“Nothing was missing, not even the snow!”
These are the words from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, spoken on the day when she received the Carmelite habit.
Where did this love of snow come from? Perhaps it is because I was a little winter flower, and the first adornment with which my eyes beheld nature clothed was its white mantle. I had always wished that on the day I received the Habit, nature would be adorned in white just like me.
Therese was born on January 2, 1873 and is sometimes referred to as Saint Thérèse of the Little Flower. Deep in this season of winter, I thought it would be a good time to take a look into her autobiography, Story of a Soul, to better understand why.
Saint Thérèse often used flowers and gardens as imagery for the spiritual life. She writes about how we are each a flower in Jesus’ garden. In order to flourish, a garden must have someone to tend to it, to take care of it. Flowers do not all grow at the same speed, nor to the same height. Yet the speed of growth and the size of a flower are not what matter most. A garden is planted to be enjoyed, not for the sake of utility. Thérèse reminds us that Jesus enjoys us. He isn’t asking us to measure up to those we see at our right or at our left. He simply asks us to accept His will.
Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers.
And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to Lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at his feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.
Winters of Trial
Thérèse was born into a beautiful, loving family. Her parents and sisters were devoted to her and even she admits to being very spoiled. Yet despite a charming childhood, she did endure much suffering as well.
She reflected on her mother’s passing, writing:
Everything truly smiled upon me on this earth: I found flowers under each of my steps and my happy disposition contributed much to making life pleasant, but a new period was about to commence for my soul... Just as the flowers of spring begin to grow under the snow and to expand in the first rays of the sun, so the little flower whose memories I am writing had to pass through the winter of trial.
When writing about the absence of her spiritual director, who only communicated to her with one letter each year (to her twelve) she says,
The little flower transplanted to Mount Carmel was to expand under the shadow of the cross.
Despite both the big and small sufferings which came her way, she chose to embrace them rather than just endure them. She understood that redemption was found through great suffering. It was almost as if suffering was her love language to the Lord, and in loving Him in this way, her soul was expanding.
Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love. I desire to suffer for love and even to rejoice through love; and in this way I shall strew flowers before Your throne. I shall not come upon one without unpetalling it for You. While I am strewing my flowers, I shall sing, for could one cry while doing such a joyous action? I shall sing even when I must gather my flowers in the midst of thorns, and my song will be all the more melodious in proportions to the length and sharpness of the thorns.
There is a line by Thérèse which I just love to imagine! She writes about her love for feast days. As a child, she especially loved those which honored the Blessed Sacrament with a Eucharistic Procession. I love her childlike wonder and joy!
What a joy it was for me to throw flowers beneath the feet of God! Before allowing them to fall to the ground, I threw them as high as I could and I was never so happy as when I saw my roses touch the monstrance.
She also recognizes Jesus’ pursuit of her, never failing to allure her through what He knows will bring her heart great joy.
You know, dear Mother, how much I love flowers; when making myself a prisoner at the age of fifteen, I gave up forever the pleasure of running through fields decked out in their springtime treasures. Well, never in my life did I possess so many flowers as after my entrance into Carmel. It is the custom for fiances to often give their fiancees bouquets and Jesus didn’t forget it. He sent me in great abundance sheaves of cornflowers, huge daisies, poppies, etc., all the flowers that delighted me the most. There was even a little flower called a corncockle that I had never found since our stay at Lisieux; I wanted very much to see it again, that flower of my childhood which I had picked in the fields of Alencon. And at Carmel it came to smile at me again and show me that in the smallest things as well as the greatest, God gives the hundredfold in this life to those souls who leave everything for love of Him.
As a child, my mother taught me to look out for how God is showing up in my life. How beautiful it is to be aware of how Jesus desires to delight us and smile upon us. For my mother, it is seeing a red cardinal. For me, it is a rainbow stretching across the sky.
How does Jesus smile upon you?