|St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)|
On the 30th September 1897, a young lady of just 24 years, died in a Carmelite Convent in the north of France. She was virtually unknown. She had been very ill with Tuberculosis for 18 months and was eventually reduced to half of one lung. Her religious name was Therese of the Child Jesus. Today she is better known as St. Teresa of the Little Flower. She is considered a saint for our times and I would like to try and explain why.
When she was in the convent she was considered very unimportant and not particularly talented. When she was dying she accidentally over-heard two sisters talking about her and one of them said, ‘I wonder what Mother Abbes will say about her when she dies, because she never really did anything.’ Before she died her sister, who was the abbess at the time, asked her to write an account of her life. If we didn’t have this, we would know almost nothing about her.
One of the reasons why she has become so popular, is because God gave her a particular insight into our life on earth, which applies to all of us. Therese realized herself that she was not a particularly talented person, not capable of great fasts, or penances, or impressive works. She wrote that she would love to have been a missionary, or a priest, but here she was, a nun in an enclosed Carmelite convent, unknown to most people and not doing anything significant. She began to pray to God asking him to show her what in particular she was meant to do, in her situation. She knew she had a vocation as a nun, but she wanted to know more specifically if she was called to something. As she was looking through the Scriptures, she came across the passage that you often hear at weddings. It is the passage from one of St. Paul’s letters which says,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13:4-7).
And it finishes with the words, ‘In the end there are three things that last; faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love’ (1 Cor 13:13). She says that when she read this she realized that the most important thing she could do, was to be the love of God in our world, exactly where she was, hidden away in a convent, virtually unknown to the world. Even though she felt she was not particularly talented, she realized that the most important thing she could do was to be the love of God, exactly where she was. It sounds simplistic and maybe it is, but what her insight shows us, is that all of us without exception can do this.
People often ask me what exactly they can do for God. It always seems to be more attractive to be somewhere else, living an impressive life of helping the needy or educating the poor. Most of us are not called to this and most of us are limited by our own circumstances, married or single, just getting on with day to day business. But no matter what our circumstances, all of us can bring the love of God into the very place that we find ourselves. It doesn’t matter whether you are the president or someone living on the streets. All of us can do this.
Recently I was watching a documentary about one of the missions of the 101st Airborne division in Afghanistan. They were on a mission in a place known as the Hornet’s Nest, which is considered one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan and they were trying to overthrow one of the Taliban leaders. Several of them were killed in this operation, even though they were eventually successful. Apart from the politics of it, I was inspired by the individual responses that the many of the soldiers made, to the journalist who was interviewing them. Many of them said that they just wanted to try and make a difference and make the world a better place. Young men in a very dangerous situation, but they wanted to make the world a better place.
There is good in everyone and at the heart of most people is the desire to do good. All of us are capable bringing the love of God into the exact situation in which we find ourselves. That is how the world is changed. But we can only bring the love of God to people if we are focused on God ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have. For us as Christians, that is where our faith comes in. We keep coming back to the mass each week, to worship God and to be refilled with his love, so that we can bring it to the world around us. Each of us has a unique part to play. No one can replace us, but that part is to be played exactly where you are.
‘In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.’