by Rosie Gertie
A book review of The Hidden Face: a study of St. Therese of Lisieux by Ida Friederike Görres, Ignatius Press, 1959.
The best summary I can give to this book is “WOW!—but not the kind of “wow” that would indicate something extraordinary was revealed about St. Therese in this book. On the contrary, she is more ordinary than her statues and all the hype and all the “sweetness” that drips off her writings at times. (By the way, the “sweet” quality of her writings was not actually from her…but more on that later).
Not only that, but she was less than ordinary as a young girl when she experienced a type of suffering that these days would possibly have counted against her entrance to the convent, namely, what had all the signs of a mental illness, which afflicted her around the age of 10.
Yes, you have probably heard of her becoming ill as a girl, especially how she was thoroughly healed by the smile of the Virgin Mary statue. (Or maybe that detail is all that you ever heard about?) I was admittedly very astounded to read details which are understandably often “hidden” when speaking of that dark time of her life—such as how at times she “contorted her face, rolled her eyes” and “saw monstrous and nightmarish figures everywhere.”
At least once she “had to be forcibly restrained” and “could not be left alone” (page 79). Ironically, the more I read of her extreme condition at that time, the more hopeful I became that any of us can become a saint.
Other misconceptions of her were also broken down. For instance, as I mentioned above, the “sweetness” of her writings was not so much from her. Rather, a lot of it came from the hands of her sisters, who found her writings to be too simple and not “like” a saint’s writings. So they just added some sweetness to what she had penned before it became public.
This book not only made St. Therese seem more real, but also made me see why she stands out as someone to be venerated, even in her convent. The author states that “if we assemble and consider the evidence scattered through many sources on the nuns inhabiting the convent at that time, the picture is on the whole not very glowing…” (page 197).
You may have heard, for instance, that one of the superiors, Mother Marie de Gonzague, was a very difficult character. Yet St. Therese loved even her and would not join in when other sisters engaged in critical talk about her .
Therese also tried not to just “go with the flow” in the convent, as she kept to the rule when others were violating it. Her sisters, holy and good examples in many ways, still did not match Therese in these points.
If you love St. Therese and want to know more about her—or if you are repulsed by her, as some are, because of how “perfect” she seems to be, you will find this book eye-opening, refreshing, hope-inspiring, and challenging.
I could have done without the lengthy commentary on the part of the author at times, but the book is worth “watching”—giving you a unique glimpse into the life of a saint who is not as well-known as you may think.
Photo of the Chapel of St. Therese in Belgium taken by Jmh2o on Wikimedia Commons
by Rosie Gertie
A review of Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life by Marie Baudouin-Croix and translated by Mary Frances Mooney, published by Ignatius Press, 2017
Certainly of great interest to all Leonie’s Longing readers, this book offers a likable and believable portrait of the “lame duck” Martin girl whose devotion to her younger sister St. Therese’s “Little Way” bore great fruit for holiness. By the time the author wrote this commendable biography in 1989, Sister Francois-Therese (Leonie) was “remembered with joy” by the four still-living nuns who had known her before her “saintly death” in 1941 at the Visitation convent where she had lived in Caen, France. (see page 14)
Through this book, the Leonie’s Longing reader walks the path of our patroness’ difficult childhood years, empathizes deeply with her tearful journey to find a permanent home in the religious life, and admires her growth in holiness along the Little Way under her saintly sister’s living and posthumous guidance.
As a child, little Leonie was physically weak and often ill. Her aunt, a Visitation nun who prayed fervently for her at (St.) Zelie’s urging, was a conduit of grace for Leonie, leading to a great deal of healing for her. Yet even as her health grew stronger, Leonie “became a little rough, a bit of a daredevil.” (see page 21) One could argue that the bulk of Leonie’s troubles stemmed from a hidden suffering she had been enduring, which came to light and finally ended only when she was almost 14 years old, after her loving aunt’s death.
The biography contains many letters, written by her, her mother, St. Therese, and other family members. I found very refreshing some letters between Leonie and her sisters about the “mundane” issue of plucking out facial hair! Marie’s reply begins with, “Now, dear little sister, a few words to teach you how to use your famous tweezers without hurting yourself.” (see page 123) It gets better, but you will have to get the book and see what I mean!
Lastly I just have to say that, there is absolutely no doubt Leonie understands you and loves you. Here is a quote from a letter of St. Therese about the day they saw Leonie after her third departure from religious life: “We were overcome with emotion when we saw her; she was crying so hard that we were unable to make her say a word.” (see page 84) She understands. In fact, I imagine this experience is in large part why, years later, back in the convent, the author describes, “One evening, Leonie noticed tears in the eyes of a postulant. After the Office, she waited for the girl at the door of her cell and embraced her in silence. The young postulant was greatly comforted.”
She is ours! You will be blessed by opening the pages of this biography to learn more about this great friend of ours, a guide, a helper, one who understands and loves us.
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”(1 Corinthians 9:24)
Reading these words made me wonder, what does it take to win a race? What does it take to not only cross the finish line, but to cross the finish line first? And how can I relate that to the spiritual life? So I read the autobiography of an athlete. My athlete of choice was Jessie Diggins, a cross-country skier who won the first gold medal for the United States in any Olympic cross-country skiing event. Although her autobiography “Brave Enough” is secular in nature, there are many parts that are relatable to running this great race and participating in this pilgrimage to Heaven. Running a race takes an individual. Winning a race takes making good decisions each day, words of encouragement and truth, and the support of a great team.
It’s all in the moderation and balance, and before I do anything, my first thought is, how will this impact my racing? (p. 185)
There are a lot of decisions to make after leaving religious life – decisions that perhaps earlier were made for us. What will I wear? What will I eat? What time will I get up? How should I spend my free time? When will I pray? Athletes too face many daily decisions during their months – or even years – of preparation for a race. Jessie approaches these decisions with the end goal in sight: she asks herself, “How will this impact my racing?” I have found it helpful to ask myself the same question as I make decisions in the world. Of course, by “racing” I don’t mean an Olympic cross country ski event, but rather that pilgrimage to Heaven. Through that lens, the decisions usually become clearer and perhaps even easier.
Sometimes the right decision means striving to grow just a little bit more. One exercise that some competitive skiers do is roller ski 100km (that’s 62.1 miles!). Jessie completed this one year, or so she thought. When she got to the end of the route she plotted out the tracking device only read 96 kilometers… so she immediately roller skied four more kilometers. I was struck by how she gave that workout her all, even if there weren’t crowds cheering her on and she could have easily called 96 kilometers good enough. For us, sometimes the right decision will be just managing to sit through Mass. Or perhaps it is filling out one more job application, or even an act of generosity or patience when we feel like we have nothing left. Whatever it is, sometimes the right decision is to stretch ourselves and ski those last four kilometers.
And sometimes the right decision is rest. I was struck by the importance that athletes give to rest – and not just physical, but also mental. Athletes need physical rest, a whole day of it per week (doesn’t that sound familiar?), so that their muscles can be allowed to recover and build after all of the exercise. It means no going hiking or anything that could be physically demanding, even if that is something she wanted to do that day. In preparing for a race, mental rest was also needed. For Jessie, sometimes the right decision was to watch a movie with a teammate to relax and calm down when things were getting stressful. Reading about the intentionality and importance of rest inspired me to try to find ways to be more intentional about how I treat Sunday. This day of rest is more than just a day off or a day to go to church. If I treat it more intentionally, perhaps it will become a day of restoration and growth for my soul, much like it is for athletes.
Lastly, and perhaps the favorite thing I noticed, is that sometimes making the right decision is in the little things. For Jessie, an important part of preparing for a race is glitter. Putting glitter on her face before a race reminds her that racing is fun. Glitter is a little decision that positively impacts her race. Perhaps there are little, seemingly insignificant, decisions that we can make that will positively impact our relationship with Jesus. One little decision I have recently made is to smile at Jesus, to let my delight in Him be shown as I would a friend. That little decision of allowing a visible sign of my love for Him appear on my face has brough much joy to my prayer life.
Words are a powerful thing. (p. 175)
One of the pivotal moments in Jessie’s story is when her coach, Matt, said to her “Who you are is good enough,” and she believed him (p. 123). After having had many difficult experiences with a previous team, those words gave her the freedom to be herself and to trust that she would be loved and supported as she was. Of course, “Who you are is good enough” doesn’t mean that she was ready to win a gold medal right then and there. Of course there was still work to be done, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she is good enough. She is someone her team is ready and willing to support. She is someone who has what it takes to race well. She is good enough.
Sadly, words can also have a negative impact. In a 10K Olympic race, Jessie missed the podium by 3.3 seconds. The media implied that she should be very disappointed that she failed to achieve the first Olympic medal of the US women’s team by a hair. But she wasn’t disappointed. She gave that race everything she had. She made the right choices leading up to the race. She had a good race. That was the true victory. And the media took that away from her. They were telling her she wasn’t good enough.
I think many of us who have left religious life face a similar temptation. We each have our own story of why we left, and we need to remain faithful to the truth. Sometimes we know the truth about leaving immediately, and sometimes it is a truth that unfolds after we have left. But we cannot let others take that truth from us. One of the lies that perhaps many of us face after leaving religious life is that we’re not enough. Those are not the words of the Father. In those moments, we need to turn to Jesus who is the Truth and allow Him to speak His words into our hearts. We need to allow Him to tell us that we are good enough. That we are still called to live lives of great holiness, lives of what Caryll Houselander calls “undiluted, heroic, crucified love.” That we are loved. Fully. Here and now. That He will never abandon us, and never has. Jesus wants to say those words to us. He wants to say, “Who you are is good enough.” Who you are is someone He can contine to lead along the path to holiness. Who you are is fully loved by Him here and now. Who you are is good enough.
It was the start of what we called the “fifth leg of the relay” because it was our way of saying that the alternate was our most important leg. (p. 126)
Selection for a 4 X 5K relay is hard when there are more than four skiers on the team. Someone is going to get left out of the race. The first year that this happened with the US National team the skier who was left out, Ida Sargent, turned it into the most important leg of the race. She showed up to the course on race day – even though she didn’t have to – and cheered her teammates on for over an hour. Her enthusiasm was so exuberant that some skiers wondered who that crazy person was yelling herself hoarse!
In a way, those of us who have left religious life are now a part of “the fifth leg.” Others were chosen and we are left out. But the reality is, whether or not we or our communities act like it, we are on the same team. We may no longer be a part of the particular community, but we are still a part of the Body of Christ. Ida set a precedent for the US National team. Perhaps some of us could help set a precedent for those of use who have left religious life. What if we could act like we still have an important role to play? What if we acted like our prayers and sacrifices do matter? Maybe the team that we left doesn’t have the camaraderie that would make imitating Ida easy. A rough transition can really make being a part of the fifth leg difficult. But we can still try. I can still try. You can still try.
“Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!”
When you watch her gold medal finish at the Pyongyang Olympics, it may seem like she is on her own to strive for that finish line. But she’s not alone. Her team not only supported her though all the training, but was also there for the race. Her family was there. The announcer shouting “Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!” as she edges past the other skiers knew her. She had family and friends watching the race on television. She was not alone in her race. And we are not alone in ours either. Some of us, I’d hope many of us, have the strong support of family and friends as we run this race to Heaven. Regardless of whether we do or don’t, sometimes it can be too easy to focus on the shortcomings of the earthly teams we are a part of, and forget that we are a part of an incredibly beautiful team. A beautiful team that is on our side. We have the Communion of Saints supporting us. We have the angels, and Mary, and Joseph. We have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are not alone. And perhaps, when we do cross that finish line, we will hear the enthusiastic roar of all those who have been cheering for us along the way.
Images of Jessie Diggins from Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons Licence.
Attribution: Granada • CC BY-SA 4.0
Attribution: Cephas • CC BY-SA 3.0
By Theodosia Burress
Prior to religious life, I didn’t have much interest in fantasy books besides The Chronicles of Narnia series and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Since returning to lay life, (as a result of recommendations), I’ve read many books in this genre. Much to my surprise, I’ve discovered some meaningful stories with excellent characters.
I just read Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson, the 3rd volume of The Stormlight Archive. One of the things I now realize about fantasy (at least the fantasy that I have enjoyed) is that it explores questions of life in a creative way.* This gives my intellect and heart a new way to look at and process life experiences. I find this aspect of Sanderson’s work particularly appealing.
About 2/3 of the way through this book, one of the characters named Shallan is devastated by the events that have transpired in her life which culminate in a particular tragedy. To add to the pain, another character has told Shallan it would be better if she (Shallan) were dead. As Shallan mourns this event and reviews her life, she fears that this assessment is correct. She recounts all this to a character called Wit, to which he responds,
“You mostly failed. This is life. The longer you live, the more you fail. Failure is the mark of a life well-lived. In turn, the only way to live without failure is to be of no use to anyone.” (Pg 789)
This dialogue hit me like a ton of bricks. Lately I have compared myself to others or to an idealized picture of what “I should be.” I felt like a complete failure and wondered what was wrong with me. Circumstances flashed before me …
But is it really true that I’ve failed in these areas? And if they are failures, is that a negative thing?
Reading the above exchange in the book gave me a different perspective on failure. What does “failure” actually indicate? What conclusions should actually be drawn from “failing?”
What do I do with the “failures” in my life? Hate them? Ignore them? Pretend they don’t exist? Avoid potential future failure?
The conversation goes on, “Then live. And let your failures be a part of you.” (Pg 792)
Yikes! Do I want to do that? Can I? And how?
Shallan realizes that she needs “Forgiveness. For herself.” (Pg 793)
Later, Wit says, “It’s terrible…to have been hurt…but it’s okay to live on.”
You need to, “…accept being you.”
“You are worth protecting… it’s all right to hurt.”
The conversation ends with Wit saying, “Accept the pain, but don’t accept that you deserved it.” (Pg 794)
Saint Mary Magdalene, Feast Day July 22nd.
I needed to read these words and “hear” them about my situation. I needed permission to grieve my failures. I needed to realize that I had slipped into thinking I deserved pain or was being punished. Fortunately, this book provided me with the opportunity to recognize these lies so I could combat them.
A successful businessman had been previously bankrupt. Survivors of tragedies use the experience to recalibrate life and inspire others. The greatest sinners become the greatest saints. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” We “know” these truths, but they are easy to forget, aren’t they?
It is, as Wit says, terrible to have been hurt, to have experienced failure. But that is not what defines us. It is necessary to live on, and to do so with courage. Because failure isn’t the mark of a wasted life but of one well lived.
*Check out “On Fairy Stories” by Tolkien https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Fairy-Stories
Reader Michaela reviews the dissertation ‘The impact of leaving the convent on a woman’s perceived relationship with God as viewed through the lenses of attachment and divorce,’ by Jennifer Cabaniss Munoz, 2018.
In this approachable and novel dissertation, Jennifer Munoz approaches the effect that leaving the convent has on a woman’s perceived relationship with God. Writing in 2015, Munoz not only shines a fresh light on the effect leaving religious life has on a woman, but pierces right to the most important effect leaving can have: an effect on a woman’s perceived relationship with God. “It defies belief,” she writes, “that a woman who entered a community and a way of life with such an understanding of what she was undertaking, and committing herself to it whole-heartedly, would find it irrelevant to her relationship with such a spouse when she makes the decision (or is forced) to leave that life.” (58)
Attachment theory and divorce are the primary frames of reference Munoz draws upon to explore the affect that leaving has on relationship with God. Although divorce is not a theologically accurate lens through which to view leaving the convent, it proves to be an apt lens psychologically. Firstly, consecrated life is understood as being the bride of Christ, as having a special way of relating to Him. When a woman leaves religious life, she makes a shift from consecrated to unconsecrated and leaves behind a special way of relating to Jesus. Secondly, the grieving process following the shift in relationship exhibits a similar pattern of protest, despair, and reorganization. The paradigm of divorce provides insight as to why leaving the convent is so difficult, but it doesn’t quite explain the diversity of difficulty with which women handle the situation. To explain this Munoz turns to attachment theory.
Attachment theory describes the relationship between a person and their attachment figure, the person who serves as a safe haven or caregiver in a time of distress. Expectations around such a relationship are formed during childhood and these expectations are known as an attachment style, which is secure or insecure (preoccupied, dismissing, or fearful). This attachment style influences how a person interacts with other attachment figures later in life including God or a spouse. Much like the example of divorce, acknowledging an insecure attachment style toward God requires standing in the truth of the human emotional experience instead of turning toward idealizations. “[I]ndividuals can simultaneously have an intellectual belief, keeping with the tenets of their faith, that God is in essence the perfect caregiver – omnipresent, all loving, forgiving, and faithful – and yet struggle with a deeper emotional sense that he is perhaps none of those things, but is rather much more like the human caregivers whom they have experienced.”(151)
Whether a woman has a secure or insecure attachment style can affect her capacity to handle the transition of leaving. For example, a woman with a secure attachment style would be expected to recover more quickly from the transition because the struggle will primarily be establishing a new identity and way of relating to God. For a woman with an insecure attachment style, in addition to establishing a new identity and way of relating to God, she might struggle with feelings of having been abandoned or rejected by God. At the end of the dissertation Munoz suggests a few potential therapeutic interventions that can assist in the transition including narrative therapy, emotion-focused therapy, and collaboration with spiritual direction.
Even if the particular theme of this dissertation doesn’t quite fit the reader’s situation (it didn’t quite fit my own), the series of topics covered throughout are thought provoking and can help identify areas of growth to be had and healing to take place. These topics include passage lag (“determining which habits, customs, and elements of one’s training as a
religious to retain in one’s new role as a laywoman, and which to reject as no longer relevant” (34)) internal working models, grief, and examples of various emotional struggles and identity struggles associated with leaving. Lastly, I would like to mention that this dissertation is written by someone who gets it. She herself had to leave a religious community due to medical difficulties. She dedicates the dissertation “To ‘Marie’ and all those who struggle.”
Note: I was able to access a copy of this dissertation through ProQuest Dissertations and Theses on a guest computer at a local university.
You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham
Reviewed by Onie Woolahan.
Studies show that the vast majority of people in the Western world do not learn how to handle money when they are growing up. And if your experience was anything like mine, you did not learn about handling money in religious life (poverty, right?). Therefore, chances are high that when you returned to lay life, you were not any further along in learning how to manage money.
You Need A Budget is a great tool for anyone looking to get a better handle on finances.
I’ve read things here and there about budgeting, finance and investing. Many of these books are similar and tell you to save your money, cut up your credit cards, have an emergency fund, etc. But this book is different and I really liked the perspective that the author brought to this topic. The main point he makes over and over again is that you know what’s important to you and therefore your priorities with money can only come from yourself. He encourages you to first think about what’s important in your life and use your money to do those things.
In areas of my life such as career and relationships, I’ve come to realize that I need to ponder my goals and strategize what I need to do to get there. But for some reason it had not occurred to me to think about my money in this way. It’s a great paradigm shift and I am excited to see what happens as I put these ideas into practice.
I really enjoyed this book and I think you will too. It’s easy to read, very positive and has information that can help people in various stages of life.