This week we will celebrate the Feast Day of my absolute favourite Saint. My little hero, St Therese of Lisieux. So it is fitting that I tell you about my affinity with her, how she taught me so much about suffering and friendship.
As a Minimalists, I have a few good friends I can count on one hand. Friendships for me should be simple with ‘one heart and one mind on the way to God’ – St Augustine.
I don’t know about you, but since I had a reversion back into the Catholic church, I have always had this one friend who would keep me accountable to what is good and what is churchy. If you don’t have one of these friends, find one, stat!
This one friend, let’s call her, Trina*, would send me encouragement, pray for me, help me see the good in life and send me Catholic things all the time. Years ago it was a little off putting especially when you just want to be bad, but, still I recommend you find a friend like her.
One day, she sent me a little bio of this Saint Therese of Lisieux and told me how she loved that the young saints devotion was through the ‘little way’ – in other words, doing small things with great love. I thought it was nice and noted that this saint died as a young girl, but I never thought much more of it. In fact, I never thought much of the Saints at all.
Trina however, loved St Therese so much, that she would always advocate her spirituality and faithfulness. Again, a few years later Trina gifted me this little reflection by Jacques Phillipe. I read a few of the reflections, but nothing moved me much at the time, except that I now knew that she became a doctor of the church.
A few years later again, she sent me the Novena to St Therese, it was in 2016, she simply wrote in messenger ‘Hey, can we do a 9 day Novena?’ and sent me the link. Perhaps out of guilt that I had never shared her love for St Therese, I agreed.
This Novena, changed my life!
First let me summarise why it’s good to have a faithful friend. Faith is something truly special, when you possess it for yourself its wonderful. But when you are able to share it in fellowship with a friend, that to me is a palpable gift of grace. This friendship is rare, because where we can be good at small talk, surface level conversations and bring up political or social issues, even the weather, sharing faith comes from a deeply personal and vulnerable place. So to share in this conversation, its hard and its good and it’s full of grace.
Second, let me summarise what I’ve learnt about the Saints since this Novena. They’re amazing, they’re role models and they’re lives are incredibly diverse – absolutely anyone can become a saint! Some have had conversions after being wild and rowdy, others have always had a deep love for God since childhood, like Therese. Some died for their faith, others faced torture and hate in the face of political and cultural pressures. Learning about the lives of these wonderful role models means reading their confessions, diaries, prayers or biographies – again it is like having a friend in the faith, who shares with me their most vulnerable and personal experiences of faith.
Thirdly, how did this Novena change my life? It taught me that death is good.
I started the first day of the Novena with Trina on the 23rd of September 2016. At the time I had just come back from spending an amazing holiday in Queenstown with friends and I was 20 weeks pregnant, excited to start planning life for the birth of our baby girl (our fifth child).
It was the first time, I was actually devoted and committed to praying every day so it was hard, but I persevered, reason unbeknown to me. On the 30th of September I went in for my 20 week scan and midwife appointment. Here I found out that our baby girl had passed away in the womb.
This deep grief enveloped me like a thick woollen blanket and I suddenly became aware of every tingle and sensation in my body. I had all the feels. I had never felt such a deep sadness physically, mentally, spiritually. It was different to loosing my mother. It was a child, that I had hoped for and loved and I was not prepared for death! So I thought.
I went home that evening to prepare to give birth to a still born girl and as I sat on my bed ready to pack my things, I remembered St Therese died as a young girl. I started to pray the eighth day of the Novena and at the very end was this reflection…
Thought for the day: Death. It says in the catechism that death is nothing but the separation of the soul and body. Well, I have no fear of a separation which will unite me forever with the good God.
I am happy to die because I shall be able to help souls who are dear to me, far more than I can here below.
Life is not sad; it is very joyous. If you say, “This exile is sad,” I understand you. We are wrong to give the name “life” to something which will end; it is only to the things of Heaven that we should apply this beautiful name.
The day I found out I had lost a child, St Therese spoke to me about death! Death as a child!
An overwhelming peace took off this blanket of darkness and gloom and I was enlightened. I imagined St Therese with my daughter in Heaven picking roses from the garden and sending them to me – so my husband and I affectionately named her Therese ‘Little Flower’.
The very next day I was sent roses (St Therese’s calling card so to speak) which is another palpable moment of grace that I am blessed with often, since then. I now have a personal Saint and a daughter (who is a part of the communion of Saints) who will pray for me and for our family. My friends in the faith immediately prayed the Novena for me as I was in hospital and preparing for my baby girl, Therese, to be cremated. This gave me so much joy and peace.
So, our baby girls death reminds me of why it’s so important to have friends in the faith: They keep you centred, grounded, zen and hopeful. As well as friends in heaven: They inspire you, pray for you and keep you hopeful that you will see each other again.
So friendship and ultimately the communion makes me peaceful in life and peaceful about death. If you have a friend like Trina, pray for her and all the spiritual mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers out there. They are acting on the Holy Spirit to help keep us on the path to our loving Father. Read and learn and pray with the saints. If you don’t have a role model in life, there are plenty to choose from here!
St Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!
*Trina is a real person