Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Appealing Idea

"We practice charity much better when we are helping a person who is less appealing to us." —St. Therese

Dear readers: This is my absolute favorite photo of St. Therese. I know, I already used this exact same image of her a couple of posts ago, but I couldn't help it; I just love the friendly little smile on her face! She looks very appealing in this photo because of that smile.

What does the adjective appealing mean? It means something that is attractive or interesting. Something you are drawn to because of how it looks.

What did this great saint mean when she wrote that charity (kindness in judging others, the voluntary giving of help) is better when we help those who aren't, say, very attractive to us? This could mean they aren't physically attractive, like if someone less fortunate than us is not bathed and is dirty.

Or it could mean they aren't spiritually attractive. When Therese was still living at home with her father and sisters, she was very sheltered. Her father did not let his daughters read the newspaper, for fear their minds would be corrupted. See? And you thought your parents were strict! But Therese, ever curious, would steal a glance at it every now and then if it was laid out on the table, with only her older sister Celine knowing her secret. And it was in one of those newspapers that young Therese read about a terrible man named Pranzini, who had committed three gruesome acts of murder. He was to be hung for his crime. Therese was fascinated with this news story because Pranzini did not act sorry at all for his crime. Therese was very saddened by this. She wanted him to be sorry for how he had offended God. So guess what she did? In secret, without anyone knowing, she began to pray for Pranzini, and that he would show some sign of remorse. She prayed very hard for this man.

The day finally came for Pranzini to face his punishment at the guillotine. Walking up to the gallows, he still showed no sign of remorse. Then, at the final moment, when the priest in attendance held out a crucifix, something happened. Pranzini leaned down and kissed the crucifix three times! When Therese read this news in the paper the next day, she was simply ecstatic, for this was her proof that her prayers had worked, that prayer could save sinners. She would later write in her autobiography that this was her first "conversion." She decided then and there to pray for the conversion of sinners.

Pranzini was hated throughout France for what he did. How could Therese have prayed for such a terrible human being, who could commit such a heinous act? I am sure that many people wonder this. He certainly wasn't a very appealing person to pray for, was he? But Therese felt charity enter her soul, and refused to believe that he could not be converted, even at the very last second before his death. Remember that Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies. This does not mean that Therese felt sorry for Pranzini, approved of what he did, or even liked the man. She absolutely hated what he had done. But do you recall the saying, "God doesn't make junk"? If that saying had been around in Therese's day, I bet she would have ascribed to it. Since every person is created by God, she felt that every person deserved to be prayed for, even the most hated person in the country.

It's a little harder to pray for someone like Pranzini, isn't it, than someone we like? Some people might think, "Yuck, why would I want to pray for him? Look what he's done! I'd rather pray for the victims and their families!" That is all well and good, too, of course. But what Therese is trying to say is that it's harder, and thus takes more effort, to pray for someone as unappealing at Pranzini. And that maybe praying for the least-liked among us is very important, because they may have no one else to pray for them. After all, Jesus ate with sinners when no one else would.
Olivia didn't want to do it, but she knew praying for Hayley and Sabrina was the right thing to do, so she did it. She prayed that they would stop their mean ways. It was a lot harder for Olivia to pray for them, who had been very nasty to her and others, than for her to pray for someone she loved, such as her grandmother.

Praying for our enemies doesn't sound appealing at all, but we know it is the right thing to do. After all, a miracle happened when a young girl from Lisieux prayed for a criminal.
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