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A biography of St. Therese the Little Flower by her sister

My Sister, St. Therese

from Chapter 5
Fraternal Charity

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 blame her.

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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