put up with crotchety old nuns, endure the odd personal habits of people who probably were a bit eccentric, and, most importantly, figure out her way to sanctity, all the while suppressing her childhood tendency to overreact. She took some solace in St. Paul’s instruction that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet, or teacher, but simply living the mundane life at the Carmel was not enough. What would be her calling?
The prioress had already told her that hers was a simple soul, and her way would have to be simple. Thérèse called it her “little way.” As noted in her autobiography, “…I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all others.” For the Apostle (Paul) insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path directly leading to God.”
At last, she found her calling—love. She goes on, “In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.”
Guided by love, Thérèse would pursue her little way, documenting her spiritual thoughts at the order of the prioress. Spending her last few years sick with tuberculosis, and especially suffering with it the last 18 months, she bore the trials with great strength, even rejoicing in her torment.
Thérèse was canonized a mere 28 years after her death. While some have complained about her childish spirituality, and others contend that her express train to sainthood was too fueled by a Vatican marketing effort to give hope to all the nobodies of the world, it was her beautiful and simple faith, and angelic patience in suffering that have inspired all whom she touches.