In following the footsteps of St. Thérèse, we ask her help in rediscovering the value and the gift of our vocation to love. This is the Year of Mercy and St.Thérèse is a very special soul, a very exceptional saint to help us rediscover the merciful face of our Father. The goal of this Year of Mercy is rediscovering the Merciful Face of our Heavenly Father. Thérèse knew this so well. In a sense, she had an advantage because her biological father was a wonderful reflection of God the Father in her life. That made it easy for her to grasp how good our Heavenly Father is.
Thérèse also had a wonderful mother, and both her parents were recently canonized. But between the age of 4 and 5, Thérèse experienced the wound of losing her mother to cancer. However, the mother that she did know gave Thérèse a foretaste and was a reflection of our spiritual mother, Our Mother in Heaven. Consequently, Thérèse’s sister, Pauline, became like a mother to her until she went into the convent, opening again in Thérèse that abandonment wound of having lost her mother. The result of this emotional wound was a terrible physical sickness in the life of Thérèse. This setback was actually a setup for God to bring about a tremendous blessing in Thérèse’s life.
But before Thérèse could experience this tremendous blessing, this grace of Jesus’s resurrection shining through the face of Mary, His mother, she experienced a terrible crisis. The crisis and the experience of this cross in her life prepared the way for the experience and breakthrough of Jesus’ blessing by the power of His victory of love. This victory of God’s love, of Jesus’ love, was communicated to Thérèse through the face of Mary Mother of Mercy, Our Lady of Victory. She was about ten years old when this happened and her life changed very drastically after the loss of her mother. She talks about that in The Story of Her Soul, her autobiography.
St Thérèse and St Teresa were both asked to write their autobiographies under obedience and both wanted their autobiographies to be Magnificats; that is, testimonies of their soul magnifying the Lord’s Mercy, recognizing that everything they had experienced was all part of God’s plan of Mercy. Everything – the good, the bad, the ugly. Every aspect of their lives, God was using to orchestrate for their sanctity, and to bring them closer to His holy love for them. That is in fact, what the Lord did for them.
By faith and through the consolation of the Holy Spirit, Thérèse was able to see God’s hand in every part and stage of her life. With the consolation of the Holy Spirit, she was able to see in faith how God’s providence had planned out everything so perfectly. While she was going through the pain of her emotional wounds, she may not have seen God’s hand that clearly, but after she had passed from it, she was put on a certain plateau of peace to be able to see the presence of God in every aspect of her life. It is with this kind of faith that Thérèse is writing her autobiography, the story of her soul, her personal history. She writes her autobiography as if her whole life was completely stamped with God’s Mercy.
The wisdom from Ecclesiastics poetically explains that ‘there is a time to gather stones and a time to scatter, a time to embrace and a time to be far from embraces. There is a time for love and a time to hate; there is a time for peace and a time for war.’ And the book says, God has put the timeless in the person’s heart. It is as if the author of Ecclesiastics is seeing the providence of God; there is a reason and a season for everything. Everything takes place according to God’s perfect timing, not our calendar. In the situations and circumstances of life, while we’re going through it, oftentimes how the pieces of the puzzle fall into place doesn’t make sense. But after we’ve passed through it and we have persevered, God can put us in a position where we can see His presence providing a provision for every problem.
In Romans 8:28 God makes a promise that He ‘makes all things work for the good of those who love him.’ God makes all things work for good – not some of the things some of the times. But in God’s plan, with His power, He makes all of the things, all of the time, eventually work for the good of those who love Him. In other words, there’s no crystal ball, there’s no magic wand, there’s no cookie-cutter answer or quick fix for every problem. But when we are trying our hardest and best to be faithful even though we do not get the telegram from heaven telling us clearly what we are to do – by faith day in and day out, carrying our cross, being loyal to the Lord – somehow, someway God will bring good out of everything. He only allows the difficulties, and sometimes even evils to enter into our lives in so far as He can see something greater coming out.
It takes great faith to be able to claim the victory of God’s love in advance and to know that God has a plan for our problems. Problems pass away and are temporal – they’re temporary. Here today and gone tomorrow. It takes great faith to not allow myself to be swallowed up, to be consumed, to be utterly decimated or defeated by problems.
‘My struggles will not have the last word over my life. The Lord who spoke the first Word will have the last Word. This problem is not going to prevail. It will not prosper. God’s plans will prosper, and His plan is to bring good out of it.’ It takes faith to claim that and to truly believe it. It takes great faith to receive it into our hearts and to be able to declare that God is with me, in the moment, which is the hardest part.
‘I might not feel it and He might seem to be far off, but God is with me. He promised and His Word is gold. He is more real than this situation. God is with me and his light will prevail over this darkness. I do not know how, I do not need to know how, but He will win in the end. It is a winnable war and the victory belongs to the Lord and because it belongs to the Lord, it belongs to me because I am His and He is mine.’ The victory is ours in advance. We need to claim that and to reinforce it.
St Thérèse teaches us how to do this because like Mary this is Thérèse’s greatness: her faith. As St. John says, “It is faith that gives us the victory over the world,” over the false promises of what is passing away. Anything that the world offers that would separate us from God’s love and his purpose for our lives will pass away. It is faith that gives us victory to be able to see beyond what’s on the surface, beyond the appearances, beyond the situation and the circumstance. God provides a greater provision and He is greater than every problem.
St Thérèse suffered from the problem of her illness as a ten-year-old. What provoked the illness? She lost her mother and that’s a significant trauma for a child. Her sister Pauline filled the gap, but when Pauline leaves for the convent, it opens up that ancient core wound in Thérèse’s life. What happened? She becomes physically ill because of an emotional wound. Then the enemy started making it worse and entered into the wound. He exploited the weakness and aggravated the symptoms and suffering. Thérèse acknowledged that.
An inner mixture of different causes and factors come together. In Thérèse’s own testimony, she says, “The sickness that overtook me certainly came from the demon. Infuriated by your entrance, Pauline, into Carmel, he wanted to take revenge on me for the wrong our family was to do in the future.” She has good insight and a spirit of discernment in knowing there is a spiritual war trying to interfere with her well-being. She continues, “The sweet Queen of Heaven was preparing to stop the storm the moment her flower was to break without any hope of recovery.”
God rescued Thérèse through Mary at the very moment she felt she could not go on any longer. The Lord allowed this trial to peak, to reach an apex where she felt like, ‘This is it, there is no turning back from here, there’s no recovery, game over.’ The breakthrough came only at the point, the last point where it felt like there was no more hope.
Have you ever felt that in your life – when you were pushed to your limit and felt you could go no more? Then things started to change and to shift? But the breakthrough didn’t come until you were broken? I’ve been there.
St. Thérèse continues with the details of her symptoms. “I began to have a constant headache. I was seized with a strange trembling. Nothing was able to stop my shaking, it lasted almost all night long. The doctor thought that I had a very serious illness and one which had never before attacked a child as young as I. Everybody was puzzled. Nobody knew what it was.”
In the midst of this she went to visit Pauline in the convent. The symptoms seemed to go away, the storm ceased, she felt consolation, and she thought she had been cured. She thought it was all over. It was a moment of respite but the worse was still to come.
She goes home, tells her family that she is fine and to leave her alone. But “The next day I had another attack similar to the first and the sickness became so grave and according to all human calculations I wasn’t to recover from it. I can’t describe this strange sickness but I am now convinced it was the work of the devil. I appeared to be almost delirious, saying things that had no meaning. I often appeared to be in a faint, not making the slightest movement. And then I would have permitted anyone to do anything he wished, even to kill me, and yet I heard everything that was said around me and can still remember everything. Once it happened that for a long time I was without the power to open my eyes… I believe the devil had received an external power over me but was not allowed to approach my soul nor my mind except to inspire me with great fears of certain things. I was absolutely terrified by everything. The little flower alone was languishing and seemed forever withered. People thought, as my father thought, that I had lost my mind and that I was going to die.”
This is serious human suffering. It doesn’t sound very pious, but it’s her real human experience. Yet God brought good out of this seemingly unredeemable illness. We might think, ‘This is too messy for God to use for the sake of our sanctity,’ but He does.
“Then came the miraculous statue of the Blessed Virgin which had already spoken to mama twice.” In other words, the family had already received graces from God through this statue. At that time, her father had made a Novena of Masses in honor of Our Lady of Victory, which was the image in their house, so that Our Lady could cure Thérèse. A miracle was necessary and Our Lady of Victory worked it on one Sunday, Pentecost Sunday
Thérèse writes, “I was suffering very much from this force and inexplicable struggle. Finding no help on earth, poor little Thérèse also turned toward the Mother of Heaven and prayed with all her heart that she take pity on her. All of a sudden, the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me, so beautiful that never had I seen anything so attractive. Her face was suffused with an ineffable benevolence and tenderness. But what penetrated to the very depths of my soul was the ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin.”
And instantly,at seeing the smile of the Virgin Mary imparted upon her soul, at that very moment, she was cured. Everyone cried out ‘Thérèse is cured’ and she writes that the “The luminous ray that had warmed her again was not to stop its favors. The healing did not act all at once but sweetly and gently it raised the little flower and strengthened her gradually to such a point that in five years she herself would enter that Carmel.”
We see that the healing power of God is ever present where there is faith and that God is in fact is able to bring the victory of His love no matter how messy the situation may seem to be, provided that we continue to cling to his great Mercy. As Dante says through St Bernard in the Divine Comedy: “Mary is the perfect reflection of the face of Christ.”
God who is Mercy is most magnified in Mary and her beauty. And in this Year of Mercy all of us are called to experience the healing of God’s merciful heart that we may rediscover the face of our Father who is merciful and that we ourselves may learn new lessons of mercy and how to share that gift with others as the Lord puts it in our lives.
Let us ask the Lord to help us to be merciful as He is merciful. That we may grow regularly in the grace that sets us free.
May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. St. Thérèse and all our Carmelite saints, pray for us.
(SOURCE: San Rafael Novena, September 2016) Thérèse 2- transcribed by Linda Dorian
Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved
‘Arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth. Pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’