Joy in Suffering/Second Day
St. Therese's Favorite Crosses
(1) Little Crosses.—St. Therese knew full well that trifles are but trifles, yet that trifles go to make up sanctity, and sanctity is not a trifle. "Everything," she wrote, "has such value in the religious life…. Pick up a pin from a motive of love, and you may save a soul." Little crosses are always within easy reach, and she was eager to make good use of them. "It is such a jov," she cried out, "to think that for each little pain borne with joy we shall love God more through eternity" "If we only realized what we gain through self-denial in all things!" She did, and for that reason encouraged her sister: "We must not let slip the smallest opportunity of giving Jesus joy. We must refuse Him nothing." "We must not let slip one single occasion of sacrifice."
She herself, though she suffered constantly from a sick stomach, was so indifferent to what was served at table, to what agreed or disagreed with her, that none could discover it; the Sister next to her inadvertently always left her little wholesome food and drink, but she was silent and rejoiced; the kitchen Sisters, not knowing what to do with remains that had been warmed over half a dozen times, would remark: "No one will eat this but Sister Therese." She did, and with a smile. She sipped the most bitter medicines drop by drop. Though there was nothing from which she suffered so much physically as the cold, she took no means of keeping from feeling it; she used the discipline, struck hard and fast, and was careful not to lessen the sharpness of the pain; she refrained from indulging in little comforts such as crossing her feet while standing or sitting, and the like.
But she set an almost infinitely higher value on interior self-denial—that of the will and the mind. She would not defend herself when falsely accused, refused to read an interesting letter, kept silence perfectly, bore cheerfully with trying oddities and faults of others, did not satisfy her curiosity even on the night she was given the first indication of her death in the form of a hemorrhage, etc. "There are trifles," she said, "which please our Lord more than the conquest of the world, a smile or a kindly word, for instance, when I feel inclined to say nothing or appear bored." And again: "Believe me, the writing of pious books, the composing of the sublimest poetry, all that does not equal the smallest act of self-denial." And one is still more astounded to hear her say to a novice who had promptly answered a knock at the door: "You have done something more glorious than if, through clever diplomacy, you had procured the good-will of the government for all religious communities and had been proclaimed throughout France, as a second Judith." Whence this merit? "Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the LOVE with which we do them," and hence, "the least act of pure love is worth more for God and the Church than all other good works put together." What a subject for earnest reflection and self-examination!
(2) Hidden Crosses.—St. Therese had a predilection for hidden crosses. "I know a source," she wrote, "where 'they that drink shall yet thirst,' but with a delicious thirst, a thirst one can always allay…. That source is the suffering known only to Jesus." Hence she also sang:
"Oh, what charms doth pain reveal
Veiled in wreathing smiles of flowers!
I would suffer silently
That my Jesus find relief.
Joy is mine His smile to see,
Though an exile in my grief."
Referring to her bitter interior trials she wrote: "For five years this way was mine, but I alone knew it; this was precisely the flower I wished to offer to Jesus, a hidden flower, which keeps its perfume only for heaven." Just why this special love for hidden crosses? "My God, what joy can he greater than to suffer for Thy love? The more the suffering is and the less it appears before men, the more it is to Thy honor and glory." Hence, "God does not despise these hidden struggles with ourselves, so much the richer in merit because they are unseen…. Through our little acts of charity, practiced in the dark, as it were, we obtain the conversion of the heathen, help the missionaries, and gain for them plentiful alms, thus building both spiritual and material dwellings for our Eucharistic Lord." Even in the weeks of her fearful and prolonged agony she preferred to be alone at night: "I am only too glad to be in a cell far removed from my Sisters, that I may not be heard (the violent cough). I am content to suffer alone; as soon as I am pitied and loaded with attention, my happiness leaves me." She saw very clearly the wounds that are inflicted on the soul that has no rest until it enjoys the human consolation of having others know its pains, as is evident from her reproof to a novice; "You feel this fatigue so much because no one is aware of it. This is indeed a very natural feeling—the desire: that people should know our aches and pains; but in giving way to it we play the coward." Accordingly she concealed her sufferings beneath a smile, so much so that she was thought insensible to pain. And I…?
(3) Vocational Crosses.—The most important duty of every person is to fulfil faithfully the obligations of his or her state of life, and this usually involves much unsought suffering. St. Therese was a religious and prized the suffering connected with the perfect interior and exterior fidelity to her Rule above all others. She kept her vows with a delicacy and refinement that may well be called heroic.
The degree to which she carried the practice of poverty would have won the admiration of St. Francis of Assisi, for she was not content with choosing deliberately what was oldest, worst, and most worn, but took a positive delight in being deprived of even that which was most necessary in food, clothing, etc.
By God's special grace she was preserved from temptations against bodily chastity, but her chastity of heart—purity of the affections—which cost her so dearly, was so exalted that her own sisters complained that she was neglectful of, nay, even cold toward, them. But with her superior light she saw that the religious life was not to be a means of indulging in the delights of family life, but rather the sacrifice thereof.
In her obedience she was a perfect copy of Him who "was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"; conducting herself as one "whom everyone had the right to command," she obeyed all without distinction—her fellow religious, the portress, the infirmarian, etc., as she would God Himself, and this in the most trying and unreasonable commands or even mere wishes not expressed in words. Her principles were: "Even though everyone should break the Rule, it is no excuse for me," and: "Each one ought to behave as if the perfection of the entire Order depended on her personal conduct."
When the perfect fulfilment of the Rule or one's duty involves some slight inconvenience or embarrassment it is so easy to presume, or at least to seek, a legitimate dispensation; St. Therese also felt this attraction, but she resisted it courageously. "True," she said, "these trifles are a species of martyrdom; but we must be careful not to alleviate the pain of the martyrdom by permitting ourselves or securing permission for a thousand and one things which would make the religious life both comfortable and agreeable." Accordingly, she would not only not seek or presume a dispensation from any community exercise, even in her extreme illness, but finally only used such favors when obedience obliged her to do so. Her maxim was: "I can still stand on my feet, and so I must be about my duty." And mine…?
Dear St. Therese, I thank God for the spirit of sacrifice with which He so greatly inflamed you. Alas, how far I am from being inspired with a similar fervor, for I not only let slip countless little crosses, but positively reject them in my blindness and folly. How this must grieve God! Each hour He, in His love, gives me so many opportunities to give up my own views, etc., and I stubbornly refuse. What a loss for God, for souls, and my own joy in eternity! Henceforth I wish to be ever on the alert, I wish to refuse Him nothing. Help me to realize that fidelity to trifles requires just as great, yes, even greater, heroism than the doing of grander things; that the least act of pure love of God is worth more than many a brilliant exterior work done through an inferior motive though it calls forth the praise of men the world over. Obtain for me the strength to hide my suffering from human eyes, lest I lose my hard-earned merit by seeking the consolation of men, like a person who works unto exhaustion and then takes his wages and throws them into the fire. Above all, St. Therese, I desire to fulfil perfectly the duties of my state, to seek no exemption on account of personal sacrifices of inconveniences, but to do my duty "as long as I can stand on my feet," to live as if the perfection of the entire Church depended on my personal conduct. I also recommend to you my special intentions in this Novena…. God will refuse you nothing.
Other Novena Prayers on page 46.