If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Lk. 9:23, Mt. 16:24
This is a call that our greatest saints have heard and taken to task. In understanding the call of suffering and self denial, few saints have had as much of an influence on me as Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face – also known as the Little Flower – whose feast we celebrated yesterday. Throughout her short life on this earth, the little saint suffered greatly the distress of many trials, physically, spiritually, emotionally, always with a peaceful attitude of love and confidence in God.
Upon her entrance into the Carmel, Therese recalled that
“suffering opened wide its arms to me and I threw myself into them with love…Jesus made me understand that it was through suffering that He wanted to give me souls, and my attraction for suffering grew in proportion to its increase…
The little flower transplanted to Mount Carmel was to expand under the shadow of the cross. The tears and blood of Jesus were to be her dew, and her Sun His adorable Face veiled with tears…I understood what real glory was. He whose Kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36) showed me that true wisdom consists in “desiring to be unknown and counted as nothing (The Imitation of Christ I, 2:3),” in “placing one’s joy in the contempt of self (The Imitation of Christ III, 49:7).” Ah! I desired that, like the Face of Jesus, “my face be truly hidden, that no one on earth would know me (Is. 53:3).” I thirsted after suffering and I longed to be forgotten.
How merciful is the way God has guided me. Never has He given me the desire for anything which He has not given me, and even His biter chalice seemed delightful to me.
For this “little flower” each moment of sacrifice and suffering was itself a little flower that she spent her life offering to her beloved Spouse and no sacrifice, no flower, was too small or insignificant for the Lord. While she suffered majorly in the loss of her father, the slow and painful death due to TB and a great trial of faith, Therese also offered Christ the little sufferings of everyday, which sometimes included dealing with a…less than agreeable sister in her community (Te-Deum relates that story):
I’ve always remained little, therefore, having no other occupation but to gather flowers, the flowers of love and sacrifice, and of offering them to God in order to please Him.
What she found was that paradox of love that is the Cross. For when endured with great love for Christ and for souls, the act of suffering eventually ceases to be a burden, but instead becomes pure joy to the heart of a saint:
I have suffered very much since I was on earth, but, if in my childhood I suffered with sadness, it is no longer in this way that I suffer. It is with joy and peace. I am truly happy to suffer.
In this day and age, when the world seeks to destroy human life in an effort to overcome human weakness and avoid suffering, let us imitate the example of this little saint who took Christ’s words seriously and, like St. Paul, was content in her weakness and rejoiced in her suffering. For it is when we are weak that we are truly strong (2 Corinthians 12:10) and through our sufferings, united with the Cross, that we are redeemed (1 Peter 1:6-7).
My God, I accept everything out of love for You: if You will it, I really want to suffer even to the point of dying of grief.
See my Path to Holiness posts illustrating St. Therese’s “Little Way”:
It is to Recognize our Nothingness
Unless You Become Like Little Children
The Little Flower on Little Flowers
Darkness Within Faith – mentioning here trial of faith
All quotes here come from her autobiography Story of a Soul and from the book St. Therese of Lisieux, Her Last Conversations. Read my favorite passage from Story of a Soul. I cannot tell you what a gift this little Saint and the Sory of her Soul has been for me. If you have not yet discovered this treasure I highly encourage you to click on the link above and order your copy today.
“My vocation is love!”
To offer myself as a victim of Divine love is not to offer myself to sweetness, to consolation, but to every anquish, every bitterness; for love lives only by sacrifice, and the more the soul wills to be surrendered to love, the more must she be surrendered to suffering.