Saturday, May 4, 2019

Retreat Thoughts - "Three Teresas" - Therese of Lisieux, presented by Dr. Pat Campbell (2 of 4)

Therese of Lisieux was born and raised in Lisieux, Normandy, France. She lived with her family always, and had a loving, very devout family, unlike Teresa of Avila who had a hard life in Spain. Therese wrote that she "found flowers under each of her steps," which is probably why she is often called "Little Flower."

Therese's childhood, though, had a dark underside. She was plagued by anxiety and fear. She lost her mother to breast cancer and other family caretakers in other ways, making her separation anxiety worse and worse. She also worried obsessively that she was doing wrong, even committing mortal sin. They called that "scruples." And she had a quick temper, often having large temper tantrums.

The speaker at the retreat reminded us that sanctity does not take away fears and anxieties, but Therese persisted.

Therese had what is called a "Christmas conversion." One Christmas, Therese overheard her father saying he thought Therese (the youngest child, now 14) was getting too old for the little ceremony of gifts for the youngest child, and that he was glad it was the last year they would do it. Therese's sister, knowing Therese heard this, and knowing how upset Therese would get, went upstairs to tell Therese not to ruin things by showing her hurt and anger. She found Therese sitting on her bed with tears in her eyes, but Therese was able to control herself and show calm and quiet. She felt God granted her relief from her extreme touchiness. Like the other Teresa, she still had the feelings but God gave her the strength to deal with herself.

After that, Therese was able to see all she did, including mundane tasks like laundry and sweeping, as a conversation with God. She corresponded with St. John of the Cross and quoted him when she said her self was put into "the flame of God's love."

The thing about mundane tasks reminded me of a talk given by Kathleen Norris on the quotidian mystery, also about how God is present in our mundane parts of life. When I read that, I thought of how I used to count the shirts I washed on laundry day -- I remember there being more than 60 sometimes! -- and how that quotidian task was a service to my family and thereby a service to God. (But now I happily do only my own laundry, so what does that mean?!)

Therese had a scene she imagined where she saw God at the top of a stairway encouraging her to come up, the way her father would encourage her, saying, "You can do it." But when she tried to get up the first step, her leg was too small and she became frustrated with trying. Then God came and carried her up. She had to try, but God did the work, not her.

Therese felt that "[her] vocation was love." She wanted to bring God's love to people, not hers -- she even confessed she herself did not like or love some of the people -- but God's. All three of these Teresa's talk about that, about God's love coming to others through them. It makes me think about how showing God's love is something I can do all the time, no matter what I'm doing or who I'm with. May God's love shine through me more and more and always.

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