A book review ofThe 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
Jennifer shares her magnificat of what God has done in her life since leaving the monastery. She battled depression and anxiety, but through all of this, she has grown so much. She’s not called to be a nun, and that’s okay. God has called her to marriage, and this is the vocation through which she will serve Him.
Jennifer wanted to be a nun since she was 14, and she put her all into it. Sometimes we feel so sure about something, but God has another plan. It’s hard to let go. Jennifer offers encouragement to all who are struggling with letting Him lead.
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.
A few weeks ago I (Cate) received an email with a unique and fun contribution to the blog – a post-leaving playlist. This submission from Catherine reminded me that I had my own list of songs written down somewhere – songs that had given me hope and emotional release in those months (and even years) after I left my community. Music is a powerful tool and can be a means of great healing.
Here’s what Catherine has to say:
Not sure about you, but I’m one of those people who likes to have a “theme song” or two for the significant moments and stages of my life, including entering and leaving religious life. I find that music helps me to connect with and process my emotions, make sense of all that’s going on and understand how I can respond to it.
So, here’s my “post-leaving playlist.” I’ve tried to include a mix that covers the spectrum of emotions and stages of processing that happens. Some of these are songs to cry to, others to dance to. Some are Christian, others secular. In all of them, there’s a note of hope and encouragement.
On February 1, 2014, I rode away from my community in my dad’s Honda Civic, which held all of my belongings. I chatted with my dad about what kind of job I could find in my hometown as we drove through the rolling hills of Southeastern Ohio. I hoped that I might still explore consecrated life, but for now I had to simply be a “regular” person.
The following day, February 2, I was the Godmother at my nephew’s baptism. It was also the World Day of Consecrated Life, which the lector did not fail to mention during the petitions at Mass. I won’t say that it was exactly sad for me in that moment, but it was certainly strange.
In the months that followed I would wrestle with the question of vocation and calling. No longer being “consecrated,” what was I? I took some comfort in knowing I was a daughter of the King and consecrated to Jesus through Mary, even if my calling didn’t have a specific name. But it was still hard. Something of my identity was missing. I wasn’t in a consecrated way of life or a missionary any more. I just was.
On that World Day of Consecrated life my baby nephew received the indelible mark of the Sacrament of Baptism. Which of those celebrations was more important? Baptism, by far! But sometimes I would forget that. Desiring a vocation that had a name, I would forget that I was called by name by my God, baptized into His family. If I was to be called to religious life, my vows would be a deepening of the vocation I received at Baptism. But even without religious vows, I still had a vocation at Baptism.
A religious profession, as beautiful and significant as it is, is still not one of the seven sacraments. It’s not my intention to devalue the vows and that beautiful vocation– but remind all of us that the vows that we made at Baptism (or that were most likely made for us) are sacramental.
It can be devastating to discover that we have not been called to commit ourselves for life to a vocation as a sister, nun, or consecrated woman, but nothing can remove the indelible mark of Baptism from our souls. Not leaving, not being asked to leave, not wondering and wandering, not growing older without clear purpose. Nothing.
It’s hard to have a vocation that doesn’t have a name or a form. It’s hard to be a “regular” person after aspiring to the “higher calling” of religious life. It can even feel like…a demotion in the Church.
But nothing could be further from the truth. My dear sister in Christ, as we wrap up this Lenten season and prepare to renew our vows – our Baptismal vows – at Easter, let us reflect on the meaning of that call. It does not need to be “fulfilled” by religious life—if that is not where we’ve been called to stay. In Baptism you have been called. You are known to Him by name. Your name. You are His.
For the last year or so, I’ve been reading and meditating on the Sunday readings beforehand. It’s been interesting and fruitful. I am more aware of the readings themselves and better able to follow along. Furthermore, I’ve noticed patterns and relationships between the various texts. It is Year C in Ordinary Time and three of the Second Readings we heard last month come from I COR 12 and 13.
I’ve read this part of 1st Corinthians at various times in my life, but as we know, scripture is “ever ancient and ever new.” These passages are striking me in a different way today than in the past. Paul states that “there are different forms of service.” This line didn’t jump out at me until now. A great reminder that being in lay life isn’t “bad” or “less than.” Paul then lists spiritual gifts and his ending reminds us that these are actual gifts. God gives them “as he wishes.” As a result, I should not be jealous of others (though that can be easier said than done!). I should also have gratitude for the gifts I have received.
Next we had I COR 12:12-30 (I hope you heard the long version at Mass!). Once again, I’ve come across this passage a “million times” before. But I now realize that I only had gifts, talents or skills in mind when I heard or read this portion. The mouth (someone good at public speaking) cannot say to the arm (someone good at loving others), I don’t need you. We all have different gifts, of course! I’m sure I was in this frame of mind because it follows after the list of spiritual gifts.
But, this time I started reflecting on various states of life. Even if you only heard the short version (I COR 12:12-14,27), you’ll notice he mentions, “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons.” (vs 13) In my mind, this has to do with different “tribes,” ways of living, in-groups and out-groups. As a middle-aged, lay, single, woman, I am an outsider in Catholic communities. It could be easy for me to say to myself, “I do not belong to the body.” (vs15) And, let’s be honest, there are people in the church who have said “I do not need you” (vs 21) through their words, actions or both. But this is a lie. How do we know? Paul states, “But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.” (vs 18).
That’s great news! Even if I appear unwanted and unneeded in the Church, it’s not true. This also challenges me to step up and make sure that others feel welcomed and have a sense of belonging. Are there people on the fringes that are a part of your parish or community? Reach out to them!
Finally, this line struck me: “Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.” (vs 22). This restates the above point that the body needs us and we all have a place in the body. But then it takes it even further. If you feel like you don’t have value because you can’t contribute, are too weak, etc. that is a lie. I live in the USA and society tells us that if you can’t produce things, your life has no value. As a result, weakness is a liability and I must conclude that I have no value as a person. But our faith contradicts this message. When I realize how weak I am, my response should now be, “Yay for me!” That weakness makes me even more important and valuable!
Today let’s ask God for the spiritual gifts and thank him for those that we have already. Let’s also make an extra effort to tell ourselves and others the truth: We need you. You are necessary!
How do you feel in your parish or community? Do you feel like a necessary member of the body? Please comment below!