On this feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, I feel compelled to say a word to honor her here.
This summer, in a wild surge of spontaneity and bravado, I took off to France for a vacation by myself (a solocation, as one friend called it). It was in wandering through the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris that I was gripped by this photograph of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, on display as part of a tribute to this young French saint.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, "the Little Flower", is my confirmation saint. I've visited her basilica in Lisieux, France; I've read poetry by her, books about her, and even saw a movie made about her many years ago. But never have I encountered a photo like this - an image of a young woman on the way.
Often in our retelling of the lives of the saints, we lose sight of their daily human reality. Even in gritty, honest biographies such as The Seven Storey Mountain, the ambiguity of daily life yields to a cohesive plot. The story has a beginning, a middle, and an end--and worse, we know the end! Canonized sainthood.* We don't readily remember that holiness happens one day at a time.
This photograph brings the dailyness of a journey to God and the fulfillment of vocation into focus for me. Unlike the more popular photos showing the two poles of Thérèse's life, either as a doll-faced little girl or as an adult nun in layers upon layers of a full habit, this photo shows 22 year old Thérèse playing the role of Joan of Arc in a theatrical piece she composed about Joan for her Carmelite sisters. Here she is, serving her community, inspired by the saints before her, and yes - with her long, curly hair down! In between child and saint, she is just a young woman, living out what she believes to be God's will for her in whatever way she knows how, yearning to love with her whole being, but still entirely unaware of how her story ends. She didn't suddenly transform from darling child to saintly nun - she walked the journey, step by step.
When it comes to the journey to sainthood, we are all on the way. We ride the ebb and flow of the day-to-day, working out our holiness and living our vocation (both of which can be moving targets) one step at a time. May the grace that filled Thérèse's days in between be present in us on our own "little ways".
For writings of contemporary women "on the way", follow the blog "Diary of a Sister-in-Training" by Tracy Kemme, a community mate from my year in Ecuador, who is in her first year of formation with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinatti and is ministering on the El Paso / Juarez border.
And of course, my dear friend Colleen Gibson shares her journey into becoming a Sister of St. Joseph in her blog "Being My Vocation". Colleen entered the novitiate in Philadelphia on September 19th.
*well, not yet canonized sainthood for Thomas Merton. But saintliness, for sure.