What I find so exciting about Therese is that she is so fantastically subversive.
There she is as a little bourgeois French girl traipsing into the convent with little girly girly images of God and being good, and yet within all that there lives a soul so unique and fabulous that I can hardly put it into words.
People dislike her sweet little style, (I did too until I met her one night in Lisieux – remind me to tell you that story sometime) but it is her sweet style which makes her so subversive.
Her whole story is one truth of the gospel incarnate: “That unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You can take this even further, “Unless you become like a little girl you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Don’t you just love that?! Isn’t that just the kick we need–all of us proud, arrogant know-it-all macho Christian men?
“Whaaat? I’ve got to become like that? Yep, and the mystery of the communion of saints is that little Therese not only reveals the Little Way to heaven, she also reveals the child-like quality that every saint had. This is how the communion of the saints works. They all show their own unique God given qualities, and in doing so each unique soul also reveals that same quality that lay hidden within all the other saints. So Therese, being the archetypal child shows us that even the great warrior saints and great intellectual saints had this same child like quality. Look how simple St Thomas Aquinas is when, at the end of his life he says all that he has written is ‘but straw’. See how St John Bosco is one with the children he leads. See how St Francis de Sales speaks with the same simplicity. Notice how Padre Pio and St Francis and St Thomas More all have this same shrewd, childlike simplicity, trust and pure, down to earth humor.
Therese is subversive as the church is subversive, for the gospel is not good news if it is not subversive. Her simple child-like life subverts all our grown up plans, all our grown up ideas, all our proud grown up arguments and our pompous debates. She just smiles and gets on with the Little Way and offers to show us the way if we will just stop, look and listen.
If you go back to Therese make sure you also read The Last Conversations because there all her sweetness is shown to be as tough as old boots. If she was a little flower, then she was a steel magnolia. The Last Conversations is a remarkable document. The book takes us to Therese’s deathbed, where her sisters recorded every word, attitude and action of the saint. There we see the stern stuff she was really made of. She not only endured physical suffering, but for the last months of her life she felt utterly cut off from God, and even contemplated suicide.
Phew! As a Benedictine friend of mine said, “She’s a spiritual genius.” An Albert Einstein of the Spirit if you like…and all wrapped up in the sweet little thing from Lisieux.