Franciscan Footprints

Vocation Stories of the Saints - St. Therese - Part 1

I have started and restarted this post so many times in the last few months.  Kind of picked big one for the second article of this vocation story series.  It meant I had to read her autobiography again, because the whole book is pretty much her vocation story.  There is a lot of material here, so I am going to break this article up into pieces. 

You know, when I first read St. Therese’s Story of a Soul when I was a kid, I really wasn’t very impressed.  Perhaps because she didn’t do many big exciting things.  But, rereading it has really helped me to see how very remarkable it is.

"And in any case, what I shall be doing is only what will be my task in eternity - telling over and over again the story of God's mercies to me."
(Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, chapter 1, page 1)

One thing to note when reading her autobiography is that it isn’t just a historical record of her life.  She is reflecting on her vocation and how God has brought her to this point. It was composed in three parts at the request of others.  (Much of it is on her childhood because she only started writing it because her superior, who was also her older sister, ordered her to write about her childhood.)  It is told by someone who has an intimate relationship with God; someone who views her whole life in the light of God’s love and His mercies to her.  Anyways, to really appreciate her autobiography, it helps to keep that in mind.  Hopefully, reflecting with St. Therese on her particular calling will help you to see your own.

When I read St. Therese’s story this time, I read it specifically looking for key points about her vocation.  I noticed things I hadn’t seen before.

Spiritual Childhood

Saint Therese of Lisieux at age 3 in 1876 public domainA key aspect of St. Therese's personal calling spiritual childhood.  I'll start here, because she does. 

OK, so much of her autobiography is about her childhood.  I had notice that before that.  She only lived to 24, so it's really not surprising.  But it isn’t just that.  She also had a really long childhood.

Looking at my own memories of childhood, I have some glimpses, images and feelings mostly, before school age.  Kindergarten, I remember a few little happenings and thoughts.  St. Therese had some very clear memories from age 4 and earlier.  She also had surprising faith and awareness at that young age.  She was already talking about having a “rule of life” at age 4.

On the other end, her childhood was protracted.  She was really coddled, probably due to the death of her mother and having four older sisters.  She talks about taking lessons while sitting on her sister’s or father’s lap, Celine making her bed for her, and other such things at an age that would have shocked me had I seen it today.  On her retreat before First Communion at age 11, she mentioned being embarrassed because she was the only girl there who didn’t know how to brush her own hair.

This must have been part of God’s plan for her.  To be the teacher about spiritual childhood, she had to know about childhood.  You may have heard the expression, “grace perfects nature.”  St. Therese’s understanding of spiritual childhood grew from her own experience of natural childhood.  It seems to me that God gave her an extra-long experience of childhood to prepare her for the task He had appointed to her.

Somethings you may want to reflect on. 

  • What key experiences has God given you in your life? 
  • What do you think God means you to learn from them? 
  • How does that apply to the spiritual life? 
  • Does it point out to you something God may be asking of you? 

I have been reading Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Translated by Ronald Knox, P. J. Kenedy and Sons, New York, 1958.  And this is where my quotes are taken from.
There are many different translations of her Autobiography, Story of a Soul.  There are even some you can read for free online.

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