“Formerly one of our nuns managed to irritate me whatever she did or said. The devil was mixed up in it, for it was certainly he who made me see so many disagreeable traits in her.” (The Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse)
To a chosen few, I have confided that this less than perfect, but usually patient child of God does indeed have her moments. There, I said it! All joking aside, however,this week I was reminded of St. Thérèse’s own difficulties with her fellow sister with someone in my own life. While I didn’t outwardly display my inward feelings of annoyance and profound frustration, it was in truth all consuming. Occupying my mind, and keeping my heart at bay, I found myself unable to truly listen or engage in anything being said. This inner hollow numbness, at the words being spoken was so striking, I caught myself aghast at my disconnect from the conversation and her expression of pain. Why was she telling me this? Why was I being drawn into her inner circle, is there no one else?, I was thinking. Then it sank in, God wasn’t asking anyone else in that moment…he was asking me.
“As I did not want to give way to my natural dislike for her, I told myself that charity should not only be a matter of feeling but should show itself in deeds. So I set myself to do for this sister just what I should have done for someone I loved most dearly.” ( St. Thérèse)
So, therein lies the challenge, and the invitation that is set before me. To not only tolerate, but to extend the same love that I would show for someone “I loved most dearly”. This requires not only desire but an intentional effort, something not usually needed for those whom we find easily to love. And yet for it to be meaningful, and not hypocritical, it has to begin with love and involve a change in heart. Yet, where do I start? Prayer. Here is a gift that blesses not only the one being prayed for but the one who prays.
“Every time I met her, I prayed for her and offered God all her virtues and her merits. I was sure this would greatly delight Jesus, for every artist likes to have his works praised and the divine Artist of souls is pleased when we do not halt outside the exterior of the sanctuary where He has chosen to dwell but go inside and admire its beauty.” ( St. Thérèse)
Beauty, yes, God has most certainly given each one of us virtues and merits..that is worthy to be praised and recognized. While hidden at times, perhaps, they are there awaiting discovery and appreciation nonetheless. And still, I wonder, God’s brush strokes and artistry remain hidden at times within me? Most certainly, I wasn’t showing my best self to her, the fullness of who God had created me to be.
“I did not remain content with praying a lot for this nun who caused me so much disturbance. I tried to do as many things for her as I could, and whenever I was tempted to speak unpleasantly to her, I made myself give her a pleasant smile and tried to change the subject.” ( St. Thérèse)
Ah, here we have the next step, small outward gestures of love and concern. Not for the world to see, but that speak of our gratitude for God’s beauty within each of us. St. Thérèse never said this was easy for her, in fact she speaks of her internal reluctance to do so. The resistance I feel, I cannot help but recognize is God himself prompting me to grow.
“When I was violently tempted by the devil and if I could slip away without her seeing my inner struggle, I would flee like a soldier deserting the battlefield. And after all this she asked me one day with a beaming face: “Sister Therese, will you please tell me what attracts you so much to me? You give me such a charming smile whenever we meet.” Ah! it was Jesus hidden in the depth of her soul who attracted me, Jesus who makes the bitterest things sweet!”(St. Thérèse)
You too, St. Thérèse? Whilst the saints inspire us so much in the joys, delights and flights of ecstasy experienced in seeking to love and serve God, so too do their challenges. To this I say thank you, St. Thérèse for your openness and admittance of imperfection. Thank you for sharing so generously of the struggle. For in doing so, you have given the rest of us striving to be someday saints hope and companionship in the journey.