Can we take the example of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th century Carmelite nun, and apply it to our lives as 21st-century wives and mothers? That’s the goal of Connie Rossini’s Trusting God with St. Thérèse, and she nails it. With evocative word portraits of each stage of St. Thérèse’s life and heartfelt personal stories from her own life, Connie shows how trust in God is the key to progress in prayer and holiness. And deeper trust is a path open to all of us.
St. Thérèse featured prominently in my own conversion to the Catholic Church. Her relics went on display at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City around the time I was exploring the thought of converting. Huge crowds spilled out of the massive building and thronged around it in an impromptu parade, singing hymns as they waited their turn to brush their fingers across the box that housed the relics. The jaded police officers assigned to patrol the event looked at us in wide-eyed delight. They had not been expecting this sweet-faced saint to generate so much devotion in the hearts of ordinary people.
When it came time to be confirmed and enter into the Catholic Church, I chose Thérèse as my confirmation saint. My spiritual director was taken aback and somewhat disgruntled. A hulking and manly priest, he had decided that St. Elizabeth Seton should be my confirmation saint. St. Elizabeth Seton was a former Episcopalian, as I was, and a wife and mother who overcame significant odds to establish the backbone of the American parochial school system in addition to a new religious order after her husband died and her relatives deserted her. This priest’s top choice for me was not St. Thérèse, who did not have a single worldly accomplishment and whose diminutive nickname was The Little Flower.
But St. Thérèse gave me hope precisely because she didn’t have any worldly accomplishments. The role of a wife and mother is not to accomplish, but to serve. We lose our names when we take our husbands’. We become known as so-and-so’s wife or so-and-so’s mother. We step out of the limelight in order to encourage those we love into it. After a lifetime of receiving, it becomes time to give it back, to pass it on, to retreat into the house as if it were a convent, to wake every few hours to give love and comfort as if the cry of a hungry baby were chapel bells calling us to prayer, to smile gently when the personalities, the emotions, the mistakes and the flaws of the people closest to us squeeze our hearts as if they were in a vise. This was St. Thérèse’s Little Way, and I can’t imagine a better way than that for wives and mothers.
Through her beautiful book, Connie taught me something I didn’t know about St. Thérèse. She taught me that littleness needs trust as a companion. Littleness means humility, an acceptance that we are weak, imperfect, not the center of the universe and never meant to be so. But the other side of the coin is an acceptance that God is powerful, God is perfect, he created the universe, and with him we can do anything. An acknowledgement of our littleness turns easily to despair if we don’t trust God to forgive our weakness, to make up for our lack, to kiss us gently when we fall and when we fail, and to set us back on our feet to try, try again.
We trust God like St. Thérèse when we say to Our Lord, “I am little, but you are great. I am weak, but you are strong.” We trust God with St. Thérèse when we pray in her words, “I am not always faithful, but I never get discouraged; I abandon myself into the arms of Jesus.”
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Copyright 2015 Karee Santos
Photo courtesy of Connie Rossini