Sr Margaret Kiely shared on ‘The Life of St Therese’ at the 2nd night of the Novena in honour of the Little Flower at Blackrock Road, Cork. This is an edited version of her sharing.
I made a retreat in Myross Wood recently and the priest strongly recommended that we use our imagination more in prayer, that our faith needs imagination. So with that I mind I put these few thoughts together. I had the privilege of visiting Lisieux last year. Since that visit I have read and reflected on the life of St Therese and have tried to see how her life has relevance for us today.
She was born in Alencon in France 140 yrs ago. Along side the strong faith of Therese Martin’s family, I noted that there was grief, loss, sadness, powerlessness and stress.
- Loss of 4 of her siblings who died at a young age – including her only two brothers
- Grief at the loss of a mother from breast cancer
- Powerlessness over her mental illness – she suffered from depression
- Stress of moving house
- Sadness caused by being bullied at school
- Powerlessness in her efforts to enter the Carmelite Convent at 14 yrs.
- For her father Louis there was the Letting Go of all his daughters to the Carmelite Convent
While concentrating on Therese’s family I was reminded of the many families who are living in stressful situations today. Here in the 21st century the circumstances are different but the human emotions are the same. As you are well aware there is immense stress for families in these times of recession. We need only tune in to the Radio to hear about the heart break associated with job losses, financial problems, negative equity, sickness, suicide and burglary.
Any one of these problems can be a source of stress and can overwhelm us. We can become paralysed by fear and anxiety which causes us not to think clearly or see the way forward.
Some people turn to using alcohol, sleeping tablets or tranquillizers in order to cope. These are not the solution to such problems. While working with recovering addicts in Tabor Lodge I have used the 12 step programme with individuals and with families. I also use it in my own life. It is a Spiritual programme, a programme for living. Some of you may be familiar with the 12 steps. I will mention the first three.
Step 1 I am powerless in this situation –
Step 2 I believe that God can help me
Step 3 If I allow Him – if I accept the help
In working the first three steps:
We name the problem. We admit our powerlessness. We pray to God.
We seek help – initially it may be by talking to a trusted friend, priest or counsellor who will point us in the direction of professional help. We accept the help offered. It is about asking God for help through prayer and then allowing God to help us through other people. I can’t, God can, If I let him.
St Therese was powerless in many situations The family turned to God in prayer and Therese sought help in her efforts to enter Carmel – even by approaching her bishop and the Pope.
10 yrs ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having recovered from the initial shock I began to experience negative feelings – anxiety about the treatment; fear of losing my hair, the change in self image; blaming – should I have been referred earlier; anger – I did not admit that I was angry until my file went missing.
I then said to myself “practice what you preach”
Step 1 “I am powerless over breast cancer”
Step 2 I believe God can help me
Step 3 Talk about it.
I was lucky to have a hobby that I could hold on to. I found my Bridge group very supportive. I also had support of my community, friends and family. Talking to people gave me an opportunity to share what it was like to lose my hair, and to cope with the practical problems of chemotherapy. A friend advised me to get a good wig and that was practical advise which I pass on to others. In helping other women who were in the same situation I found that I was also helping myself. It also gave me an acceptance of my cancer and a trust in the treatment.
I also found healing in nature, walking around the Lough, admiring the birds and letting nature heal me. “The birds of the air, they labour not, yet your heavenly Father feeds them”.
In the time of Therese’s mother there was no recovery from breast cancer. For me having made that recovery I live with gratitude. Another chance at life.
The 12 Steps work when people share their stories and help one another in the process.
Another way of putting it: Name it (the problem), Claim it and Tame it.
A problem shared is a problem halved. In the sharing we often find that the answer is within ourselves.
Another example of somebody who worked the steps was an American woman who was presenting a seminar on Post Traumatic Stress. Her name was Johanna, a recovering alcoholic and she worked with Trans World Airways in debriefing staff and passengers after accidents! I remarked to her that she was a changed person when she got up on the podium to speak. Her reply was “When I get up there I say Johanna, get out of the way and let Him take over” For me I saw the Steps in action. Let go and Let God.
In situations of conflict we have examples from Therese’s life in Carmel where she tells us about
- the sister who worked beside her in the laundry and who used to splash her with dirty water
- the sister behind her who was annoying her by fingering her beads at prayer,
- the sister who irritated her by rattling her loose false teeth
For us today these could be the
- person who is dumping their rubbish into your garden
- the person playing loud music next door,
- the busybody who spreads gossip in neighbourhood
Instead of trying to change the sisters, Therese recognised that she herself had to change. She changed her attitude towards the other, did random acts of kindness for them and offered all the irritations to God out of Love.
We can’t change other people – we can only change ourselves – our attitude.
“Lord change me bless them”.
“Let go and let God”.
Therese was conscious of God in everything she did, in all the convent chores offering everything to God out of love, praying for the conversion of sinners, offering up her sufferings out of love and always wanting to do His Will.
We too can be conscious of God in our ordinary everyday life. As well as being aware of him at Mass, in the Sacraments and at prayer we can find him in one another, in creation, in our beautiful country-side, in the peace we enjoy as we walk the streets, the freedom to practice our religion, the services available to us even in the free travel !
In conclusion, may I invite you to name your concern.
As well as praying directly to God that you allow God to reach you through another person or persons, by sharing the problem.
Name it, claim it, tame it.
We ask God to grant us
- the serenity to accept the things we cannot change – we cannot change the past. We cannot change the other person.
- Grant us the courage to change the things we can – we can change ourselves and we can change the present.
- Grant us the wisdom to know what is the will of God for us in this situation.
- Grant us the Grace to carry out His will in this situation.