Number Two: St. Therese of Lisieux
St. Therese? But how can she be an example of Catholic manhood? That’s what I thought too.
I first encountered St. Therese during my freshman year in undergrad, which also happened to be my first of seven years in the seminary (no, dear reader, I am not a priest). We were assigned The Story of a Soul as part of an Introduction to Spirituality course. I was repulsed from the first page and my distaste for her saccharine worldview grew as time went on. In fact–my apologies to Msgr. F.–I never finished the book that semester. I wrote my paper on how much Therese was unrealistic, naive, sheltered, and in every way a bad mentor for a future priest, much less any Catholic aspiring to holiness. No one grew up in a family with saints for parents. No one had such deep experiences of prayer at such a young age. It was just unrealistic.
And then it hit me–quite literally. A flag football game during my sophomore year led to a torn ACL and months of rehab. At the time, I’d been thinking that I should leave the seminary. I was consigned to my bed for long periods throughout the day and could only stand reading so much Heidegger in such a state. I thought of St. Ignatius laying in bed with a leg injury and how he read the lives of the saints, so I decided to do the same. I even added an extra pious twist: I would read a life of a saint who suffered very much since I was in so terrible a state. The only appropriate book on my shelf was St. Therese’s autobiography. And then it hit me again.
St. Therese is a must-read for men seeking holiness not because she was necessarily “manly,” but because she knew what it was to love, and to love deeply. That Love led her to suffer greatly and to do so in the smallest ways. Of course, her sufferings seemed small to the world, but they are in reality the greatest of sacrifices for human beings and men in particular. Breaking your will. Accepting your state in life and thriving there. Enduring suffering joyfully. Did I mention breaking your will?
Many men today refuse to do any of those things. What results are bad marriages, unhappy priests, and a generally confused half of the population. But Therese’s genius is in focusing on the smallest of sacrifices that make the biggest difference in our lives. Therese is a perfect companion for Lent for this very reason. Each day, we have the opportunity to break our will yet again, to do something small but significant for the Lord.
Since my leg injury and my first true reading of Story of a Soul, I’ve tried to read it once each year between Christmas and New Year’s. Recent years have made that difficult with a new baby and law school, but one day I will return to that practice. If you have not yet chosen Lenten reading material, may I suggest you give Therese a chance?
ACT OF OBLATION OF ST. THÉRÈSE OF THE CHILD JESUS
OF THE HOLY FACE TO THE MERCIFUL LOVE OF GOD
Offering of myself as a Victim of Holocaust to God’s Merciful Love. 9th June 1895
O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make YouLoved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be a saint but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! To be Yourself my Sanctity!
Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Saviour and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.
I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth),their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! The love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the days of His mortal life: “Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you!” I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! That the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.
I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of You to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.
I thank You, O my God! For all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the scepter of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.
After earth’s Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.
In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved! Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.
In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I Offer Myself as a Victim of Holocaust to Your Merciful Love, asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!
May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.
I want O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!
Marie, Francoise, Thérèse of the Child Jesus
and the Holy Face, unworthy Carmelite religious.
This 9th day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
in the year of grace, 1895.