Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus 1863-1885

"The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother."

—St. Therese

Recently I posted that I was under the weather and reading a fascinating book comprised of the letters of our beloved Therese's mother and father from St. Pauls/Alba House. I wrote that I was disappointed that the book was coming to an end, because the stories of the Martin family were so amusing and heartfelt.

Let me be very clear: I rarely gush over books, but if you have a devotion to St. Therese or her holy parents, beatified in 2008, you must read this book. I adore Therese, but I also find her mother quite loveable and inspiring. The more I read her letters to her daughters Marie and Pauline at boarding school, her brother Isidore, and his wife Celine, the more I got to know this wonderful mother of the Little Flower. Her letters made me laugh, made me cry, and made me shake my head in awe at the disciplined, sorrowful, joyful, and holy life she led. I also found, if I may be so bold, that out we have a few things in common, Blessed Zelie and me. We share the always awesome, sometimes challenging, and always holy apostolate of motherhood. We have the excitement of running our own businesses: she the owner of a successful business dedicated to Alencon lace, and me a Catholic publishing company. We both felt divinely inspired to start these businesses, hearing a distinct Voice urging us on our paths. "See to the making of Alencon lace," God told Bl. Zelie. "You could do that," God told me inside a bookstore.

Oh, and then there are the frogs! I laughed so hard when she wrote the following amusing story to Marie and Pauline, which I will share here from page 142:

"And now I must tell you something else, although the end of the story isn't very nice and testifies to a very bad attitude among the people.

So, recently something peculiar happened to a woman whose carriage was parked across from our house in front of the Prefecture. The coachman was dressed in magnificent livery, completely trimmed with fur. A badly dressed man carrying a cloth bag in his hand happened to be passing by. He stopped a moment to look at the coachman, then the woman in the coach. He headed for the open door of the coach, untied his bag and emptied the contents onto the woman's lap.

Immediately, she began to let out terrible screams. The coachman quickly came to help her, and passersby came running. They saw this woman doubled over in a panic and, on top of her, about twenty frogs. She even had them on her head. In other words, she was covered with them!

The malicious man watched her struggle. When the police commissioner came and asked him why he would do such a thing, he said calmly, 'I just caught these frogs to sell, but seeing this aristocrat with her coachman all covered in fur, I preferred to give her a good fright rather than sell my frogs.' They took him to jail, and he certainly deserved it!

I'm sure you're going to say, 'If anyone did such a thing to Mama, she would die!' That very well could be because you know my irrational fear of frogs!"

I had quite a chuckle over that, I must tell you. For I, too, have an irrational fear of frogs! I could have given Bl. Zelie a big hug at that moment.

And that's how I felt the entire time I read this book of her heartfelt letters to her family. For, through her joys and sorrows (and she had many sorrows as she lost her children to death, as well as the ups and downs of her business and finally, her horrible yet brave struggle with breast cancer) she kept her sense of humor and her faith in God, and wrote more than once that she wanted what God wanted for her during these devastating trials.

"Don't worry about me. I'm not worrying at all, and I'm putting everything in God's hands."

In this, Bl. Zelie has a powerful, loving message for all of us.

The graces she showed while suffering, the forgiveness she offered freely, the love she poured out on her husband, children, and neighbors—these things are all shown abundantly in her letters, and they are a true treasure to read.

I also enjoyed the little anecdotes of Little Therese, who she wrote "gets emotional very easily," and says, "This dear little one makes our happiness. She'll be good, and we can already see the seed. She speaks of nothing but God and wouldn't miss saying her prayers for anything. I wish you could see her recite her little stories. I've never seen anything so cute."

But lest we think Little Therese was a perfect angel, her mother is here to assure us that she, too, had her ups and downs. In a letter to Therese's older sister Pauline, she writes on page 245:

"Therese is still the same little imp. She often speaks of Pauline and says she's very annoyed not to see her returning from Le Mans. This evening she thought that we were going to wait for you at the station because your father went out to take Marie to Mademoiselle Pauline's house. She put up a struggle 'to go get Pauline, too.' "

Also, there are the tired sighs of a good mother at the end of a long day with her active children (page 304):

"I think I'm going to have to abandon my letter until this evening, when they've all gone to bed, since one can't have a moment's rest here. I'm sure that all of the boarding school students at the Visitation Monastery combined couldn't make as much noise. It's a good thing I have the ears for it!"

The book also includes fourteen letters from Bl. Louis, the doting, adoring husband and father, who was funny, loving, and holy in his correspondence to his daughters.

"Give, give always and make some people happy," he wrote to them, as well as, ""The thought of your mother follows me constantly."

Everyone with a devotion to St. Therese should read these most intimate thoughts of her parents. We are so blessed to have these letters available to welcome us into the home life of the Martin family. Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin have much wisdom to share. These are people who were entirely devoted to God, the Church, their family, and their community.

Even while dying, the selflessness and thoughts of others were on Bl. Zelie's heart: "The Poor Clares are also going to start a novena," she wrote on page 280, "but I don't like asking for prayers for myself because it would be better for me if it was for the intentions of others."

A Call to a Deeper Love is a call to all of us to accept whatever God brings in our lives with complete trust and confidence in Him. What greater role models than these two extraordinary human beings, the parents of great saint and Doctor of the Church St. Therese? In this intimate book of letters, we see firsthand what Bl. Louis called "the intimate happiness of the family, and it's this beauty that brings us closer to Him."

A Call To A Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus 1863-1885
translated by Ann C. Hess
Guy Gaucher, Auxiliary Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux and the Sisters of Lisieux (preface, notes, and overall presentation of the text)
ISBN-10 0-8189-1321-5 464 pages $29.95

For more information and to order the book, visit

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life Goes On

I'm told it happens to every author, sometime, somewhere.

I'm told it takes great courage and great faith to be a Catholic writer, and that I'm in good company. Which I am.

I'm told I should shake it off, move on, pray about it, forget about it.

I'm told it gets easier every time.

I wouldn't know. It's my first time.

In over three years, I've been blessed: My books haven't gotten one bad review.

Until now.

It happened on January 3, the day after St. Therese's birthday. I wonder what that means.

A parent, on Amazon Canada, ripped Olivia and the Little Way to shreds. I saw it for the first time this morning.

The book and its sequel, Olivia's Gift, were given to her 11-year-old daughter, probably by some well-meaning friend or relative on Christmas, hoping to give the child a meaningful, religious present. She turned up her nose when she saw the "religious" covers and begged not to read them. The mom said the girl didn't have to, but out of curiosity the mom read the first book.

That was tough enough to read. I've read worse on sites like this, however. People can be unbelievably cruel. They say things no writer should ever hear: Your books belong in the trash can, they should be burned, you can't write.

My reviewer said none of those things. She said my book was "simple and loudly preachy, and that its message to proselytize for Therese of Lisieux is without a trace of subtly" (which should have read subtlety).

Of course it's simple, I wanted to say. It's all about the Little Way, loving Jesus simply, like children. And of course I am obvious about introducing St. Therese. That was my intention! But you can't argue with a computer screen. I tried, and it doesn't talk back. Which is probably a good thing.

Then came a kick in the gut: The reviewer wrote that St. Therese didn't follow the Little Way "out of unselfish altruism, but instead to garner points with God, as her goal was sainthood."

Garnering points? Nothing could be more untrue!

Trashing my little book is one thing, but trashing who the Catholic Church calls the greatest saint of modern times? Quite another. Therese never did anything for herself, you see. No one who knows her could ever say that. Everything she did, she did out of pure, unselfish love for God. After all, St. Therese once wrote, "I am a child of the Church. I do not ask for riches or glory, not even for the glory of heaven."

I could go on and on about the blood, sweat, and tears authors (especially authors like me who aren't writing about the latest trends, who aren't feeding trash to children) endure. The prayers we pray, how we can toss and turn at night, wondering if God is happy with our work. The Good Lord knows we certainly don't do what we do for the money.

But you know all of this. That's why you write to me to tell me that your sons and daughters can't put the books down, why you're teaching from them in your classrooms, why your daughter just chose St. Therese as her patron saint and is now following her Little Way, how your son who never took an interest in anything Catholic now wants to learn more about saints and how they loved Jesus. That's why your children send me little pictures in the mail, why they e-mail me with sweet little notes, why they tell me they are praying for me.

Authors have many ways of dealing with bad reviews, whether they be from professionals or from average Joes on Amazon or Goodreads. Some cry, some pretend they don't care, some get angry.

I confess, I wanted to do all of those things. It would have been pretty easy to do, and could have ruined my entire day, if I let it. I'll be honest: It did ruin my morning.

So I took a winter walk around my neighborhood. I passed a nice man walking his dog who said "hello." I waved to a neighbor who was taking down his Christmas lights from the bushes in his front yard. I passed a mom in a car who smiled at me. I heard barking dogs, garage doors opening, kids playing. I was sad. I told St. Therese I don't like people talking badly about her. I asked God to continue to give me strength and courage to keep writing for children. And I felt blessed.

Then I went home and made my family some waffles.

Life goes on.

"Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. He cherishes simplicity."
—St. Therese, the Little Flower

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Meeting God Face To Face In The Blessed Sacrament

"All my sermons are prepared in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As recreation is most pleasant and profitable in the sun, so homiletic creativity is best nourished before the Eucharist. The most brilliant ideas come from meeting God face to face. The Holy Spirit that presided at the Incarnation is the best atmosphere for illumination. Pope John Paul II keeps a small desk or writing pad near him whenever he is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament; and I have done this all my life — I am sure for the same reason he does, because a lover always works better when the beloved is with him."
—Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Archbishop Sheen is my buddy; there, I've said it! And he loved the Little Flower to boot! I've downloaded every radio talk of his onto my iPod. I had to have them all. His wisdom is still very relevant today.
I pray for the cause of Sheen's canonization and I ask for his prayers and intercession. He was a brilliant, humble soul.
If you haven't heard him in awhile— or ever— I encourage you to start today. This man never missed a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He called it his "power hour." He even died while in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament! I thought of him today while at Eucharistic Adoration: the first time my parish has had Adoration in many years. What a wonderful day it was at my parish when the monstrance was brought out and reverently displayed on the altar!

second photo copyright Joseph Karl Publishing, 2011

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...