A Heart-to-Heart with St. Thérèse

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Recently I was looking for a saint. Not one to pray to necessarily but one to relate to. I wanted to read about someone who was a homebody like me. Someone who was quiet, who, from all outward appearances, didn’t accomplish big things. Someone who was overly sensitive at one time, easily hurt, scrupulous. I needed a “heart-to-heart” with that saint.

I had had a hard month. At God’s invitation I had offered to chair a group of women who put on a diocesan women’s conference every other year. Leadership was never a good fit for me but God had asked so I said I would. Although the conference went off without a hitch, there were many snafus and near disasters in the weeks before the event. I took my responsibility as chair very seriously and chastised myself for incompetence. By the day of the conference I felt like a bloodied, defeated warrior. I knew I was being overly scrupulous but I could not stop myself. Could I find a saint who had felt that way too?

I found her in Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

therese of lisieux photo

St. Thérèse was not new to me. Several years ago I was introduced to her through a parish mission. The teacher, Sr. Debra-Thérèse Carroll, CTC, took on the persona of Thérèse and told the story of her life as documented in her autobiography, Story of a Soul.

I was captivated. Never before had I heard of such a path to holiness. As Sr. Debra spoke I could imagine St Thérèse speaking with her small, childlike voice. For the first time, the path to sainthood looked doable for the average person. And desirable.

It was my introduction to faithfulness to the smallest things and the sacred nature of the mundane. After that mission Thérèse became a part of my prayer life.

That was fifteen years ago and I had fallen into forgetfulness. Now I felt a prompt to remember. I pulled out an old copy of Story of a Soul and started reading it. I had tried reading the book several times before but couldn’t relate to it. This time as I read I could feel the consolation. She did indeed write about scruples, saying once of herself,

It was during the retreat before my second Communion that I was attacked by the terrible disease of scruples. One must have passed through this martyrdom to understand it. It would be quite impossible for me to tell you what I suffered for nearly two years. All my thoughts and actions, even the simplest, were a source of trouble and anguish to me; I had no peace till I had told Marie everything, and this was most painful, since I imagined I was obliged to tell absolutely all my thoughts, even the most extravagant. As soon as I had unburdened myself I felt a momentary peace, but it passed like a flash, and my martyrdom began again. Many an occasion for patience did I provide for my dear sister.

There was something so comforting in reading this passage. A great saint, a doctor of the Church had gone through what I was going through and legitimized it by called it suffering. Scruples is self-inflicted, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Better yet, Thérèse wrote about how the Lord healed her of this suffering:

My extreme sensitiveness made me almost unbearable. All arguments were useless. I simply could not correct myself of this miserable fault. How, then, could I hope soon to be admitted to the Carmel? A miracle on a small scale was needed to give me strength of character all at once, and God worked this long-desired miracle on Christmas Day, 1886.

On that blessed night the sweet Infant Jesus, scarce an hour old, filled the darkness of my soul with floods of light. By becoming weak and little, for love of me, He made me strong and brave; He put His own weapons into my hands, so that I went from victory to victory, beginning, if I may say so, “to run as a giant.”[1] The fountain of my tears was dried up, and from that time they flowed neither easily nor often.

I realized that I too had received such a grace. The day after the conference I decided to not to go to Mass at my own parish. Feeling exposed and raw, I didn’t want to run into anyone I knew. There was a church nearby; our former associate, Father Steve, was now the pastor.

No one celebrates the liturgy quite like Father Steve. His reverence, love and knowledge of each and every ritual raise the celebration to a high art form. His church is a beautiful old cathedral, frescos on the walls, statutes of saints surrounding the sanctuary, and a statue of St. Thérèse in the corner, holding a bouquet of roses. The words spoken and the music sung reverberate throughout. Father Steve is the curator of a large collection of first class relics which are displayed in the side chapel. Six of those relics were set on the altar, each with a blue votive candle.

The sight of those saints caused tears to flow and they kept up, on and off, throughout the Mass. During the Lamb of God, Fr. Steve broke the bread slowly, deliberately, and when he dropped the smallest piece into the chalice it seemed to fall in slow motion. The broken body of my Savior sprang to mind and the full meaning of His sacrifice for me washed over me.

By the time the mass was over, I had been cleansed of my scruples. I too received a grace, just like Thérèse, to overcome this fault.

St. Thérèse is now my constant companion. How wonderful that our Church provides us with these saints that we can not only pray to for intercession but that we can walk with, relate to, and learn from.

There is a saint for each one of us. Who is your special saint and how has he or she walked with you?

Copyright 2013 Susan Bailey

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About Author

Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series.
Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.

14 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! I really needed to read this today. Since last April, St. Therese has been like a sister to me. And your article reminded me that we have similar struggles and that God has also granted me the grace to overcome my scruples and emotions. St. Therese really spoke to me through your article and encouraged me to pick Story of a Soul again which has helped me as well. Thank you and God Bless!

  2. A wonderful piece of writing Susan, in so many ways. Authentic. Real. Easy to identify with. Faith-filled. Thank you and congratulations on the Women’s Conference!

  3. I am not a Catholic Mom, but I like your website!

    St. Francis of Assisi had been yanking my chain for many years, and I only recently started paying attention. I apparently had not been getting his subtle, gentle hints. For the last 30 years, whenever my life was in some kind of turmoil, a Franciscan friar or sister showed up out of nowhere and put me at peace, even though I live in an area where there are no First or Second Order Franciscans for a 40-mile radius.

    This past Lent, I was having a lot of trouble in my life at my parish, and I was very conflicted about what to do – to leave the parish, or to carry on. There were other issues going on as well. I had decided to give up my parish for Lent and attend Mass at other parishes.

    After one Sunday at a neighboring parish, where the priests and people were most welcoming and loving, I was nonetheless absolutely miserable because I was homesick for my parish. With sadness, I planned on attending Mass the following Sunday at yet another parish to keep my Lenten sacrifice.

    That Thursday, I saw in the paper that an acquaintance from my parish had died and that her funeral was on Saturday. I wasn’t sure if I should go. I went to a fish fry on Friday and remarked to a friend that, “God would have to throw a Franciscan at me” to get me back at the parish. On further thought, I decided to go to the funeral after all.

    I learned during the homily that my friend had been a Franciscan sister for 16 years before she moved to our parish. This had never come up in our conversation, and I was completely in the dark her past. To say I was stunned is an understatement. I decided that perhaps God wanted me to stay at the parish.

    My problems continued. A few weeks later, the week before Palm Sunday, I was at home talking to a friend on my cell phone, whining about how God was not listening to my prayers. While I was talking, the house phone rang. I asked my friend to wait while I answered the other phone. It turned out it was a sister from the Franciscan monastery in my husband’s home town 100 miles away. She had gotten my name from a list of donors, and we were not acquainted – in fact no one from the monastery had ever called our home before. She told me she was going to make a holy hour, and asked me if there was anything she could pray about for me!

    These two incidents happened very closely together, and after some thought, I realized there was a pattern over the years of Franciscans coming to my rescue when I was in trouble. So I found a Secular Franciscan fraternity in the area and I am now a candidate!

    Very best of luck to you in your vocation as a mother and as a Catholic laywoman!

    Susan

    • Wow, great story! I know what you mean about those invitations. Therese has been nudging me for some time along with Terera of Avila (her biography is next). Thank goodness the saints are so persistent when they are trying to get our attention!

    • Susan — (the non-mom one) — just a comment that you are ALWAYS welcomed here. CatholicMom.com is for everyone, not just Catholics and not just moms. Thank you for your beautiful comment!

  4. You chose mine!! But actually, I also love to read the saint for each day on the Church’s calendar and pray through that saint’s intercession as I go through my day. I’ve made lots of new “friends” that way!!

    • Great idea! There’s a wonderful missal from Canada called Living with Christ which features a little bio of each saint before the readings of the day.

      Isn’t it great how many potential friends we have in heaven? (You should know, you’ve written a wonderful book about many of them. :-))

  5. Thank you for this article! I have terrible scruples and I have been given plenty advice about how to get over them but I just can’t seem to completely rid myself from them! I was just wondering how long you experienced scruples for before the grace you received to combat them?

    • It’s an ongoing effort. During the time that I wrote about in my article, the mass provided the grace for that occasion. I would say that each time you are hit with a bad case of scruples, to take advantage of the sacraments as much as you can: Reconciliation, Eucharist, etc. I think too it’s also a matter of letting go, of trusting that God loves us and forgives us when we approach him in all humility. He knows we’re not perfect and doesn’t expect perfection in a day; that’s why we have a lifetime to work it out. And even when we die, we’re far from perfect. But so long as we put in the effort and cling to God each day, we’ll be fine. Frankly, I don’t know how I learned how to let go but I do recall that when I started thinking of God’s grace like the flow of a river, I would imagine floating downstream and that picture helped me to let go. I mean, think about it: when you’re floating in the water maybe in a rubber inner tube, do you just relax and let go of all your worries? When I think of God’s grace like that, then I can trust him and let it go.

      I have a post on my own blog about letting go, maybe you’ll find it helpful: http://www.beasone.org/learning-to-forget-through-your-prayerful-imagination/ – even though it’s about learning to forget, it’s also about learning to let go using your prayerful imagination.

      Hope this helps! Scruples is a tough thing.

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