Franciscan Footprints

It has been several months since I posted the last article in this series.  Sorry. :\

Many of you are trying to figure out what God wants you to do with your life.  You may be looking to know how St. Therese knew she should be a Carmelite nun.  Perhaps you get a little frustrated when you hear other peoples' vocation stories, because they aren't really clear on "How they knew".

First Seed Planted in the Call to be a Nun

Her very first thoughts of becoming a nun came as a very young age, about preschool age.  She was very attached to her sister, Pauline.  She heard people say that Pauline was certain to become a nun. So, not really knowing what that meant, she would tell herself, "I'll be a nun too." (Chapter 2)  That doesn't seem like good enough reason to enter religious life, but that is plenty reason enough for a preschooler.  Little children learn by imitation.  They copy the ones they love and follow them around.  God reached her where she was.  Although copying someone else isn't sufficient reason to enter religious life, it was God's way to to put the thought into little Therese's head.  More mature discernment would have to wait until she was mature enough to do it.

St. Therese tells of playing hermit as a child.  Sounds like it was one of her favorite games.  Little children learn by playing.  She was imagining a religious life and practicing living it.  This was probably helpful in both her discernment of the call and her formation.

She loved playing the hermit so much, she told her favorite sister, Pauline, that she wanted to be a hermit, and couldn't they both go off to some far-away desert together.  Pauline, playing along, said that was her desire too, but she'd have to wait till Therese was old enough.  She later over heard Pauline talking to Marie about leaving to enter Carmel.  She was heart-broken at the though of Pauline leaving her, and not waiting for her.

Pauline tried to console her and told her about life in Carmel.  It was at this point that Therese really felt the call to be a Carmelite.  It was more than just wanting to be with Pauline.  It was the desert the Lord was calling her to.  She wanted it for Him, not Pauline.  There was no shadow of a doubt in her mind.  She met with the Prioress and was disappointed to hear that they couldn't take nine year olds as postulants and that she would have to wait until she was sixteen.  At nine, that must have seemed like an eternity to wait.

St Therese at 15

By the age of fourteen, "God's call was so urgent that I would have passed thorough fire to prove my loyalty."  Here we see no obvious external motivation, but something that apparently comes from within.  The divine nature of the call shows itself in the acts of St. Therese.  It gives her a courage and a boldness she did not have before.  It gives her the courage to speak to priests and her bishop.  It gives her the boldness to speak to the pope, even when told to be silent.  This from one, who just a little earlier would cry at the drop of a hat.

Back to her Spiritual Childhood

In the last article, I spoke about her prolonged natural childhood feeding her understanding and teachings about spiritual childhood.  I didn't really go into what that meant for Therese though.

A child isn't valued but what he or she can do.  A child is loved and cared for but he or she is small, weak, and dependent.  Mothers and fathers love their children, because they are theirs.

This is from the Ronald Knox translation Chapter 1:

“After that, I opened the gospels at random, and the words my eyes fell on were these: ‘Then he went up on the mountain side, and called to him those whom it pleased him to call; so these came to him.’ (Mark 3:13) There it all was, the history of my life, of my whole vocation; above all, of the special claims Jesus makes on my soul.  He doesn’t call the people who are worthy of it; no, just the people it pleases him to call;”

A child doesn't earn love, but confidently accepts love. 

My Vocation is Love

Love is, I think, the greatest aspect of St. Therese's personal vocation.  Of course we are all called to love as we are all called to holiness, but what St. Therese highlights about love is how it is everything.

She tells us how this  signs of it in her childhood:

"One  day  Léonie,  thinking no  doubt  that  she  was  too  big  to play  with  dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on  which  her  doll  was  laid:  'Here,  dears,'  she  said,  'choose  whatever  you like.' Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: 'I choose everything,' and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado."

  (See the whole passage here on page 16.)

Saint Therese uses this story to illustrate something of he vocation.  She is all or nothing.  She want's it all, and she wants to give all.  Nothing by halves.

This presented a difficulty for her.  Yes, she wanted to be a Carmelite nun, but she also wanted to preach the gospel in foreign lands as a missionary, to sacrifice her life as a martyr, to be a priest, ... She wanted to be all, to give all. 

St Therese plays St Joan of Arc

It was in wrestling with all these desires and aspirations that she was given the true fulfillment.  Her vocation did not need to be less than she desired.  There was a true fulfillment of all of them in Love.  Love is what motivated them all.  Love was everything.

I think her writings on this discovery are the most inspiring part in her Autobiography.  (You can read it here beginning on page 121.)

What St. Therese Teaches us about Vocations

OK, so with these few points about the vocation of St. Therese, the Little Flower, what does her vocational discernment teach us?

  1. Our understanding of our vocation grows with us. - Vocations are not discovered once for all.  Our Lord reveals them to us a bit at at time.  "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now." John 16:12 NAB
  2. God chooses whom He wills. - His chooses particular vocations for us for His own reasons.  We do not earn our vocation.  What He calls us to, will fulfill our deepest desires, the desires He has given us.
  3. Look at your life. - St. Therese saw signs of what God was calling her to by looking at her life.  What are defining moments and important revelations in your life?
  4. Entrust yourself to God. - We should have complete confidence in God, and we should give ourselves to Him completely.

(I have been reading Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Translated by Ronald Knox, P. J. Kenedy and Sons, New York, 1958.)

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