Story of a Soul

October first is the liturgical memorial of St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus, as she is commonly known, her fame spread far and wide by the publication of her autobiography.

When one looks closely at her own reflections, one gets the clue that her story of a soul is the story of our soul too. Her “Little Way” is a blessing in our daily lives. St Therese has much to teach us. For me, the first one is what it means to love God. Her reply is that this implies means surrendering ourselves. She confides to us: Jesus points out to me the only way which leads to Love’s furnace – that way is self-surrender – it is the confidence of the little child who sleeps without fear in its father’s arms. For Therese, true love is measured by loving deeds. How shall I show my love is proved by deeds? Well – the little child will strew flowers…she will embalm the Divine Throne with their fragrance, will sing with silvery voice the canticle of love. Humility is the key to access God’s goodness and merciful Love. The Divine Heart’s Goodness and Merciful Love are little known! It is true that to enjoy these treasures we must humble ourselves, must confess our nothingness – and here is where many a soul draws back.

Love is the decisive element in our actions. You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them. Small sacrifices, motivated by love, make all the difference in the end. Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.

 It is charity which makes the Christian a Christian and the Church as Church. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church being a body composed of different members, the most essential, the most noble of all the organs would not be wanting to her; I understood that the Church has a heart and that this heart is burning with love; that it is love alone which makes the members work, that if love were to die away apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love comprises all vocations, that love is everything, that it embraces all times and all places because it is eternal! The measure of love is a love without measure. Love alone have I ever given to the good God; with love He will repay me. When one loves, one does not calculate.

Love heals and fortifies us when we are weakened by our own fragility. How sweet is the way of Love! True, one may fall, one may not be always faithful, but Love, knowing how to draw profit from all, very quickly consumes whatsoever may displease Jesus, leaving naught but humble and profound peace in the innermost soul. The humble Therese considered herself the least of all, the most sinful of everyone. She said: Jesus, it seems to me you could not have overwhelmed a soul with more love than you have poured out on mine.

In her Spirit-given wisdom, drawn from her life experience, The Little Flower came to realise that true love is found in suffering. Do not imagine that love can be found without suffering, for we carry with us our human nature; and yet, what a source of merit it is! For Therese thinking about the cost of love, which is suffering, is tantamount to not loving at all. We who run in the way of love shouldn’t be thinking of sufferings that can take place in the future: it’s a lack of confidence, it’s like meddling in the work of creation. 

For love everything becomes possible. It is true that Love knows no such word as “impossible,” for it deems “all things possible, all things allowed.” Her authentic love for Jesus made Therese understand that a pure act of love, even if it is so small, is more powerful than all the other works assembled together. I love you, Jesus, and bear in mind the words of St. John of the Cross: ‘The least act of pure love is of more value than all the other works put together.’

In her Letter to her sister Celine, Therese reminds us that holiness consists in doing small things with great love, especially in times of great struggle. She writes: In times of aridity when I am incapable of praying, of practicing virtue, I seek little opportunities, mere trifles, to give pleasure to Jesus; for instance a smile, a pleasant word when inclined to be silent and to show weariness. If I find no opportunities, I at least tell Him again and again that I love Him; that is not difficult and it keeps alive the fire in my heart. Even though this fire of love might seem extinct I would still throw little straws upon the embers and I am certain it would rekindle. 

True love for Jesus is to be shown to those who are not so nice to us. True love is like a candle that needs to be enlightened and remain so in every circumstance. From her challenging monastic experience St Therese could conclude: True Charity consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbor, in not being surprised at his failings, and in being edified by his least virtues; Charity must not remain shut up in the depths of the heart, for no man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. (Cf. Matthew 5:15). It seems to me that this candle represents the Charity which ought to enlighten and make joyful, not only those who are dearest to me, but all who are in the house.

In these times where many people, for one reason or another, feel hurt, let us practice this very actual advice of St Therese: A word, a kindly smile, will often suffice to gladden a wounded and sorrowful heart. How much wisdom, faith, hope and love can we draw from the holy life of St Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face! It is really not merely her story but our story of a soul!

 

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.