Early 20th Century French Critic Casts Eye on St. Therese
As a convert, St. Therese did not immediately attract me as a possible intercessor with whom to cultivate a deeper relationship with Christ. In part, this was because my family had discerned different patrons. St. Clare we knew with certainty had interceded as we entered the Church. One of my sons had an immediate and deep devotion to St. Francis, and my youngest received a miraculous healing by the prayers of St. Peregrine. In time, St. Damien Joseph of Molokai was helping behind the scenes during my nursing education (and I trust, now, as I work as a nurse in a jail setting). Not much Therese in sight, except those sweet prayer cards here and there of a young, smiling girl surrounded with roses.
St. Therese remained in the periphery of my awareness, stickily sweet to my eyes, always surrounded by roses and in the context of a "little way." Well, I didn't want "little." I liked "big." It just didn't click. In time I began to understand that my awareness was extremely shallow and not very accurate. The Truth About Therese
has largely contributed to this deepening.
Over the last year, as I have read her autobiography (Story of a Soul
) and spent more time in prayer with her, she (and her parents) have provided spiritual inspiration and, I hope, saintly intercession as well. Then came a deeper understanding of her "Little Way" which, if you have actually attempted to practice (and hopefully prayed for the grace to be able to!), this saint no longer remains associated with merely "the sight of crudely colored and mawkish plaster figures," as Gheon writes, but rather becomes evident as the master of "self-conquest...that living death...worth more for the salvation of souls than all the other [tasks] put together," as Therese herself explains.
Gheon describes his own initial dissatisfaction with the devotions surrounding St. Therese. He writes in a terrifically entertaining way, brutally honest. He walks the reader through the shrines and holy places of Therese's life, and here's what he has to say about the Carmel at Liseuix:
Our reason persists: why does God allow it? Why does Therese allowe it? Why has God let the devil have this triumph, that this holy place should be in the front rank of monstrosities of Catholic ecclesiastical art in the twentieth century? Does the soul no longer inform the body, and the spirit the flesh?
So you see he does not skirt away from the reactions that people may have to the "[masterpieces] of hideousness and stupidity that have the high honor of sheltering" the holy relics of the saints. He ponders these facets of devotion and offers thoughtful insight.
Rest assured, however, that his words will not likely offend anyone who has a strong devotion to Therese. I read this book in one sitting and would have started it immediately over again if I had not other obligations to attend to. It's a great read, and I came away from it with a heightened appreciation and awareness of the breadth of Therese's spirituality and the powerful intercession she offers on our behalf. As soon as you can, get a copy and devour it for your own sake.