My Sister, St. Therese
from Chapter 5
It was a natural penchant of mine to want perfect order in all things, but
more especially in the over-all routine of my daily life at Carmel. I cherished
the ideal, at least theoretically, of bringing all my actions and the events
of my life together as a unit, to fit in place like the pieces of a child's
jigsaw puzzle. It is hardly necessary to add that such an outlook, besides being
a source of conflict with others, was to provide me with many jolts on the way.
To give but one example. On a certain afternoon, during my sister's last illness,
when I had been counting on finishing some particular work, I was unexpectedly
called to the parlour. Later I told Therese with a sigh, "That unfortunate
interruption prevented the completion of my task!" She looked up at me
and replied: "At the moment of death, such an interruption will be seen
in a very different light. You will thank God for it."
My day of recollection each month meant much to me, and I felt that I was entitled
to a fair amount of tranquility and order at least during that brief period
of solitude. Hence, it became for me something of a problem to decide which
Sunday would be best for this day of retreat; an emergency in the Infirmary
could arise at any moment, and then there was always the possibility of being
pressed into service for some duty elsewhere in the monastery. As this desire
for a calm recollection was fast becoming a besetting anxiety with me, Therese
spoke to me about it one day. She said:
"It looks as though you go into solitude for your own gratification, and
to give an extra little present to self. It should be the other way around.
I take my day of retreat each month in a spirit of fidelity to grace and in
order to give more to God. If, for example, I have a fair amount of writing
planned for that day, I am careful to keep my heart detached, and I reason along
these lines: 'I am putting such an hour aside for this task, but in anticipation,
I offer up that hour to you, my God. It will probably be punctured by the many
unforeseen interruptions and disturbances which usually come my way, so even
now, I enter heart and soul into Your plan for me. In fact, I am really counting
on being upset and inconvenienced, and if it should turn out that I am left
at peace, I shall thank you, my God, for such an unexpected favour.' 'In this
way', the Saint added, 'I am always happy and remain in great peace.'"
This advice was typical of Therese, and it was a grace for us to see how she
used to put this very counsel to work in the discharge of her duties as Assistant
Sacristan. On feast days, when she might have counted on catching up with some
special work of her own, she was in the habit of passing the Sacristy from time
to time (after she had finished her appointed tasks there) in order to give
the first Sacristan an opportunity of pressing her into service again. Needless
to say, this silent offer was often accepted.
Knowing that such extra duties must have been fatiguing, I devised a means
of making it easy for her to slip away but my efforts were in vain. She was
determined, it was evident, to refuse nothing to the good God.
One day in some matters of trifling importance I had given in to self on several
scores. This was Therese's reaction:
"True, no serious harm has been done," she said, "nor has
the peace of hte community been disturbed, but there are some little ripples
on the surface of your soul. We might compare it to the bruising of the downy
texture of a little peach. To stand up for your own rights or to insist on
justice being done is not necessarily a serious offence against your neighbor,
it is true, but your own soul is the loser."
"What can I do, then, to make up?" I asked. "Just turn your
eyes lovingly to Jesus," Therese answered, "and recognize your own
misery and weakness. That is full reparation. You see, whenever we try to sustain
our rights, it is only to our own spiritual detriment. You have no responsibility
in the guidance of souls, so, to set about instructing others, even when truth
is on your side, is exposing yourself to danger unnecessarily. You are not called
upon to be a Justice of the Peace. This right belongs to God alone. But your
vocation is to be an Angel of Peace.
Therese frequently urged us to practice great charity in judging others, for,
as she used to point out to us, that which seems to be a fault in another is
often an act of heroism in the sight of God. The unfinished talk of a nun who
may be over-tired or suffering interiorly, she told us, often brings more glory
to God than a duty meticulously completed by another nun robust of soul and
body. In other words, it is effort and not success that counts most with God.
We should judge our neighbour favourably in every circumstance, therefore, and
make it become a habit of our lives to overlook his faults. Just as we--almost
spontaneously--give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, let us also make this
an integral factor of our relations with those about us. And if, in a given
case, we cannot ascribe a charitable motive, we can always have recourse, the
Saint concluded, to an interpretation like this: Although Sister X is obviously
at fault, evidently she is not conscious of it. If I, on the other hand, have
clearer light in the present case, all the more reason why I should use much
care in judging her mercifully and myself more severely for my inclination to
Therese believed that God frequently allows us to experience in ourselves the
same weaknesses which we deplore in others, such as absent-mindedness, involuntary
negligences, an attitude of boredom or weariness. When we see ourselves fallen
into those faults we are then more prompt to excuse them in others.
Taken from My
Sister, St. Therese by TAN
Books & Publishers, Inc.
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