Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Story of a Soul

This year I've taken up the challenge of a reading bingo.  It's a 5x5 grid with a different type of book in each square, so that means with the free square in the middle (yippee!) I need to read 24 different books this year.  So far I've finished six books, most recently The Autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux, which she titled The Story of a Soul (buy it at Stephanchew's if you're in Winnipeg).  I selected this book to fill the category of "a book written by someone under thirty."

St. Thérèse, if you're not familiar with her, was a Carmelite nun who lived from 1873 - 1897, dying at the tender age of 24 from tuberculosis.  She is better known as Thérèse of the Child Jesus, or the Little Flower, or the architect of The Little Way.

She wrote the book under a directive from the Mothers Superior of her convent; it's doubtful that she would have put pen to paper in this manner if she hadn't been so ordered.  She was a quiet soul, longing to be taken into the convent at a young age and finally accepted at age fifteen.  The book was first published two years after her death, and has remained a beloved tome of the Church.

I was surprised to read that St. Thérèse shared a common thought with me: she felt that she was woefully inadequate compared to the giants in Christian history like Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and their illustrious ilk.  While she was still quite young, she voiced this feeling of being too small to her elder sister Marie.  She recounts the tale to Marie thusly:

I told you once that it puzzled me that God did not give everyone the same amount of Glory in Heaven and I feared they could not all be happy.  You sent me off to fetch one of Father's big glasses and made me put my little thimble by the side of it; then you filled both up with water and asked me which I thought was the fuller.  I had to admit that one was just as full as the other because neither of them would hold any more.
That was the way you helped me to grasp how it was that in Heaven the least have no cause to envy the greatest.

Lessons like this convinced her that she could still attain sainthood (and indeed, today she is known as a Doctor of the Church, meaning we hold her teachings right up there with Aquinas and Augustine) through what she called The Little Way.

You know that I have always wanted to be a saint; but compared with real saints I know perfectly well that I am no more like them than a grain of sand trodden beneath the feet of passers-by is like a mountain with its summit lost in the clouds. 
Instead of allowing this to discourage me, I way to myself: "God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized, so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.  I could never grow up.  I must put up with myself as I am, full of imperfections, but I will find a little way to Heaven, very short and direct, an entirely new way. 
"We live in age of inventions now, and the wealthy no longer have to take the trouble to climb the stairs; they take a lift.  That is what I must find, a lift to take me straight up to Jesus, because I am too little to climb the steep stairway of perfection."

I could get on board with that.

Books can have many different effects on us.  They can entertain, they can challenge, they can frighten, they can educate.  This is one of the most unique books I've read - I don't know how else to describe its effect on me at this point on my journey other than to say that it seems to have strummed the strings of my soul with brilliant, harmonic chords.  She is so very real in how she relates her journey; so very simple, straight, and thin - but her zeal burned so hot, she was like a hot knife which impossibly seems to cuts through the coldest brick of butter with ease.

St. Thérèse, pray for us!