Favorite Spiritual Books, Part I--Story


Favorite Spiritual Books, Part I--Story of a Soul

Who knows how many parts, but I thought I would go somewhat more slowly through the spiritual books because it would serve to remind me why I liked the ones I did and why I would return to them. These are in no order other than the one that happens to come to mind. (Oops! only had time for one this time--sorry!)

First is Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. I have read this now two or three times, bits and pieces much more than the entire thing. For a very long time I found that I had no liking for St. Therese of Lisieux. The spirituality that seemed to surround her was little short of voodoo or witchcraft. "If I make my novena to St. Therese, and my prayer is answered, I will get flowers (particularly roses) as a sign." I found this very much like sympathetic magic. These same followers would say in swooning terms, "Oh, the Little Flower. Oh, she is so beautiful." Frankly, it was enough leftover Victorian Piety to choke the most rational of people (and I don't claim to be among that group.) I attributed the sins of the followers to something about Therese herself.

I could not possibly have been more wrong. As this book reveals, the "little flower" was, in fact, a Mighty Oak. There is no doubt that the excesses of piety that marked her age also mark her prose. Some translations are more marred by it than others--thus my recommendation of John Clarke's translation, or reading the original French, if that is an option. After one pulls aside the dulling veil of flowers, candies, four year olds pretending to be saints, and other such excrescences, one discovers a deep humor and beauty of a soul nearly always in turmoil and pain. And beyond all of that one sees the truly luminous spirituality of a person who at the tender age of 24 had achieved Union with God and attempted to articulate how to get there for the benefit of those who surrounded her. If you have limited time, read Ms. B and C, (chapters 9-11 of the Clarke translation). These were written after Therese knew of her illness, and the last two during the last months of her life when she was wracked with the horrendous pain of the tuberculosis attacking her digestive system and other body systems. There is a luminous, knowing, and deep spirituality here. There is the evidence of a long "dark night" during which Therese was tempted to despair and to doubt God's existence. But her faith ultimately triumphed, and she became, with Francis Xavier, one of the Patrons of the Missions.

Read in the proper frame of mind, preferably as part of a devout study group, or with others intent on the practice of Theresian spirituality, this book can alter your life and your prayer life in ways that you cannot even begin to imagine. Therese of Lisieux has a tremendous amount to teach us, and until I started to tap the riches of this fine volume, I had wondered at the wisdom of making her a Doctor of the Church. Only now am I beginning to plumb the depths of her teaching, and I am grateful to God for such a teacher.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 16, 2002 8:08 AM.

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