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A Suitable Sign … Getting to Know Saint Therese

January 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Carmelite Sisters, Discernment, Vocations

When I was first introduced to Saint Thérèse as a young adult, I did not like her. She seemed to be enshrined in such a cloud of saccharine sweetness, scattering roses of every shade with each step, that I was positive that she and I would never be friends. I didn’t mind if others wanted to pray her novenas and I rejoiced with friends who received a rose from her but none of that for me, thank you very much. As it turned out, Saint Thérèse had her own ideas about this relationship that I was so opposed to.

During college I took a year off to serve for a year as a missionary to the youth of the United States. Part of a team of young adults that would travel to parishes throughout the country, I got sick a few weeks into our ministry. Not just a cold or a flu, but a virus that promised to knock me flat for months. I continued to travel with the team for a while but wasn’t able to do much more than pray and offer it up for my teammates and for the young people. During those weeks of helplessness and “uselessness,” our Lord convinced me that the teens we were serving needed so much more than a few hours of talks and fellowship. They needed our prayers and our sacrifices, they needed us to offer up our suffering for them. So that is what I did.

Next thing I knew, my supervisor wrote asking, “have you ever heard of Saint Thérèse?” She proceeded to share a quote from Story of a Soul that spoke directly to my situation. Then another friend wrote to me about Saint Thérèse and someone we met in the parish brought her up. Wherever I turned, people were telling me about her. To tell the truth, I felt like she was stalking me! I couldn’t avoid her. Finally, I capitulated and sat down to read Story of a Soul. I must admit, my main intention was to marshal all the reasons she and I would not be friends. Well, long story short, I was ambushed by grace and found one of my truest friends through the pages of her manuscripts. But friendship was only the first step in her relationship with me, she wanted more.

During my senior year of college, I began to seriously discern my vocation. Sometime in November, I told Jesus, “Look, in six months, I am going to graduate and I will need to start making some big decisions. I need to know what you want me to do with my life. If you want me to be a religious, you’ve got six months.”

No joke, I gave God a deadline. Now, I am not the type who asks for signs so I proceeded to discern this question in very practical, concrete, rational ways. I visited several communities, I joined a discernment group at school, I talked to a spiritual director, and I prayed. Over Easter break, I was invited to visit a community of women religious in the Midwest. Pretty sure that I did not have a vocation to their community, I visited anyways thinking that a “no” there might make a “yes” somewhere else clearer.

It took the better part of a day to drive to their Motherhouse and as we drew nearer, it became clear that we were not going to arrive in time to pray evening prayer with the community. Sitting in the front seat of that packed mini-van, watching the minutes on the dashboard clock tick by, wishing I could make the sister behind the wheel drive a little faster, I realized that the one desire of my heart was to be in that Chapel praying the Divine Office in community. It was a moment of grace, a moment when I recognized that being a sister resonated deep in my heart.

During the week I stayed with the sisters, I spent some time talking with their Novice Directress. I now felt sure that I was called to religious life but I was equally certain that it was not to their community. However, I could not explain how I knew, and Sister pressed me to identify what spirituality I felt called to if not to theirs. “Are you Dominican? Franciscan? Carmelite?” Miserable, all I could say was “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

That evening in the Chapel, I wailed to Jesus in prayer, “I don’t even know what spirituality I am!” As we started the Divine Office, I told Him, “Look, I have never asked you for a sign and I am not asking for one now. I am not even asking you to show me what Community you want me to join. But can you at least tell me what spirituality I am?” The sisters chanted evening prayer around me and all the psalms seemed to echo my confusion and distress.

During a few moments of silence there was a loud noise over in the corner of the chapel and at that moment it was like a wind blew through my soul, sweeping all the turmoil away. Steeped in a sudden deep peace, I knew that I was Carmelite. Later, I went to the Novice Sacristan and asked her about the loud noise in the corner that had preceded the huge grace I had just received. She laughed and pointed to a large picture of Saint Thérèse perched on a little shelf. “The candle in front of Saint Thérèse exploded. Someone must have been praying for a sign.”

Saint Thérèse got her way. More than friends, now we are sisters in Carmel forever. Some people get roses, me, well, I got an exploding candle. Which, if you know me, is a pretty suitable sign.


Art: Photograph of St. Thérèse: Gravure de “Sainte Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus, Histoire d'une âme écrite par elle-même, Lisieux, Office central de Lisieux (Calvados), & Bar-le-Duc, Imprimerie Saint-Paul, 1937, édition 1940.” PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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PROMOTING A DEEPER SPIRITUAL LIFE THROUGH HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION AND RETREATS. The way of life of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the Gospel, the Church, and the spirituality of Carmel as lived out through the charism of our foundress, Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its foundation in a long history and living tradition. Our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service of the Church as we promote a deeper spiritual life among God's people through education, healthcare, and spiritual retreats. We are called by God to be a presence inflamed within our world, witnessing to God's love through prayer, joyful witness and loving service. Our mission flows from each sister's profound life of prayer as Mother Luisita, our foundress, wrote, "the soul of each Carmelite raises herself to Christ, Who is her heaven, while her shadow falls in charity upon earth doing good to all people."

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  • So, so beautiful! Ah, Blessed St. Theresa, I pray to her daily to watch over my “little flower”, my daughter, my sweet Eve! Thank you for this most beautiful and inspiring post! God’s peace and Mary’s love to you!

  • Suzi dutro

    Thank you Sister for this beautiful post. I feel St Therese is the the kind of friend that you can rely on no matter what. Love, prayers and many blessings to you and your community.

  • patricia

    what a beautiful post. St. Therese is a very dear saint close to my heart in which I love her little way to great love.

  • Jeanette

    I feel very close to St. Therese of the Child Jesus and ask her help every day…I love the Carmelite spirituality! Thank you for this beautiful post. God bless the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles!

  • That is so beautiful. Well, Saint Thérèse would have been my Patron Saint since I was born on the 1st of October, her Feast Day. But another had been decreed by Divine Providence to take precedent. So here I am, bearing the most Holy Name which I must confess I have treated very shabbily. However, I struggle every day to put that right in my remaining days on this God’s Earth!!!! But I feel I have missed something because I have never read any of Saint Thérèse’s writings. Perhaps this Post is telling me to do just that.

  • Tessye

    Thank you sister for sharing!!! St. Therese is a dear friend to me who I look up to a lot (her and Padre Pio are my “go-to” saints!). Back around August 2000, me and my two daughters ( ages 9 & 11) prayed to St. Therese for a special request. We all sat on my bed saying her novena many times and took turns pleading to her. After completing our prayers, as we walked out of my room, we saw on our television, a spanish mid moring show my mother had been watching ( El Gordo & La Flaca), where the stage set was covered in red roses! The T.V. host (Lilly) kept repeatively saying she had no idea why the roses were there. There must have been over a thousand red roses on the set….on their coffee table, couch, chairs and background tables in piles! I knew then that this was how we received our “rose” for the confirmation of our prayers, which God granted for us with her help. Not the “standard” way I thought to obtain her confirmation, but message loud & clear, just like the candle pop!!!
    Thank you St.Therese for your little ways, may I keep them all in my heart!!! Amen!!!

    • LizEst

      Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  • Maria

    Fantastic! I love this story.

  • I love it. And I love the timing of finding your story here tonight as well–because I’ve been thanking Therese all day today for her sign to me last night… not in the form of flowers, but in snow! [It’s a long story, but I’m sure of it. :] Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Please allow me to tell you a story about how God spoke to me through our dear Little Flower. On a grey winter day, in the silence of my car in the pickup line at my children’s school, God told me He had a plan for me: I was to write a fiction book for Catholic preteens, and it would be about St. Therese, my dear friend in Heaven.

    I was excited, but I had many doubts. Would this be a book kids would want to
    read? Could it actually be published? What if I got some information wrong
    about St. Therese? I had a newfound love and devotion to this great saint, who was gentle and persistent in her search for me. I have to admit that I was plagued by doubt. As many do, I questioned God’s voice.

    God and St. Therese had other ideas, however. Because I listened to Him, God made so many wonderful things happen in one year. I know that St. Therese was praying for me during this time, interceding for me and giving me new ideas while I wrote, nudging me along. I recently celebrated the five-year anniversary of Olivia and the Little Way, when God made my writing dream come true.

    I love going to book signings and meeting my readers. They
    tell me their stories about St. Therese, their grandchildren, their parents,
    their teachers, their children. People tell me, a person they have just met,
    their personal stories all of the time! I love to listen. They love to tell.
    There’s something about St. Therese that brings out so much love in so many
    people. Some of them have much emotion when they talk about her, and some start to cry. “Little Therese,” as she liked to be called, has had such a powerful
    impact on so many people.

    At one particular book signing one spring at a church, I sat
    and chatted with parishioners about my book and St. Therese. The day was very long, and, being human, I started to get hungry and a little tired. Anyone who knows me knows that when I get hungry, I can get a little…crabby. Usually all it takes is a handful of cookies or crackers and I’m back to my old self. At
    this book signing, I was starting to feel the effects of a long day. I stood up
    and straightened up the books and St. Therese chaplets on the table, then
    started to rummage through my purse for a quick snack. While I was doing this,
    a very old woman came up to the table. Elderly and frail, she stopped and
    looked at me.

    “I do love St. Therese,” she said, her eyes red and brimming
    with tears.

    I sat down, smiled, and asked her to share her story.

    She began a halting explanation of how St. Therese had touched her life in many ways. As she spoke, I couldn’t help but notice that the frail woman had not bathed in a long time. While she was talking to me, a parishioner came up
    beside her and offered to treat her to a copy of Olivia and the Little Way. She was delighted to accept, and was very grateful.

    I signed a book for her and watched her hobble away. I felt
    very saddened because I knew she was poor, but I felt very happy too that she
    had a loving friend in the parish. She lingered by the church and stared inside
    while I watched her quietly, feeling something in my heart I could not explain.

    It was in that instant that I heard His Voice.

    “Give her a chaplet.”

    The Voice was as clear as day. It was the same one I had
    heard before, and I smiled. I glanced at the table, which held books and
    chaplets with pink rose beads.

    “Give her a chaplet,” the Voice said again, very insistent.

    I reached over and collected a chaplet and the instruction
    card that I make to go with it. I approached the lady and held both of them out
    to her.

    “Excuse me, Ma’am, these are for you,” I said.

    The look on this lady’s face was sheer joy as I placed the items in her wrinkled hands.

    “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” she cried.

    “Thank you for coming to talk to me and sharing your story,” I said.

    Then I thought to myself, “You’ve given me so much more than what I have given you.”

    Powerful yet gentle Little Flower of Heaven, ora pro nobis!

    • Iyabo Williams

      I am new to this forum but I have been blessed by your stories. Thanks.
      Where can I find your books and chaplet? I would love to read the story of St Terese. What would you recommend as a “starter”. Thanks.

  • Camila

    What a wonderful down to earth yet so heavenly story!

    I loved the part of the exploding candle! God bless you Sister!

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