St. Therese and her family, the Martin family, provide food for thought regarding the interior life and how it can develop within marriages and families. St. Therese’s formation allows us to reflect on how children should be raised to practice and understand the interior life. At the same time, her parents provide an example for living devoutly in the laity. St. Therese’s experience, furthermore, shows the interior life at a more advanced stage, and we see her development from the prayer of a child to the prayer of a spiritual child, aided by her family.
St. Therese’s sister Pauline or Mother Agnes seems to have had a deep involvement in her upbringing including her early development in the interior life, and that seems to be a good example of how siblings can be involved in the formation and upbringing of children in the Catholic Faith – particularly, in this case, where these things concern the interior life. We should keep in mind, however, that it was not simply Pauline that raised St. Therese. Her parents’ way of doing things might have had an influence as well. Waking up early for daily Mass, for example, might have left a deep impression on St. Therese. Seeing parents sacrifice to attend daily Mass might have helped St. Therese to recognize the importance of devotion, Mass, and the Holy Eucharist, and at the same time, that might have motivated St. Therese to treat her interior life and matters pertaining to God, including the Holy Eucharist and the Mass, with great seriousness and reverence.
Additionally it would seem that St. Therese grew up immersed in a devout environment, supportive of growth in the interior life. Though of course we should not forget that the heresy of Jansenism threatened her spiritually due to its influence in her time, St. Therese was given – in a sense – an example of a domestic cloister – an environment that fostered the contemplative life at home by encouraging prayer and devotion. While this “cloister” is immersed in the world being in a domestic setting, it is at the same time set apart from it, a place for prayer. To make homes into a domestic cloister, a routine of prayer might be set, and prayer, virtue, Mass, and the Sacraments might be integrated into family life. Perhaps imperfectly and unknowingly St. Therese’s environment might have followed the example of the domestic life of the Holy Family – with the contemplative spirit and example of the Blessed Virgin and the authority of a virtuous man devoted to prayer like St. Joseph. Families might benefit from modeling their homes on the idea of a domestic cloister and following the example of the Holy Family and the Martins.
St. Therese’s Prayer and Spiritual Childhood
When we think of the prayer of the Saints, it is so easy to believe that their prayer was vastly superior to our own and unreachable, but we should not be afraid to pray like them. St. Therese provides an approachable model for everybody as she is considered by the Church to be imitable by everybody. How do we pray like St. Therese? Perhaps we can start by keeping in mind her Little Way, the way of spiritual childhood – doing little things with great love.
At every moment, we can be in God’s Presence, and we can do everything striving for an awareness of His Presence – with love. We can pray without ceasing in this manner, and we can strive to act with love continuously – even in small things – something that pleases God. In that way we will be praying continuously. We might benefit from learning how to practice the Presence of God and the Prayer of Recollection and incorporating these things into everyday life.
We might strive for a sort of spiritual childhood like St. Therese, taking delight in being little in God’s Presence – knowing, in humility, of our nothingness before Him – and allowing God to work through us in whatever ways He likes – small or great. We might see the works are His and not ours like St. Therese and offer everything that we have, that we do to Him like she strove to do, knowing that these things are His. In a sense then, we can grow in prayer and humility simultaneously, and that pleases God greatly. Although I am not sure that St. Therese was striving for spiritual childhood in this way, that describes how spiritual childhood was manifested in her life. The Little Way is a way of living spiritual childhood in practice. It is the way of spiritual childhood.
We might strive to incorporate devotion to the Blessed Virgin – following St. Therese’s example. We might keep in mind the importance of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to St. Therese, as she was a Carmelite, and St. Therese’s perseverance in praying the Rosary. Even if somebody is not a Carmelite, it is generally a good idea to enroll in the Brown Scapular. That is a way of fostering devotion to Our Lady and specifically Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Furthermore the Brown Scapular tends to ground us in the interior life. It often entails a commitment to daily prayers such as the Rosary. In addition it opens the way to Carmelite spirituality – even for non-Carmelites – with this spirituality’s emphasis on mental prayer and the interior life including the Prayer of Recollection.
Finally we might look to St. Therese for an example in times of trial, as well as an example of sacrifice. We might see how she handled her spiritual trial at the end of life and strive to handle our own trials in a similar manner – being faithful even if things contrary to the faith come to mind, for instance. As a practical example – even if we are in a seemingly hopeless situation, we could turn to God in prayer, asserting our faith in Him, rather than giving up.
Whether you are celebrating in the Old or the New Calendar, happy feast of St. Therese!