St. Therese discovered early on that love gave people a reason for living and a sense of hope. As a child she says that she was surrounded by love and she also had a loving nature. Yet the experience of love began to unravel somewhat when she lost her own mother at age four and a half and then again when her sister Pauline, her second mother, went off to the convent of Lisieux. Is there a permanent love? What does love mean when there is suffering? Where does fulfillment exist? Everyone asks questions about love. What is love really, how am I to understand its ways?
Love Is Everything
St. Therese believed that Jesus was with her and loved her from her childhood. She learned of Jesus Christ from the stories read to her and from her own familiarity with scripture as she grew up. She also felt love palpable in her reading of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. Furthermore, at age seventeen she read St. John of the Cross and saw how much Gods love energized his life. She wanted that kind of fulfillment. St. John of the Cross had written: In the evening of life we will be judged by our love St. Therese believed that love was everything. She recognized the centrality of love when she read I Corinthians 13; she wanted to embrace that call.
She translated this desire for love by developing her relationship to Jesus Christ. She gave each day to him as a way of manifesting her love for him. When she discovered that life was not easy in the convent of Lisieux, that some of the nuns were coarse and difficult to live with, she came to the conclusion that the condition would be chronic. It was not going to go away. Therefore she had to decide how she would live within this environment. She discovered her little way: to accept that each one came ultimately from the divine artist and thus each one is loved forever by God. Therefore she would love them as best she could, a kind word, a smile, an assist when she was able. In fact, she learned in the process that there is deep down a union between love of God and love of neighbor. She wrote that the more my life is focused in Jesus Christ, the more I am able to love my Sisters.
Toward the end of her life St. Therese discovered that love could be tested in extraordinary ways. She had to go through an eighteen month period of feeling nothing but temptation against all that she believed. Perhaps there is no heaven and her life had been a foolish gesture of commitment. She had little consolation and also had to suffer from tuberculosis, which had no cure in the late nineteenth century. But St. Therese refused to abandon her life of faith, hope and love. She would accept any difficulty and any test in order to give herself to love. In the end she left this world in great peace and in love. Her story continues to attract the restless heart seeking a way of being worthwhile in our world.
Rev. John F. Russell, O.Carm.