Like Going on a Retreat With St. Therese

I just finished reading an insightful book–really more like a retreat–about my patron saint titled Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Therese of Lisieux.

The book includes thirty letters from the saint to her sisters, fellow nuns, and missionary priests. After each letter, the authors (Anthony Lilles and Dan Burke) offer an explanation of the letter and a reflection on its themes, with particular focus on how St. Therese’s Little Way can be applied to our lives.

St. Therese Converted Me

St. Therese actually helped me become Catholic.

I was a Protestant and wanting to read more about the saints, intrigued by St. Francis and his radical poverty.

A friend tipped me off to St. Therese; I bought her autobiography (The Story of a Soul), devoured it in a short time, and came away amazed.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me about this incredibly faithful young woman?” I wondered. It planted in my mind doubts about my Protestant beliefs. If an obscure young nun who died at age 24 in France a century ago was this holy, what does that say about the entire Catholic Faith?

I took her as my Confirmation saint, and Fr. (now Bishop) Mike Sis proudly announced her name when he confirmed me.

I bought multiple books about her, including one with quotes from her sister Celine, as well as a book about the letters she wrote to the missionary priests (those letters also appear in this book).

A Retreat With St. Therese

Anthony Lilles
Anthony Lilles

But in spite of my familiarity with her, most of these letters were new to me. I read them eagerly, looking forward to the gems of deep faith that she would present, and they did not disappoint.

Neither did the reflections offered disappoint. Normally I find reflections written by laity to be ho-hum in their value. But Lilles and Burke demonstrate a remarkable understanding of the saint, her Little Way, and her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.

Each of the reflections provided me with good food for spiritual growth. While one could read the entire book over a thirty day period, I read it during my Holy Hour in adoration and so read one per week.

The result is like going on a retreat with St. Therese as your Spiritual Director. She was a Novice Mistress at the Carmel in Lisieux, so she was used to imparting wisdom to people in the first stage of the spiritual walk.

St. Therese Was No Wallflower

Dan Burke
Dan Burke

Some people have gotten the impression that St. Therese and her spirituality were saccharine and weak. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the authors explain how challenging her Little Way was, denying oneself time after time during one’s daily life. I rarely deny myself even once during a day, let alone every minute and hour!

Her love for Christ was great; as she said in her oblation, she had “immense desires,” a poignant phrase that captures how much she wanted to love God and others.

Here is her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love which the authors reference throughout the book. Read it and ponder the heart behind it:

ACT OF OBLATION TO MERCIFUL LOVE

J.M.J.T.

Offering of myself
as a Victim of Holocaust
to God’s Merciful Love

O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make you Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!

Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Savior and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.

I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my Dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the says of His mortal life: “Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!” I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.

I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of you to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.

I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.

After earth’s Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love Alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.

In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.

I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!

Living the Mystery of Merciful Love is a worthy addition to the canon of books about St. Therese. I am sure from Heaven she is adding every reader of it to her intercessions before the throne of God. Get in on it!

Catholic Meditation Is Simple, Difficult, and Worthwhile

A couple of weeks ago, on a Tuesday, I was praying the rosary and meditated over the sorrowful mysteries, the first of which is Jesus’ agony in the garden.

What could I learn from the events in Gethsemane to develop a true relationship with Christ?

Meditating on the Agony of Christ

It was the first time in which I truly meditated on Jesus’ agony.

I’ve read and listened to that scripture passage, Mark 14, 32-42, many times but did not dig deeper. In past years, I’ve attended reenactments of our Lord’s passion, so in a sense I’ve watched the events “live”.

However, after many years I didn’t notice any changes; I was still the same person with the same vices.

And that’s a sign that what one is doing is not helping one grow in holiness.

There were times in which I would feel discouraged to continue the path towards virtue. I thought “what’s the point?” and even contemplated not going to Mass anymore. The main reasons I kept going were fear of going to hell and to not disappoint my earthly mother. So basically, to avoid a consequence and save face.

So I decided to be brutally honest with myself.

I had to admit that most things I did, like going to Mass, were out of habit, not love. I then realized that I expected God to do all the work, regarding building an authentic relationship with Him. It’s as if I wanted to become a saint with no work or sacrifices from my end.

His Love Will Open the Door to Your Heart

When I was part of a youth group, a member showed me a picture of Jesus standing outside a door. He said the door symbolized our hearts. Also, that Jesus knocks to ask us to let Him in.

The door had no knob on the outside. Only we can open our hearts to God, he won’t force himself in.

On the path to opening “the door of my heart” I acknowledge that I need to truly know God. If we don’t know who He is, then it’s hard to genuinely love Him. Going to Mass occasionally and praying inconsistently will be no use.

Meditating with The Lord

Which brings me back to meditation, which I’d associate to Eastern culture and had tried it before once or twice.

But after reading Devin’s post explaining how to meditate I decided to try it.

Before going to sleep I pray the rosary and meditate on the mysteries. Afterwards for ten minutes I meditate exclusively on the mystery that stood out to me the most. I decided to start meditating this way first, and then eventually move on to other methods, like using scripture.

I’ve mentioned our Lord’s agony because through meditating that mystery I questioned how I deal with suffering.

It is inevitable that we are going to suffer since we live in a very sinful world. It comes with the territory, but through it some people build strong characters and others the opposite.

Do we handle suffering as best as we can, or do our actions lead to more negativity?

For me it’s been mixed, at times I’ve handled negative situations well, and other times not so much. Looking back, some of my actions made the situations worse.

Realizing that we don’t have total control of what happens, or doesn’t, can make one feel weak and vulnerable. Our Lord’s apostles witnessed His power many times and could not imagine him going through any type of suffering.

Jesus’ Agony Is the Key

Jesus felt “sorrowful, even to death” in the garden and asked the disciples to “keep watch” (34). The disciples were not prepared for what was to come and had no sense of urgency.

Jesus went further along, “fell to the ground and prayed” to His father, our father (35). This was minutes before His arrest; He didn’t drink alcohol or overindulge in food to ease his worries.

Jesus acknowledged that “all things are possible” to God and asked that God’s will be done and not His own (36). Even though He knew that he would suffer greatly, for our salvation, He still chose to follow the Father’s will. Jesus knew that He would be beaten, insulted and crucified to save people who didn’t, and don’t, care about Him.

Meditating on the agony of our Lord made me realize that it’s important to offer my suffering to God.

In the past, during times of suffering I would do things to try and numb the pain. I’d listen to music, message friends, play video games and over-indulge in food just to “distract” myself.

I felt alone through the suffering because I wouldn’t turn to God and allow Him into my heart.

Sharing Our Suffering with God

Pain, in all its forms, is unpleasant and we often do everything within our reach to stop it.

Some people shop compulsively and enter unhealthy relationships to end their pain, which often leads to more negativity. Other people use several types of drugs, legal or illegal, which pushes them towards hopelessness.

It took me a while to accept the fact that God did not create me to fulfill my own desires. He brought us into this world for a specific reason; to complete a mission for His kingdom. If God had wanted to, he would’ve changed the original plan and Jesus would not have been crucified. However, we would still be slaves to sin without the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

Our understanding about the events around us can be very limited. That’s why it’s important to include God in our lives, especially during difficult moments. He will comfort and reassure us to keep moving forward because He has a bigger plan. When the storm passes, a better version of ourselves will be revealed; more willing to answer God’s call to love.

God Gives Grace, And We Decide

Despite having positive experiences meditating I’ve struggled to do it daily.

Positive habits–aka virtues–are difficult to start and maintain, as opposed to negative ones (vices). However, we can start meditating consistently for a couple of days a week and eventually do it every day.

God desires to have a personal relationship with us, but we decide if that comes to fruition or not. I hope you make significant steps towards growing spiritually.

We must strive to remain in communication with our Heavenly Father, especially during moments of darkness. Following Jesus’ example, we won’t ask Him to take the pain away, but rather that His will be done.


This guest post is by Carlos Mendez

Carlos is originally from Mexico, but has lived in Texas for over 20 years. He enjoys spending time with his nieces and nephew, and reading about the Catholic Faith.

He got his degree in social work, and has worked with children, adolescents and adults.