Friday, 2 October 2009

An interview with St Therese

I am not able to be present for Eucharistic Adoration in the parish today, as I am away for a union branch secretaries conference. A team of collaborators are looking after it all for me. This is one of the meditations, an interview with St Therese. The idea of an "interview" was originally intended for the Adoration for Children and Families, but I also use it for the "grown ups".

Interviewer: St Therese, you are a very popular saint. You are the patron saint of missionaries who preach the Gospel in far away countries. It is good of you to join us today.

I’m happy to be here.

Interviewer: Please, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born?

I was born in a town called Alencon, in the north of France in 1873. I was the youngest child in our family.

Interviewer: Were you very close to your family?

Yes. My mother died when I was four years old, and this upset me a lot. My eldest sister, Pauline, was then like a “second mother” to me. When she joined the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, the next eldest sister took over looking after me. I was very close to my father - he used to call me his “Queen”.

Interviewer: Were you able to make your first Holy Communion?

Yes. It made a big impression on me. It was so real for me that I kept on thinking of St Paul’s words: ‘I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me’. It was unusual at that time to receive Holy Communion every time you went to Mass. I was so keen that I was given permission to receive Communion on every big feast day. Every time, my sister Marie would talk with me the night before to prepare me to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Interviewer: Did you always want to be a Carmelite nun?

I wanted to enter the convent when I was 14, but I was too young. Everyone said “no” - the nuns in the convent, the local priest and even the Bishop. I was so determined I even asked the Pope when I went to Rome with a pilgrimage! Eventually I was allowed to enter when I was 15.

Interviewer: What difficulties did you face in life?

There are always lots of difficulties in life, especially in a convent! I had to learn how to live with lots of little things that annoyed me, and to see them as a way of coming closer to God. But I had three big difficulties. When my oldest sister entered the convent, I was quite ill with headaches and bad dreams. This came to an end when I saw an image of the Virgin Mary smiling at me one Christmas.

Interviewer: … and the second problem?

In the convent, I was quite sick. I spent the last 18 months or so of my life in bed suffering from a disease called tuberculosis. This was very painful, and was my second big difficulty.

Interviewer: Was that the end of your difficulties?

No. During my last illness I had a third difficulty that was more spiritual. I had serious doubts about the existence of heaven - and when you know you are dying this is quite terrifying. Deep down, I suppose I didn’t lose my faith and hope - but it sometimes felt as if I had lost it.

Interviewer: How did you become famous after you had died?

When I was a nun, I was asked to write a kind of autobiography by my superiors. The first part I wrote as childhood memories for the Prioress. I later wrote two more parts at the request of my superiors. These became the book “Story of a Soul” - and when it was published, it was a best seller. That is how I became so famous.

Interviewer: What is the “little way”?

The phrase refers to the idea that we do not have to do “big things” to be a saint. We can be a saint by doing “small things”. For most people, in fact, small things are the only way in which we can be a saint because we don’t get the chance to do big things. Most of us need this short cut to being a saint. I once compared this to going up to God in a lift instead of using the stairs (lifts in buildings were a new invention when I was alive!). But this is only one part of my teaching.

Interviewer: What are the other parts of your teaching?

The really basic thing is that we should trust God’s love for us. It is true that we have to try hard to love God; but the important thing is that He loves us first. Our trying to love God is not something that we have to do “on our own”. It is an answer to God’s love for us. It is enough for us to hand ourselves over into the love of God, and then “rest” in that love. Sometimes people don’t understand this state of being in the love of God, and think the “little way” is just about what you do. The “little things” that we do follow on from this being in the love of God and show it to the world.

Interviewer: What does the “little way” have to say about suffering?

I suffered a lot in my life, so I can speak from experience about this. It is easy to think of suffering as a punishment for what we have done wrong, and some Christians do think like this. But I think that suffering has a lot more to do with love. We talk about someone’s heart “burning up with love”; what we are trying to say is that they are overwhelmed by love. In the spiritual life, the overwhelming love that God has for us purifies - and so it is suffering. At one point in the convent I made an offering of myself to the merciful love of God - but notice that it was an offering to be burnt up by the love of God, not to be destroyed by his punishment.

Interviewer: Did you ever want to do anything else except be a nun?

Sometimes I thought I would want to be a missionary, but I was not strong enough to join the convents being opened in Asia. I kind of wanted to do everything at once, and be everywhere at once, in order to preach the Gospel. But I realised that loving God where I was in the convent had a power that reached everywhere in the Church, and that this was what I was meant to do. Near the end of my life I spoke about my mission being that of “making God loved by others in the way that I love Him”, of letting others know about my “little way”.

Interviewer: And you died on 30th September 1897. Thank you Therese of Lisieux for joining us today, and sharing the story of your life with us.

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