Editor’s note: Those of you who want to learn more about Saint Thérèse can also visit Maureen O’Riordan’s blog, “Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway,” at http://www.thereseoflisieux.org/. She is a friend of Father James Geoghegan of the San Jose Monastery, CA.
The Santa Clara OCDS will be sponsoring A Day of Recollection with St.Thérèse, with Maureen as our guest speaker on Saturday, November 11, 2017 at Santa Clara Monastery (1000 Lincoln Street). To register, please go to thespeakroom DONATE tab. ($20 donation suggested, but any amount is appreciated!)
Saint Thérese then transitions and talks about transcendent image of the eagle. “Why do you not reserve these great aspiration for great souls, for the eagles that soar in the heights? I look upon myself as a weak little bird. I’m not an eagle. I have only an eagle’s eyes and heart.
In spite of my extreme littleness, my heart feels within it all the aspirations of an eagle, climbing up toward the divine furnace of the Holy Trinity. But to fly is not within my little power. What will then become of it? Will it die of sorrow at seeing itself so weak? No way. The little bird will not even be troubled. With bold surrender, it wishes to remain gazing at its divine sun. Nothing will frighten it. Neither will wind nor rain, and if dark clouds come and hide the sorrow of love, the little bird will not change its place because it knows that beyond the clouds, its bright sun still shines on, and its brightness is not eclipsed for a single instance.”
Here, we hear the boldness of St. Thérèse ’s spirit. Though she is the little flower, she was truly larger than life. She continues to say, “At times, that little bird’s heart is assailed by the storm, and it seems it should believe in the existence of no other thing except the cloud surrounding it.” Notice how raw and human she is. She expresses that ‘Sometimes, my soul is in such suffering. My soul is so darkened, not by sin of course, but darkened by the sense that God is very far away. I am tempted to believe that God doesn’t even exist because He feels so distant.’
Though Thérèse is being tempted by her suffering and purification, notice her greatness. She is just like Jesus in the agony of the garden when His humanity says, ‘Lord, let this cup pass.’ But in His divinity, He rises above His humanity and says, “Yet not my will but Your will be done.” Similarly, Thérèse says, “This is the moment of perfect joy for the poor, little weak creature. And what joy it experiences when remaining there, just the same and gazing at the invisible light which remains hidden from its faith. While remaining in its place under the rays of the sun, at times, the little bird finds itself somewhat distracted from its sole occupation.”
Thérèse then admits how imperfect she is. Her faith, will, and intention is to give herself completely to God, even if she doesn’t feel God. Nevertheless, she says, ‘ I don’t get it right. I’m not flawless. I’m not a perfectionist.’
She writes, “Being distracted from its soul occupation, it picks up a piece of grain on the right or on the left. It chases after a little worm, then coming upon a little pool of water it wets its feathers, still hardly formed. It sees an attractive flower and its little mind is occupied with this flower. In a word, being unable to soar like the eagles, the poor little bird is taken up with the trifles of earth.”
She speaks in metaphor and imagery to express that like us, distractions and trifles of earth derail her from her sole focus, her one love. Yet instead of hiding away in a corner and feeling sorry for itself, to weep over its misery, to die of sorrow, to lick ones wounds after all these misdeeds and imperfections, “the little bird turns toward its beloved sun, presenting its wet wings to its beneficent rays. It cries like a swallow and in its sweet song, it recounts in detail all its infidelities, thinking in the boldness of its full trust, that it will acquire in ever greater fullness the love of Him who came to call not the just, but sinners.”
Rather than allowing her faults and failures to be a source of discouragement, St. Thérèse turned them around and allowed them to be a source of strength, in light of the truth that Jesus came to save the lost and the sinners, not the righteous and virtuous who are not in need of conversion. She uses her weaknesses, faults, and her imperfections as a source of strength. She says, ‘You came for people like me, the needy. And I clearly need you because look what happens when I’m left to my own devices. I make a mess of things. I make a mess of myself. But You came for the black sheep, for people like me.’
She takes God by the heart, based on the truth of the heart He reveals to us in the gospels. She says, ‘Look, I’m putting myself in their shoes. I’m just like the prodigal son. I’m no better. And because I am so poor, I have rights to Your riches. I have rights to Your redemptive love because I need You, and You came for people like me.’
This faith is part of her daring audacity. “Oh Jesus, your little bird is happy to be weak and little.” Part of the genius and the revolution of St. Thérese is her happiness in being weak and little. She asks, “What would become of [the bird] if it were big?”
In other words, ‘If God were to leave me to all of my imagined strengths, left to myself, my pride would take over, and I would distance myself from God, thinking that I don’t need Him anymore. If were big and full of myself, and I didn’t experience my vulnerabilities, my own need for Him, my own poverty, then left to myself, I would distance myself and probably get in trouble. I would make choices that aren’t for my own good. I would be blinded by my own pride.
Therefore, to be little and aware of my poverty is the biggest blessing I have because it keeps me closer to You. This understanding is a cause for rejoicing then, and not discouragement.
Finally, she writes that the little bird “calls upon the angels and saints who rise like eagles before the consuming fire. And since this is the object of the little bird’s desire, the eagles take pity on it, protecting and defending it, and putting to flight at the same time the vultures who want to devour it. These vultures are the demons whom the little bird does not fear. For it is not destined to be their prey, but the prey of the eagle who contemplates at the center of the sun of love.”
She who knew so well afflictions and temptations by the devil, knew that he would not prevail over her. She knew that she was meant for Jesus alone, the divine eagle, and Jesus would bring light over every darkness. The greatest light she points to is in the white Host. The eternal eagle desires to nourish us with His divine substance. She says, “Though I am nothingness itself, I am nourished by the bread of heaven.”
We are all nourished with the substance of the eternal eagle, Jesus, the Word of God, so that we may soar to the heights of heaven. May Saint Thérèse ’s teaching be contagious. May we catch the fire that she expresses and allow our faith to help us to overcome all discouragement, that Christ may conquer all that needs conquering in us, that we may share more vigorously in His victory.
Saint Thérèse, pray for us.
(SOURCE: Cristo Rey Retreat, San Francisco, September 2015)
Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All rights reserved
Feast Day Novena Prayer
(This prayer is used by the Carmelites during the Feast Day Novena)
St. Therese, Flower of fervor and love, please intercede for us. Fill our hearts with your pure love of God. As we approach and celebrate your feast day, make us more aware of the goodness of God and how well He tends His garden. Instill in us your little way of doing ordinary things with extra-ordinary love.
Give us the heart of a child who wonders at life and embraces everything with loving enthusiasm. Teach us your delight in God’s ways so that divine charity may blossom in our hearts. Little Flower of Jesus, bring our petitions (mention in silence here) before God, our Father.
With your confidence, we come before Jesus as God’s children, because you are our heavenly friend. As we celebrate the Feast Day of your homecoming in heaven, continue to shower roses and grace upon us.