Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

St. Therese of Lisieux

This post is the beginning of a three post series of a paper I wrote during my college days entitled: "Vocational discernment within the Little Way". I focused on one passage in particular and is well-known to many. It is the passage in which St. Therese discovers that her vocation is to love. Before she can come to realize that her vocation is to love, she says that she first needed peace in order for this discovery to be made.

In Saint Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography: Story of a Soul, she describes her ‘little way’ to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. Her ‘little way’ is the summary of Saint Therese’s spiritual life and the source of her holiness. Her little way has been an inspiration for many people to grow closer in their relationship with Jesus Christ. One of the aspects of her little way is the discovery of her vocation to love. St. Therese had to take many steps to enter the Carmelite convent of Lisieux and it is near the end of her life that she wrote about her vocation to love. This essay will concentrate on the roles of rest and the theological virtue of charity in vocational discernment according to St. Therese’s ‘little way’.

In her life at Carmel, St. Therese lived an austere life of prayer and work. Her prayer was dedicated to the salvation of sinners and for Catholic priests. The Catholic Church acknowledges that there are two vocations for each baptized person: a general and a specific. The general vocation of every Christian is to strive for holiness and to merit eternal life with God. Each member of the Church contributes something to the life of the Church through different specific vocations. A specific vocation is the calling that God has for each individual person. There are three specific vocations: priesthood, religious life, and marriage. The word discernment comes from the Latin verb cernere, which means to separate or distinguish. For those who take their calling in life seriously, discernment is one of the most important things. Her own discernment led her to enter the Carmel at Lisieux at the age of 15. Her discernment did not end with her entrance into Carmel but it led her to discern her purpose in the Carmel that she lived.

St. Therese’s little way is contained within the second manuscript of her autobiography: Story of a Soul that she as a letter to her blood sister Marie who is also one of the nuns in the Carmel at Lisieux. During St. Therese’s time at Carmel, she endured many physical and spiritual trials and was able to find joy in the most tumultuous moments. She admits that it was difficult for her to love her fellow sisters because of things that she found annoying but she loved her sisters even to the day before her death. Some of the sisters were afraid that they were disturbing her as she tried to write but that was not the case. It was not until after her death they realized this though. She had been plagued by days, possibly weeks of restlessness. This troubled her because when one is restless they are unable to perform their duties the way that they could if they were rested. She was troubled because she was not able to pray and work as she had when she was in good health. St. Therese comes to the realization that two things lead her to the knowledge that her vocation is love: rest and charity.

“I finally had rest.” This simple statement is so important because if the mind and body are deprived of a thing such as rest, the soul is unsettled and cannot be aware of the different movements of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). In day-to-day living, rest is such a necessary thing and if one is deprived of not only sleep but also rest in body, mind, and soul, they are not able to be open to what God is calling them to. Her restlessness was a result of the desires she held within herself. In her meditations she realizes: “That all cannot be apostles, prophets, doctors, etc.” This causes her unrest because she desires to be all of these things. Rest allows her to think about different passages from the Bible. One in particular was a passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The passage speaks of the members of the Church and how each member is important to the life of the Church. St. Paul is pointing to the reality that the desire to become an apostle, a prophet, a teacher, or a miracle worker is not wrong, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Therese writes: “I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather I desired to see myself in them all.” Her desire to see herself in the place of the various members of the Church is a sign of charity that comes from the Church and goes back to the Church in the form of service.

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