A spoiled brat grows up, becomes a nun, and dies at 24.
This life history is overly simplified, perhaps even a little irreverent. But it captures both the ordinary and the extraordinary aspects of St. Therese’ short life, which under obedience she chronicled in Story of a Soul. The Little Flower’s biography has attracted the attention of millions as they find strength and solace in her “little way.” The compelling drama of Therese’s life, however, is nothing compared to the spiritual wisdom she attained during her brief years in the Carmel of Lisieux. This wisdom, so uncommon for someone her age, has earned Therese the title “Doctor of the Church.”
What is this wisdom? From one perspective, it’s this: the modern desires for excellence, individuality, and belonging are satisfied fully through living one’s vocation in the Church, which, St. Therese learned, is a lesson St. Paul taught many years ago. Therese added to this lesson her discovery of the secret gem hidden in every vocation. Embracing this gem was her vocation.
From today’s Office of Readings, which reprints this passage from Story of a Soul:
Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.
I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.
When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognized myself in none of the members which Saint Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favorably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I know that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.
Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my proper place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.
To the modern soul Therese says: “You want it all? Be love!”
God our Father, you have promised your kingdom to those who are willing to become like little children. Help us to follow the way of Saint Therese with confidence so that by her prayers we may come to know your eternal glory.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.