Posted by: fvbcdm | January 12, 2012

Feast of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys (12 Jan 2012)


I am reading a very good book these days by a Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, S.J.  It is called “My Life with the Saints” and it contains accounts of how he has come to be devoted to his favorite saints, and then what in their lives attracts him to them.  I certainly recommend it to you.  

It struck me yesterday that we tend to assume that other people know as much as we do about the saints, and of course, that isn’t true.  Before I entered the Dominican Order, I knew practically nothing about Saint Dominic, and very little about Saint Thomas Aquinas or Saint Catherine of Siena.  And those are three of the most prominent Dominican saints.  So, let me point out to you today that Saint Therese of Lisieux, whom the Catholic world calls “the Little Flower,” spent months toward the end of her very short life suffering the terrible cross of what is called “the dark night of the soul.”  It is a very painful experience in which an individual loses most or all of the joy of one’s faith and is attacked by doubts and questions about things that were rock-solid in one’s mind and heart before.  

The Little Flower entered the Carmelite monastery of Lisieux, where she grew up, when she was just fifteen.  She died when she was twenty-four.  But during those nine short years, she became not only a very great saint, but one of the only three female Doctors of the Church.  We usually think of her as a smiling, happy, young woman for whom the religious life was very close to heaven on earth.  But her own autobiography contradicts that idea completely.  In her “dark night,” she spoke very confidentially to her blood sister who was also her religious superior in the convent, and told her of the spiritual darkness that she was experiencing.  Her sister suggested that Therese write down some of the doubts and questionings that were assailing her, thinking that by putting them down on paper, she might gain some relief from them.  Therese rejected that idea.  No, she said.  They are so ugly, so contrary to the goodness of God, that I would feel that I were writing down blasphemy and gross irreverence if I were to put them on paper.  Shortly before her death, during her very severe physical sufferings from tuberculosis as well as the spiritual trials, she cautioned her superior: when a sister is suffering as I am, be careful not to leave bottles of medicine within her reach that could do her harm if she took them all. That sounds a lot like temptations to suicide.  And yet this is the great saint whom we think of as the smiling nun who was always gloriously happy in her religious vocation. 

I speak of these things today because, as the old saying goes, “misery loves companionship.”  To know that Therese suffered greatly is of greater help to us than to think of her as always light-hearted and happy.  To contemplate Our Lord on the cross is certainly more meaningful than to think of an adolescent Jesus playing games with his teenage friends in the streets and on the hillsides around Nazareth.  The madonnas of our Christmas cards are less convincing than the pietas—those representations of Our Lady sitting on the ground with her dead Son in her arms after he had been taken down from the cross.  Have you noticed that we often speak of the Mater Dolorosa (the Mother of Sorrows) but rarely of the Mater Gaudiosa (the Mother of Joys).  Sin brings suffering, and the toleration of suffering makes atonement for our own sins and those of others. So, as Our Lord tells us, “take up your cross daily and follow Me.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P. 


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