The Story of a Soul (1897)

I found St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography, Story of a Soul, difficult to read. It is however difficult for me to pinpoint precisely why that is. . . Nevertheless, I am so very glad that I got to read it.

Here are my reflections.

1) Jesus’s little rose. I found the famous section near the beginning where Therese speaks about flowers quite moving and affirming. Put short, a field cannot only contain big, beautiful roses; the field needs other, less impressive flowers too. The so-called lesser flowers give the field variety and beauty. So too with human variety. We cannot all be big and beautiful, as it were. There need to hidden—in the sense of living Jesus’s hidden life—folks in order to give variety and beauty. Great or small, we all count and matter.

2) Demons flee at but a child’s gaze. This image has really stuck with me. Therese presents it early in her book, while recalling a dream she had as a child. Basically, she encounters two demons, who, when they realize they have been seen by the young Therese, run away. This is powerful on many levels. On the one hand, evil requires secrecy and private quarters. On the other hand, righteousness requires light and openness. In the same was as the Sacrament of Reconciliation casts light on evils, Therese says that a gaze from as nonthreatening a source as a child can drive demons away. This should give us great hope that when we gaze upon our own sinfulness through Reconciliation or through conversation with others, we can cast light where there is darkness, and the evil/sin/demon is driven away.

3) Charity. Much of the book focuses on charity, both on Therese’s desire to show Jesus charity or to show others Jesus’s charity. I was struck by how often she returned to this notion. Truly it was cornerstone of her life, and it makes me want to be much more charitable to those I meet day to day.

4) Childlike pursuit of Jesus. Early on in my reading, the book seemed to be a great expression of naivety, of childish talk. However, as I read more and more, I came to realize that there, in her focus on charity, was a very great childlike trust in Jesus. Jesus said that we have to be like the little children in order to see the Kingdom of God; I think that Therese, rather than being naive, is an excellent example of what it looks like to view the world in a properly childlike way. And thus, she should be emulated.

5) Vocation to love. Near the end of her book, she makes the very mature observation that she has been called to a vocation of love. She records this peace-filled epiphany, saying, “Jesus, my love! At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love! I have found my place in the bosom of the Church and it is You, Lord, who has given it me. In the heart of the Church, who is my Mother, I will be love. So I shall be everything and so my dreams will be fulfilled!” (161). Love is indeed the substance behind all vocations, and this observation of Therese’s is very important for me to realize.

6) Welcome annoyances. A final, and very immediate, note from the book: at one point, Therese recalls that she often finds herself near a “loud” sister—”either her rosary or something else” is making noise—while at prayer. I laughed as I read this because, in my cubicle at work, there are often noises that may go unnoticed by others but that drive me bonkers. Thankfully, Therese offers sage wisdom for dealing with these noises. She says,

What I wanted to do was to turn and stare at her until she stopped her noise, but deep down I knew it was better to endure it patiently—first, for the love of God and, secondly, so as not to upset her. So I made no fuss, though sometimes I was soaked with sweat under the strain and my prayer was nothing but the prayer of suffering. At last I tried to find some way of enduring this suffering calmly and even joyfully. So I did my best to enjoy this unpleasant little noise. Instead of trying not to hear it—which was impossible—I strove to listen to it carefully was if it were a first-class concert, and my meditation, which was not the prayer of quiet, was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.

What wonderful imagery and example. Allowing such annoyances a place in our being makes room for deeper meditation, as Therese notes. In a way this sounds like the Welcoming Prayer. I think this gives a help at creatively dealing with annoyances in our lives.

All-in-all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know St. Therese through her autobiography. May pray for me.

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