Category Archives: St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Consoling the Heart of Jesus – My Lenten Retreat

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This year for Lent I am reading/doing the retreat Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gailey.

Fr. Gailey wrote Consoling the Heart of Jesus in an attempt to create a version of the Ignatian 30 day spiritual retreat that would be suitable to perform over a full weekend or slowly over a period of time. He says that he hopes to make the fruits of the Ignatian retreat available to ordinary people who have jobs and families that they cannot leave for 30 or even 8 days.

What is really exciting me about this is that to do this, Fr. Gailey has incorporated the Little Way of St. Therese, the True Devotion to Mary of St.  Louis de Montfort, and the Divine Mercy as communicated to St.  Faustina.  These are three of my most beloved devotions. I talked here about the congruence between St. Therese and St. Louis de Montfort.

The other aspect of this book that I am looking forward to, is that I believe it will give me insight into our Holy Father, who of course is a Jesuit and who would have been formed in an Ignitian 30 retreat. Hopefully I will learn enough to share in a later post!

St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Her Little Sacrifices

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We often think of St. Thérèse in terms of simplicity of life, the life of a joyful young woman in a cloistered convent. She is the Little Flower, which almost has some kind of 60s flower-child connotation.

She was, indeed, a gentle soul, and she did, indeed, live a simple life. Her spiritual life was, however, built around the concept and practice of self-sacrifice.

“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies,” she wrote.

I find the concept of obscure sacrifice to be compelling. We all love to make sacrifices when we get noticed for it, don’t we? We all have “white martydom” syndrome. Do we hesitate to share with others how hard it is sometimes to raise kids? How many times, in an argument with our spouse, do we tell them just how much we have given up for them? When we give up desserts or alcohol or something else for Lent, do we make sure everyone at work knows about it? Do we make a big deal to people about not eating meat on Fridays?

But obscure sacrifices, hidden sacrifices. Aren’t those the sacrifices we are commanded to make? Didn’t Christ say that if we fast we are to wash our faces and not let anyone know we are fasting? Didn’t He tell us to not let the left hand know what the right is doing?

It doesn’t take much. St. Thérèse said, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” We have to pick up those pins, and marriage and family life provides ample opportunity. Let’s not squander that opportunity by trumpeting our great self-sacrifice. A little humility would be in order on that front. We should remember that St. Thérèse performed her little hidden sacrifices when she was suffering from a tuberculosis which would take her life at the age of 24. We should remember that St. Thérèse went through a Dark Night of the Soul, herself, and was tormented by temptations and a grave crisis of faith. If she could persevere through that without complaint, we can persevere through our daily pains with a smile on our face.

Happy Feast Day, St. Thérèse!

Today is the feast day of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patroness of my family and this blog.

I woke up this morning, not realizing what day it was, and immediately upon preparing to shower I noticed that my St. Thérèse medal had disappeared from the chain I wear. I was sad and determined to get a new one at the earliest opportunity. Later that morning, I realized that I had lost the medal on her feast day, and was more than just a little sad. I realized I hadn’t said a novena to the Little Flower in quite awhile, and so I decided to start one tonight. Then, this evening, I found the medal in the middle of my bedroom floor.

I like to think that St. Thérèse was trying to tell me that, like a loving sister, she is praying for me, even when I forget about her. That seems reasonable to me. After all, she is a Saint of “signs”. Stories of roses from St. Thérèse abound. I have, on at least three occasions, received unexpected flowers of some sort on days where I was praying particularly fervently for her intercession. Once, at a particularly low point in my life, I was praying hard to her. That evening, I dropped by my parents-in-law for some reason that I don’t remember. My wife’s mother saw me and said, “Oh, I have something for you. I found it at the Dollar Store.” It was a framed picture of the Little Flower, herself. How often do you find framed pictures of saints at the Dollar Store?

Here are two good articles on St. Thérèse that showed up in my inbox today:

From the blog “Beginning to Pray”
and
From the blog “The Integrated Catholic Life”

And here is a link to EWTNs novena to St. Thérèse.

I pray to St. Thérèse that we may all learn to approach God as little children and attempt to do the ordinary things in our life with great love.

Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Little Way

Yesterday’s Office of Readings contained a quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that nicely summarizes The Little Way.

The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly,to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly,to do it because it is his will.

For those of us who are married and parents, the will of God in our life, our daily work, is simply to love our spouses and children, to live out our marital vocation, and to teach and raise our children in the faith. It is not to make a bunch of money, move into the nicest neighborhood, or raise a sports star, pop star or otherwise hyper-successful child.

What is the manner in which he wills it? We do our daily work as perfectly as we can, with a spirit of self-sacrifice. We don’t cut corners in order to make time for TV, partying, or ladder-climbing. We focus on the task at hand and are grateful for it, even if it involves mowing the lawn or cleaning up after a sick toddler.

We do it because it is God’s will. We don’t do it because it makes us feel good, though satisfaction and joy may come as a grace. We don’t do it with the expectation of gratitude from wife/husband or child. We don’t do it to impress others. Others might not be impressed. Gratitude might not be forthcoming. This daily work might include suffering such that satisfaction and worldly happiness is a rare experience. The fact that God wants it must be enough for us.

So let us today resolve to be an instrument of God’s will. We don’t have to be the next Mother Theresa or Padre Pio or John Paul II or Elizabeth Ann Seton (who, by the way, was a wife and mother). We just have to be a devoted husband, wife, father, or mother.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!

The Devil, Purgatory, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Embracing the Cross

The Daily Spiritual Battle

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

Satan works against us every day of our lives. His “tricks” can be as mundane as distraction in prayer or a traffic jam on the way to Mass The saints comment frequently on this ongoing spiritual battle with the devil.

The devil strains every nerve to secure the souls which belong to Christ. We should not grudge our toil in wresting them from Satan and giving them back to God.
St. Sebastian

Our imagination, which is hardly still a minute, makes our task harder and then of course there is the devil who never tires of trying to distract us and keep us from praying. To what end does not the evil one go against us while we are engaged in saying our Rosary against him.
St. Louis de Montfort

The Omnipotence of God
It is difficult to make sense of the workings of the devil in a world created by a loving and omnipotent God. Sin is one thing; it arises from our free will. But why the temptations? Why does this omnipotent and loving God allow an independent actor on the scene to tempt us, to distract us, and otherwise to make our spiritual journey more difficult?
God does this on purpose. All things are allowed according to His will.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

But how can that be if these things could potentially keep us from going to heaven?

The Teaching on Purgatory
The church’s teaching on purgatory provides some insight.

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030 and 1031

So we must be pure before we enter heaven, and if we are not pure when we die (but we are in a state of grace, meaning we haven’t separated ourselves from God), then we have the opportunity to become pure in Purgatory.
Many people think that Purgatory is pretty much required for everyone, but St. Thérèse says we don’t have to go there.

Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please Him in all things, if you have the unshakable confidence that He will purify you at every instant in His love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux

God is purifying us “at every instant”. That means right now we are being purified. How?

The Way of the Cross
Christ demands that we pick up our cross and follow him. Why does He say that? Why didn’t he say, “Just try to be nice and a generally good person doing the best you can, and I’ll make sure you get to heaven where you can have your favorite flavor of ice cream and be reunited with your childhood dog.”?

Why is the cross the way to Heaven? And what is my cross anyway?

The cross is the way to heaven, because it is what God uses to purify us. It is the altar on which the sacrifice of purification is made. We must take up our crosses, because on our crosses is the only place where we can sacrifice our old self, our worldly self, and purify our souls for Heaven. That is why God allows Satan into our lives. The devil is the unwitting instrument of our purification. Just as Christ HAD to be tempted by the devil in the desert of Judea, we HAVE to be tempted by the devil in the desert of our hearts.

Our cross is not just the big challenges in our life – the handicap, the disease, the difficult family member, the addiction – it is every little distraction, every little obstacle we find in our spiritual life. When our alarm clock fails and we oversleep and don’t have time for full morning prayers, that is Satan and that is our cross. When we get lost trying to find a new church for daily Mass, that is Satan and that is our cross. When the dog wants out in the middle of the Rosary – well, the dog is not Satan, but that is our cross.

Embrace It
So the answer, then, to the distractions and difficulties is to embrace them, fight through them, and most of all thank God for them. These are our means of purification. If we embrace them and use them to grow in our love of God, we just might do as St. Thérèse suggests, and avoid the pains of purgatory altogether. We are, after all, meant to be saints. Each and every one of us.

Thérèse of Lisieux and Louis de Montfort: Two Great Saints Who Go Great Together

I have long loved St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She holds a special place in my family, and she was the inspiration of this blog. I’ve always known that I will never be a hermit on a mountain or a prophet in the desert or a Doctor of the Church. The gifts God has given me are humble gifts, and they are unlikely to earn me a feast day or my own page on Saint of the Day. I am just a husband and a father, with my own virtues and foibles, challenges and opportunities. Thérèse taught me that I don’t have to move mountains to get to heaven. I just have to do the little things with great love. And we are all capable of great love.

Now that I have made my consecration to Jesus through Mary, I see how St. Louis de Montfort is trying to lead us down the same path.

St. Thérèse says, “Expect all things from the good God just as a little child expects all things from its father.” We are to approach God with a childlike love and trust.

St. Louis de Montfort says, “If you put all the love of all the mothers into one heart it still would not equal the love of the Heart of Mary for her children.”

Every child needs a father AND a mother. And we ARE children. St. Thérèse didn’t make this up. Christ, himself, told us this:.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3.

Every child needs a father AND a mother. St. Thérèse exhorts us to remain a child:

“Even among poor people, a child is given all it needs, as long as it is very little, but as soon as it has grown up, the father does not want to support it any longer and says: “Work, now you are able to take care of yourself”. Because I never want to hear these words I do not want to grow up, feeling that I can never earn my living, that is, eternal life in heaven. So I have stayed little, and have no other occupation than of gathering flowers of love and sacrifice and of offering them to the good God to please Him.”

And St. Louis de Montfort guides us to our Mother:

“Mary alone gives to the unfortunate children of unfaithful Eve entry into that earthly paradise where they may walk pleasantly with God and be safely hidden from their enemies.”

What these two wonderful Saints are saying is that we do not need to resign ourselves to a morose and laborious spiritual life, filled with privations and fear of eternal punishment. As St. Thérèse said:

“You are not sufficiently trusting, you fear God too much. I assure you that this grieves Him. Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please Him in all things, if you have the unshakable confidence that He will purify you at every instant in His love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.”

Our faith must, instead, be suffused with joy and love. And it will be, if we entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of His Most Blessed Mother. As St. Louis de Montfort said:

“Happy, then, a thousand times happy, are the Christians who are now fastened faithfully and entirely to Her, as to a firm anchor!”

Be a child. Entrust yourself to Mary. Love Christ. Love His Mother. If we love Christ, we follow His command to take His Mother into our home.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his
home.
John 19: 26-27

So both of these great Saints are guiding us to take the Blessed Mother as our Mother, and allow her to bring us closer to Jesus.

In fact, St. Thérèse’s memory of her first communion – “In that first ‘fusion’ with Jesus (holy communion), it was my Heavenly Mother again who accompanied me to the altar for it was she herself who placed her Jesus into my
soul.” – mirrors St. Louis de Montfort’s instructions on receiving Holy Communion: “Implore Mary to lend you her heart so that you may receive her Son with her dispositions.”

So listen to these wonderful Saints. Be a child. Take Mary as your mother. Consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary. Make of yourself a humble and joyful Christian.

Why Santa?

Many Christian parents reject Santa Claus. They never have gifts from Santa waiting Christmas morning. They don’t trudge to the mall for pictures with Santa, and they discourage their kids from believing in Santa. They have good reasons for this – keep the focus on the Christian truth of Christmas, and minimize the materialism.

Our family embraces Santa. We do it all, the cookies, the carrots for the reindeer, the letters, and the stockings. Why?

First, I do it because it makes my kids happy, and I don’t like to puncture their balloons. Its an emotional reason, but there it is.

Second, I don’t want to become the dour, joyless Christian. The thing that Santa exemplifies is the joy of the Christian life. He lives to serve, and he is happy (jolly) about it. He lives removed from the world (at the North Pole) but he eagerly engages with the world. He is all about being happy, giving and sharing. I want to be a joyful Christian, even when I am fasting or practicing self-denial. And I want my kids to see that Christianity can bring joy without corrupting Christ’s teachings. I hope they can learn that from the way I lead my life.

Finally, I remember a scene from Thérèse where she was a little girl, putting her shoes out for Father Christmas and overheard the truth from her father and sister talking. If Santa was good enough for the Martin family, he is good enough for mine.