Feast of our dearest “Little Therese”
Discalced religious of the Blesssed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel
… You shall be carried at the breasts, and at the knees they shall caress you. As one whom his mother caresseth, so will I comfort you… (from the Epistle of today’s Feast, Isaias 66.12,13)
The “Little Flower” of Mt. Carmel took delight in being hidden, unknown, and counted as nothing. “I want to hide in this world; I want to be the last in all things, for You, my Jesus” (poem I Thirst for Love).
She desired to be “but a small grain of sand, most obscure,” well hidden from all eyes; a grain of sand which is always in its right place (cf., St. Therese on humility and truth in our post “The ‘Little Way of Spiritual Childhood'” – I), that is, under the feet of everybody, reduced to nothing, to which no one gives a thought and whose existence is as it were unknown; a grain of sand which desires nothing but to be forgotten, and does not even wish to be despised or insulted – this would be too glorious for a grain of sand, for it has to be seen in order to be despised. No, it desires only to be forgotten! “Nevertheless, it desires to be seen by Jesus,” for if Jesus were to neglect it, it would not receive anything any more, and it is so very much in need of Him. On the other hand, it is not to be feared that being looked on by Jesus will cause it to be lifted up in its own eyes. Nevertheless, “one glance of Jesus, just one, suffices. That is enough for a little grain of sand.”
Having made that exception, the “greatest Saint of the modern times” continues vigorously: “Yes, I desire to be forgotten and not only by creatures but by myself; I would like to be so reduced to nothing that I would no longer have any desires… [Save] the glory of my Jesus, that is all. For my honor I abandon it to Him, and if He seems to forget me, well! He is free to do so, for I no longer belong to myself but to Him.” And she adds with holy mischievousness: “He will tire more quickly of making me wait than I shall tire of waiting for Him.”
In the passage we have just quoted, certain expression may, at first sight, seem excessive, but if we try to understand them in the sense in which our “Little Therese” herself understood them, we shall find them quite normal. When, for example, she says that she would desire to be so totally reduced to nothing that she no longer has any desire, it is clear that she does not exclude all desires, for such a thing would be inhuman. She wants especially to exclude desires which would cause her to attract the notice of others, to put herself forward in any way, to seek any special attention that would flatter human pride. “I desire to love You and make You loved!”
The last sentence of St. Therese in the passage just previously quoted merits special attention. It emphasizes the note of confidence and abandonment – characteristic of Theresian spirituality. She knows that for those who forget themselves and seek Him alone, the love of Jesus is so great that, although He may sometimes seem to have forgotten them, He cannot do so for very long. He will return to them before they tire of waiting for Him. Hence, far from grieving at the knowledge of her own persistent imperfection, St. Therese took a genuine delight in it (cf., Story of a Soul, VII).
She even expected to find new imperfections in herself every day (cf.,Story of a Soul, IX). She declared that those lights that revealed to her her littleness and nothingness, did her more good than the lights of Faith (cf., her Last Conversations, 13th August). Hence, she considered that the greatest thing the Almighty had done in her was to reveal to her her nothingness and her incapacity for doing any good.
Such reflections might seem strange. For it is Faith that puts us in contact with God and is the principle of the supernatural life as well as the source of charity. And yet we have to recognize that our dearest Teresian Carmelite Saint is right, for what would be the advantage of having the lights of Faith if, through lack of humility, we did not place ourselves before God with the dispositions necessary before He can communicate Himself to our soul. God gives grace to the humble (cf., 1 Peter 5.5), and to them alone.
Our dearest Saint accepted her imperfection and wretchedness with a good heart. When she felt the stirrings of her nature or yielded involuntarily to imperfections, far from being astonished, she took delight in it and drew benefit from it: “I know the means for being always happy and drawing profit from my miseries. Jesus seems to encourage me on this road…. He teaches me to profit from everything, both from the good and the evil that I find in myself.”
In fact, as long as we have good will, our faults can serve to instruct us and help us to make progress. For they make us distrust ourselves and look for means to correct our imperfections. If, after committing a fault, we accept the humiliation that follows from it, this merits for us an increase of charity. This is the way Saints react. They are no more exempt from weakness than we are. Far from grieving on their account, they accept themselves as they are and make use of their imperfections to raise themselves nearer to God. Those falls must appear the more natural to us because, in the way of perfection, we remain children.It is inevitable, therefore, that we should make false steps. The little one who learns to walk unavoidably falls from time to time (cf., herLast Conversations, 7th August).
“I have many weaknesses,” said our great Saint, “but I am never astonished because of them. I am not always as prompt as I should like to be in rising above the insignificant things of this world. For example I might be inclined to worry about some silly thing I have said or done. I then recollect myself for a moment and say: ‘Alas, I am still at the point from which I started.’ But I say this with great peace and without sadness. It is truly sweet to feel weak and little.” Elsewhere, she wrote: “If I am humble, I am entitled, without offending the good Lord, to do small foolish things until I die. Loot at little children. They constantly break things, tear them up, fall, and all the while, in spite of that, they love their parents very much. Well, when I fall in this way, like a child, it makes me realize my nothingness and my weakness all the better and I say to myself: ‘What would become of me? What would I be able to accomplish if I were to rely on my own powers alone?'” Again, St. Therese wrote: “We would like never to fall. What an illusion! What does it matter, my Jesus, if I fall at every moment? I come to recognize by it how weak I am and that is gain for me. You see by that how little I am able to do and You will be more likely to carry me in Your arms. If you do not do so, it is because You like to see me prostrate on the ground. Well, then, I am not going to worry, but I will always stretch out my suppliant arms towards You with great love. I cannot believe that You would abandon me.” How much these reflection of St. Therese differ from what are possibly our own habitual sentiments and ways of acting!
Related posts: “St. Therese and Her ‘Little Way’ of Spiritual Childhood“; “True Humility“