My Childhood Friend Thérèse

“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.”

From Thérèse of Lisieux

It is October 1, the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She’s been a favorite of mine since childhood. Our parish sisters and priests were thorough religion teachers. In fifth grade, Sister decided to add some reality to her lessons by introducing us to the saints. She didn’t select those who seemed to be on the right track from birth. Rather, she focused upon people like Thérèse who began their lives imperfectly and then went on to turn things around.

I was drawn to Thérèse because she was one of several children born to French parents. So am I. Thérèse worried about her older sisters and their interactions with boys. She wanted her sisters to remain chaste and pure. Though I had a minimal understanding of what this meant, I wanted the same for my older sister. Thérèse also hoped to join the convent from very early on. So did I. Thérèse was quite spoiled as the youngest child whose mother died when she was only four years of age. Her family doted over her so much so that she became quite spoiled. Though I didn’t have the luxury of being spoiled, I did have very specific ideas regarding this life and I fully expected things to go as I intended.

One Christmas Eve when she was only fourteen, Thérèse overheard her family talking about how difficult she was. That moment, her eyes were opened to her selfishness. She immediately decided to live for others with love rather than expecting those around her to live solely for her. I was thoroughly amazed that a girl only a few years older than I could change her life in an instant. Thérèse inspired me never to stop believing that we can all do the same when we choose to.

Dear God, thank you for Thérèse and the many other wonderful souls who show us how to live as best we can in spite of our very human circumstances and our very human selves.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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My Friend Therese

“If God grants my desires… I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth…”
Saint Therese of Lisieux

This is the feast day of Saint Therese of Lisieux. I’ve felt great affection for Therese since fifth grade when I read her autobiography. I identified with this young saint because her circumstances reflected my own. Therese and I share our French heritage. Therese grew up with several sisters as I did. She wanted to become a nun from very early on. I wanted to become a nun for as long as I can remember. Most importantly, Therese spoke her mind to God probably from the day she learned to pray. So have I. Therese never doubted God’s love for her and she felt free to share everything with God. I grew up feeling the same.

Years later, when I revisited Therese’s autobiography, I appreciated Therese’s approach to this life more fully. Within the seemingly mundane experiences, frustrations and worries of her young life, Therese found small ways to do good. When she left home in her teens to join the Carmelite Nuns, Therese quickly discovered that she would spend her short life perfecting what she called “The little way.” Therese realized that the best opportunity to do good is in the everyday circumstances of our lives. Indeed, Therese perfected her little way by the time she passed away at age twenty-four.

As for me, my circumstances are ordinary as well. I plan to celebrate Therese’s feast by taking full advantage of this ordinary day. Today, I will transform every ordinary moment into an opportunity to do good.

Loving God, thank you for Therese and for all of the wise souls who lead us closer to you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Saints One and All!

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind…
You Shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

From Matthew 22:34-40

All Saints Day brings me hope this year. I’ve read accounts by two favorites which shine a bright light on the realities of trying to be good. Not long ago, I referenced St. Therese of Lisieux who managed to make an art of turning small aggravations into opportunities to love. Life wasn’t always a picnic for Therese, her loved ones and her fellow nuns. Still, she made the very best of her efforts to be good during the twenty-four years she was given.

Anther woman with a similar name once said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…” Mother Teresa of Calcutta left her family’s wealth behind to become a sister. While in training, she saw the poorest of the poor just beyond the convent’s windows. She begged her superiors to allow her to work with God’s poor. Eventually, the little nun who later became Mother Teresa began her own congregation of sisters whose only work is to serve the poor. After Mother Teresa’s death, her writings were released. I was surprised to learn that this obviously holy woman lived much of her adult life with doubt regarding God’s love for her. Still, she went about the business of caring for those she was given to love.

It seems to me that, in spite of our smallness, we can accomplish much good as well. You and I will likely never minister to our fellow sisters as Therese did or to the poor in the streets of Calcutta as Mother Teresa did. Still, we can interact with those we meet along the way with love.

Dear God, on this All Saints Day, remind us that our small efforts to be good are enough to earn our sainthood.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time To Make It Right

This is The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. When we’re not immersed in the major seasons surrounding Christmas and Easter, we observe Ordinary Time. “Ordinary” in this context refers to the numbering of these weeks in “ordinal” fashion one by one. Though this is the case, I can’t help focusing on the more common meaning of “ordinary” during these quiet times of year. When we’re not celebrating special feasts, it seems natural to turn our attention to the more mundane aspects of our daily lives. What is remarkable in all of this is the selection of scripture passages featured during this time. Each one encourages us to embrace the ordinary aspects of our lives and to make the most of them. Even when we begin by putting the wrong foot forward, God insists that we always have the opportunity to change direction and to make things right. I like God’s thinking in this regard!

Because this is October 1, I’m going to take us on a bit of a detour from Ordinary Time. October 1 is the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and I’m compelled to acknowledge this favorite Carmelite Saint. Thérèse made an art of transforming the ordinary moments of her life into opportunities to do small things which proved to be truly great in God’s eyes. I was drawn to her in fifth grade when I first read her autobiography. Though I didn’t understand much of what I read at the time, I did realize that Thérèse’s childhood was no more extraordinary than my own. Still, throughout her short life, she illustrated the point of our Ordinary Time scriptures and our ordinary time efforts quite eloquently. Today’s gospel in no exception.

Matthew (21:28-32) shares Jesus’ parable about a vineyard owner who asked his sons to work his fields one morning. The first refused, but had a change of heart and worked as his father asked. The second son immediately agreed to assist his father, but then failed to lift a finger that day. When Jesus questioned his audience as to which son did his father’s will, those present agreed that it was the first son who did so. This son reconsidered his choice and then made things right. Thérèse did the same again and again throughout her life. One memorable example occurred when she was thirteen years old. Thérèse is her parents’ youngest child. Because she was quite frail, a nurse cared for Thérèse her first eighteen months of life. Not long afterward, Thérèse’s mother observed that, though she and the entire family loved her dearly, Thérèse was an amazingly stubborn child. When her mother died a few year’s later, Thérèse’s father and older sisters parented her. The result was an extremely spoiled child who’d learned to expect her family’s ongoing doting. On Thérèse’s fourteenth Christmas Eve, while her family prepared to share gifts, Thérèse went up to her room. Not realizing his youngest daughter would hear him, Thérèse’s father remarked that he was anxious to be through with that evening. He had tired of Thérèse’s selfishness and would have preferred not to witness it once again. When Thérèse heard her father, she felt deep regret. She loved her father and was devastated to learn that she had hurt him so. That evening, Thérèse resolved to put her dear father and her sisters ahead of herself in everything. From that day forward, she put her stubbornness to good use and adhered to her resolve. This thirteen-year-old’s choice transformed Thérèse’s family’s life and her own forever.

Year’s later, when Thérèse was a Carmelite Nun, she fell victim to another nun’s unintentionally annoying behavior. While doing laundry, the nun next to Thérèse repeatedly splashed her with dirty water. Thérèse was quite annoyed by this. Still, before she opened her mouth to complain, she thought better of it. Rather than giving in to her anger and hurting the other nun’s feelings, Thérèse decided to patiently welcome those splashes. Every time she was doused and said nothing, she developed a kinder and more patient heart. Thérèse did the same when another Carmelite who sat nearby during prayer ground her teeth continuously. Once again, Thérèse’s impatience threatened to get the best of her. After reconsidering, Thérèse incorporated that grinding sound into her prayer time and showered the offending nun with kindness at every opportunity. Please note that this is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, who engaged in these seemingly trivial battles with herself. The lesson here is that Thérèse did as Jesus’ parable suggested. She reconsidered and revised her behavior in order to make things right. She is titled “Doctor of the Church” because her seemingly simple efforts provide important lessons for us all.

Though we sometimes face far more difficult challenges, it seems to me that the ordinary times of our lives are filled with opportunities to make small things right. The more we practice, the more fit we’ll be when faced with making things right on a grander scale. God’s faith in our ability to do better is unshakable. Regardless of the imperfect choices we sometimes make, God’s hope remains in what we will choose to do next.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Little Way

“If God grants my desires… I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth…”
Saint Therese of Lisieux

October 1 is the feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Because tomorrow is Sunday, I’ll honor Therese with today’s reflection…

I’ve felt great affection for Therese since fifth grade when I read her autobiography. I identified with this young saint because her circumstances reflected my own. Therese and I share our French heritage. Therese grew up with several sisters as I did. She wanted to become a nun from very early on. I wanted to become a nun for as long as I can remember. Most importantly, Therese spoke her mind to God probably from the day she learned to pray and so have I. Therese never doubted God’s love for her and she felt free to share everything with God. I grew up feeling the same.

Years later, when I revisited Therese’s autobiography, I appreciated Therese’s approach to this life more fully. Within the seemingly mundane experiences, frustrations and worries of her young life, Therese found small ways to do good. When she left home in her teens to join the Carmelite Nuns, Therese quickly discovered that she would spend her short life perfecting what she called “The Little Way.” Therese realized that the best opportunity to do good is found the each of the everyday circumstances of our lives. Indeed, Therese perfected her little way by the time she passed away at age twenty-four.

As for me, my circumstances are fairly ordinary as well. So it is that I’ll celebrate Therese’s feast by taking full advantage of an ordinary day. I’ll begin on this eve of her feast day to transform every ordinary moment into an opportunity to love.

Loving God, thank you for Therese and for all of the wise souls who lead us closer to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Little Way

Dearly Beloved, we are God’s children now…
From 1 John 3:2

A few weeks before Christmas, I helped to plan a reconciliation service. My hope was to move those who would attend beyond their guilt to certainty of their forgiveness and their goodness.

As I looked through my notes, I found the service we’d used a few years earlier. Our associate pastor had given me a copy of his homily for that evening. I searched for inspiration as I perusing his words. Early on, I found Father Dave’s reference to St. Therese of Lisieux. He’d cited Therese’s realization -at age thirteen- that she’d seriously harmed her family and herself. Therese was prone to tantrums whenever things upset her. On Christmas Eve, she overheard a comment from her father which opened her eyes to what she’d done to her family and to herself. She’d held her family hostage with her outbursts. She’d also transformed herself into an extremely selfish person. With that realization, Therese resolved to change her ways. The timing prompted Therese to call this her “Christmas Conversion”. This change did take hold and Therese began to live according to what she would later call her “Little Way.” All the while, Therese knew that God loved her just as her family had loved her in spite of herself. As a result, in all that she said and did, Therese hoped to convince others that God loves them just as thoroughly.

As I continued my planning, I considered my contributions to my family’s well-being and to that of the world around me. Was “Mary’s Way” as honorable an endeavor as Therese’s had become? After reflecting upon that for a while, I realized that my efforts would be well placed if I did as Therese had done. I would encourage those who attended as Therese had encouraged me.

Loving God, you love us and you forgive us everything. This new year, be with us as we work on our own little ways of doing good.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved