Thoughts on St. Therese
Every year, it feels like October creeps up on me. I guess it’s because most of my life has been on an academic calendar. It sneaks up on me because August and September is about the hustle and bustle of new classes, new teachers, and getting over the summer dawdling. October is upon me again this year! And unexpected as usual.
In particular, for me as a sister of the Congregation of Mary Queen (Dòng Trinh Vương, a community consecrated to Mary), October is devoted to the rosary. In addition to the month of the rosary, October is also about St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, our spiritual guide. We follow her way of holiness – to live extraordinary in the ordinary. To love in the simple. To hope in the midst of dryness.
For many Vietnamese Catholics, St. Thérèse is a well-known saint. However, to put all of us on the same page, please allow me to sketch some details of her life. She was born in the late 19th century to a middle-income French family. She lost her mom when she was about 3 ½ years old. Both of her older sisters joined the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, her hometown. She eventually joined them at the age of 15 (a special exception had to be made for her because the usual age was 18). Shortly after she joined, her dad suffered a series of strokes that caused him to be confined to a mental institution. Rumors and gossip circulated that he was sad from Thérèse's departure to the convent that he had a mental break-down! In hindsight and with both Thérèse’s parents canonized as saints in October 2015, we know her father asked for suffering as a way to draw closer to God. Thérèse, herself, died at age 24 of tuberculosis.
I feel blessed to belong to a community that takes St. Thérèse as a model of living life to the full. Hers is an ordinary life filled with the drama of the everyday: not being accepted in school, being too sensitive (nhõng nhẽo), losing a parent. She had to fight to follow her dream (She went to see the pope to get her entrance into Carmel!) And when she died, her sisters said there won’t be anything interesting to say: she did what everyone else did.
On so many days, I feel like I do what everyone else does. I wake up, get my teeth brushed, and grab a cup of coffee (to make sure I don’t fall asleep in prayer!). After Mass, I sit down at my computer, I reply to emails (because I work from home/convent) and get distracted with random Google searches. When evening comes and it’s Tuesday – it’s my turn to cook. Chicken, beef, noodles. Whatever the sisters didn’t have for a while.
When I leave the convent and meet people, they would say: Thank you so much for your calling! Thank you so much for your “Yes”! You are just like Mary! And I think of myself: Really? Are you sure? Do you know how ordinary a life I lead? Wait until you come to a Come and See!
And that’s what happens when young women come to visit us would say. You guys are just like us! You do ordinary stuff too! Like cooking, laundry, watch movies. And I say: Agree. So what is the difference between you and the rest of us? I would borrow the words of St. Thérèse:
Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be…If every flower wanted to be a rose, nature would lose her springtime beauty.
May we each do what God asks of us.
Wishing you a beautiful month of October!
Keep me in prayer as I do you.