I'm in the middle of what I think is only my third ever novena to St. Therese. I wrote last summer about how I just never could warm up to her until I read letters exchanged between her and Maurice, who became a missionary priest and was her spiritual brother.
But a lot has changed since last summer. Now I am in formation as a secular Carmelite and learning how this spirituality is actually my vocation. (I realize now that approaching a spirituality in a try-it-on mentality, or an everyone-else-is-doing-it mentality isn't as good as it gets. It seems the "well, this sure explains a lot" approach is fuller, because it is about discovering the meaning of something God has already put there. It's a deeper way of learning to be who God has made me.)
So, there's St. Therese, not only a huge Carmelite saint but a Doctor of the Church.
Some people are just harder for me to get to know than others.
Some posts are harder for me to write without rambling, too.
My first novena to her, I confess, I didn't finish. And why? That rose appeared on the very first day, so I stopped. I was dead earnest about my intention, and that prayer has figured very large in the landscape of my spiritual life in the last few years. I had absolute confidence that my prayer had been answered, which is kind of ironic, because I didn't even understand how central confidence in God is to St. Therese's Little Way. This intention wasn't the sort of thing that was about an immediate manifestation. In fact, it was very much a "someday" sort of thing. The way the "someday" has been working out has gotten bigger and bigger over the last few years.
With my second one, I was asked to pray for someone, and while I wasn't thinking about a novena to St. Therese, I do remember praying about how to pray, and that was what came to me, so I did it. Rose. I had no idea how ironic that was going to prove, either.
Leading up to her feast day last October, I remember now, as a community we prayed a very simple novena for a return to the Faith for those who had lost it. But that was not this same novena I'm talking about here, so let's say it doesn't count.
But here I am again, knocking at Theresie's door (yeah, I call her that privately; hope she doesn't mind). I understand now more of her way of humility, of confidence, of spiritual childhood, of abandonment to God's will and of embracing whatever suffering comes with it. I understand more than I did before why she is a Doctor of the Church. I'm sure, in reality, my understanding is very rudimentary. But at least when I go to her I am praying more deeply this time.
And dang, if I am not wrestling hard.
Humility is a good thing. It is beautiful and it is powerful. It is pure. But in my heart I still hear echos of fighting for myself, defending myself from being put down, nursing my own wounds. Jesus, who is profoundly humble, calls me not to try to heal myself from hurts to my pride, but to bring my heart to Him for Him to love it to wholeness. Filled with His love, I don't need the kind of self-love that is all about shutting others out (including God). Filled with His love, I spill over to others without noticing.
God is all-powerful, and I am not. But in my heart I still want to get in there and do it, my own thing, to fix it. Even though I don't know how to or even what fixes I want. I know enough to know I want something from God, but I am proud enough to think I can do it myself.
Today, one line in the novena prayer said something about the delays and disappointments that St. Therese experienced, and how if what I were asking for was not in God's will, and therefore not to be granted, that I would be disappointed. At that point, I burst into tears. "Like a baby," I thought, but then I thought again... no, like St. Therese. Sometimes we just aren't given to know whys about things. When I read Story of a Soul the first time, I thought she was being rather the drama queen to weep so about her desire to enter Carmel. But there was an intensity in her soul, partly natural to her, to be sure, but it was there for reasons that no one but God understood. That's the way He wanted it. I think that's the way some things are in my life, too -- only God understands them. But He does all things well, and for His purposes. Absolutely nothing transpires in our lives apart from the will of God. We need only to align ourselves with rightly with God, and whether it makes sense during this life or not, His purposes will always prevail.
Ok, so, now I see this has been a pep talk so that I continue with this novena, continue entrusting myself to the Lord who is all wise and all powerful and all loving, and not run off half cocked in my pride. Or, at least I will wait to do that until after the novena. Hey, I don't ask for graces I'm not in desperate need of!