St. Therese and I became intimate friends during my College days. Anyone familiar with the Franciscan University of Steubenville knows about the Household system. For those still unaware, FUS describes them as, “Christ-centered groups of students of the same gender, who strive for healthy, balanced, interpersonal relationships while supporting and challenging each other to develop spiritually, emotionally, academically, and physically.” The household that I felt called to join during my Freshman year had St. Therese as our patroness and role-model, and was appropriately deemed “Little Flowers”. How did I know I was called to this beautiful community of ladies striving to be radical women for Christ? Sit down, boys and girls, it’s story time…
It seems ironic to say, but my freshman year at Steubenville ended up being one of the most tumultous in all my life. Suffice it to say that I was given many opportunities to grow through embracing suffering and beginning to deal with pain that had previously been shut down. FUS has an unofficial name, “God’s Hospital”, and I apparently had checked in for four years of treatments! After a rough start, during Christmas break I deeply reevaluated my priorities and was given direction from the Lord that becoming more rooted in fellowship and the Sacramental Life of the Church would provide the grace and strength necessary. I decided that when I returned to campus in the spring, besides my studies and extra-curricular activities, that I was committed to attending Mass daily, seeking which Household I should plug into, and participating in Life In the Spirit Seminars. Christmas break also included some emotional time spent with family, as we prepared for the loss of my Grandfather suffering with terminal Cancer. Some of my last memories with him include a Christmas Eve night, a circle of loved ones choking out tear-filled “I love you’s” like I had neither seen nor heard uttered from the mouths of each Daughter, Son-in-law, Grandchild, all with his wife by his side. It was gut-wrenchingly resplendent.
Back at school I had come to know a girl, nicknamed Scooter, that lived one floor above me in Trinity Hall on the Little Flowers wing. One afternoon she invited me to attend what is called a “Lord’s Day Celebration”, which is basically the Catholic form of the Jewish Tradition of ushering in the Sabbath in prayer and breaking bread together. That Saturday I attended, and while in a room of full of beautiful women with scarves tied around their necks and long floral skirts, my heart was deeply moved by their singing as well as sharing of their joys and intentions for that week. A peace came over me that returned the following Saturday that I attended as well. I was drawn to these women: their joy, their living spirituality, their strong personalities, their humor, their authentic feminity…and on and on! I met with the Coordinator soon after to discuss my intent to join. One of several women who had put in their intent, we began a guided process of discernment. During that time, I was learning not only about but from Therese as I read her autobiography, “Story of a Soul”, and was also praying her novena. My novena intention was to know if I really was called to join Little Flowers Household, and my requested answer was a red rose for “yes.”
Right before mid-terms and Spring Break, my parents called to share the unhappy news of my Grandfather’s passing. I made arrangements with my exams while a family friend drove down to pick me up and take me back to Michigan for the Funeral and surrounding events. As I prepared to leave, the Little Flowers hugged me and gave me in confidence in their prayers for my family during that difficult time. Their gentle spirits, concerned eyes, and calming assurances were like aloe on sunburn. My novena continued as I journeyed home, and faithfully I prayed it each day for the same intention, waiting upon a red rose by the ninth day.
The day of the Wake is mostly a blur, yet I do have a few memories: a full room with overflow into the hallway, Grandpa’s fellow Knights of Columbus present in full regalia, standing up front sharing the stories of my last days with him…. The most lucid memory actually came after the Wake had finished. Around my Grandfather’s coffin, there were maybe 4 to 5 large, lush floral arrangements propped on stands. My Grandmother stood near one, confusedly staring at a card and shaking her head. I walked over to her and asked, “Grandma, what is it?” She passed the card to me, while pointing at an oversized arrangement of deep red roses and perplexedly stated, “These aren’t for your Grandfather. They delivered them to the wrong place.” The card said another man’s name, and “from the guys” or something random like that. And as I stared at the red roses, I felt an answer spring up in my heart, “These are for me! This is the answer I have been praying for!” In those moments of grief, when our hearts were struggling to cope with the fact that he had fought the good fight and now had been called home, a shower of sweet red roses were falling from heaven. Furthermore, when he was buried – since he was in the Service – a US flag was draped over his coffin, upon which red roses were laid. Each of the daughters and granddaughters picked a red rose from atop his final resting place at the funeral’s end.
I know that for some it is difficult to understand this devotion that Catholics show towards the Saints. I have been on the receiving end of some harshly fired misunderstanding, even being accused of my prayers to the Saints likened to practicing witchcraft. The retort from one of my Protestant cousins when I shared that story was priceless, “Lisa, I may not agree with your belief when it comes to the Saints, but I wouldn’t say it was like witchcraft. That’s ridiculous!” I don’t wish to pull out my soap box, quoting all the many scriptural references and citing dogma to try and prove a point. My story is what it is, and the requested answer to prayer was lovingly provided. Simplicity, after all that was a mainstay of Therese!
Little Flowers Household was and continues to be an amazing gift to many, including myself. To date, that community of spiritual sisters has been among the few which have had the greatest impact on my personal growth and spirituality. God bless each sister, retreat, service project, Tuesday 6:00 AM mass, every book, prayer, etc…and of course to St. Therese, who is an arrow pointing to Christ, for assisting in the mentoring of a headstrong girl through “The Little Way”. That began, in a significant way, molding me more into a docile woman and disciple of Christ. As is true to life, the journey continues, the mentoring is still in progress.
Note that the photography posted is original, courtesy of my Austria scrapbook compiled of memories from when I studied abroad in the Spring of 1997. These moments were captured while a few of us Household sisters took a weeked to visit Lisieux and Paris. The pictures are from Therese’s home and the Basilica there in Lisieux.
September 23rd begins the 9-day stretch to her feast day on October 1st. Please feel free to join us in praying another Novena, different intention, once again. A great version of it can be found on http://www.ewtn.com/therese/novena.htm. With so many profound writings from Therese, I would be honored to close with a quote; and then will do my best to post another each day until her feast. If you have a favorite quote or story of Therese, feel free to send it along and I may even use one of yours 🙂 This one shows the great depths of her simplicity, and most of all her total abandonment to Jesus – which is the peak of holiness and love.
“My heart is full of the will of Jesus. Ah, if my soul were not already filled with his will, if it had to be filled by the feelings of joy and sadness which follow each other so quickly, it would be a tide of very bitter sorrow. But these alternatives do nothing but brush across my soul. I always remain in profound peace which nothing can trouble. If the Lord offered me the choice, I would not choose anything: I want nothing but what he wants. It is what he does that I love. I acknowledge that it took me a long time to bring myself to this degree of abandonment. Now I have reached it, for the Lord took me and put me there.” – St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face