Words from our Principal
Dear families and friends of Lumen,
This Saturday, our Church celebrated the feast of one of the most beloved saints of all time: St. Therese of Lisieux. While it would be impossible to make a full reckoning of the virtues of this saint – who, despite (or perhaps because!) of her youthful simplicity, still attained such incredible heights of spiritual wisdom and insight in her short life that she was declared a Doctor of the Church – I’d like to focus here today on what she herself saw as her vocation: her love for Christ and for others.
“Love” can, at times, be a generic and overused word. For Therese, however, love had a very specific and concrete meaning. It was not a general “love for all mankind,” a vague sense of goodwill, or even a matter of intense feeling, but rather a love that manifested itself in her responses to the smallest concrete circumstances of her interpersonal relationships. This kind of love is hard-won, even for a saint like Therese. In her Autobiography, Therese writes of her struggles with a lack of this sort of love, as manifested by her impatience with others’ small flaws and shortcomings:
“For a long time my place at [prayer] was near a Sister who fidgeted incessantly, either with her rosary or with something else. . . I cannot tell you to what an extent I was tried by the irritating noise. . . I remained quiet, but the effort cost me so much that sometimes I was bathed in perspiration!”
Other examples of her daily struggles included dealing with her fellow sisters who left items in a mess:
“If I settle down to start painting and find the brushes in a mess, or a ruler or a penknife gone, I very nearly lose my patience and have to hold on to it with both hands to prevent my asking bad-temperedly for them.”
Who among us cannot resonate with such irritations in our daily lives? Drivers who cut us off in traffic. People who park their shopping carts right in the middle of the grocery store aisle so we can’t get by. Roommates, spouses, and children who don’t put their clothes in the hamper, or who leave dirty dishes in the sink. Waiters who take too long to refill our drinks. Colleagues who talk too much and don’t seem to care about what we have to say. But Therese’s great insight is that true love – and true growth in holiness – comes from approaching these small irritations and annoyances as Christ would.
“Among the countless graces I have received this year, perhaps the greatest has been that of being able to grasp in all its fullness the meaning of charity. . . Now I realize that true charity consists in putting up with all one’s neighbor’s faults, never being surprised by his weakness, and being inspired by the least of his virtues. . .”
In one of my favorite anecdotes from her Autobiography, Therese gets even more concrete:
“ [If there is a certain sister] I would go out of [my] way to avoid meeting, Jesus tells me that it is this very sister I must love, and I must pray for her even though her attitude makes me believe she has no love for me. . . Formerly one of our nuns managed to irritate me whatever she did or said. . . [I saw nothing but] disagreeable traits in her. As I did not want to give way to my natural dislike for her, I told myself that charity should not be only a matter of feeling but should show itself in deeds. So I set myself to do for this sister just what I should have done for someone I loved most dearly. . . I tried to do as many things for her as I could, and whenever I was tempted to speak unpleasantly to her, I made myself give her a pleasant smile and change the subject. . . After all this she asked me one day with a beaming face: ‘Sister Therese, will you please tell me what attracts you so much to me? You give me such a charming smile whenever we meet.’ Ah! It was Jesus hidden in the depth of her soul who attracted me!”
What has this to do with our school Honor Code? At Lumen Verum Academy, we have tried to enshrine this model of love in the principle that we should always seek the good of others, ensuring that their lives are enriched by our presence. Therese’s fellow nuns walked away from her with a sense of consolation, enriched by the awareness that she loved them – personally and particularly. They knew, from her attitude and actions towards them, that she saw them as Christ saw them and loved them as Christ loved them. Therese sought the good of others by seeing the good in others, even when it was most difficult to do so.
Therese’s example of charity in these small, simple ways towards her fellow sisters at the Carmel at Lisieux went on to inspire another great saint of our times – St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Mother Teresa,” who took her religious name in honor of the Little Flower of Lisieux. Modeling herself on the example of Therese, Mother Teresa ministered to the poor of Calcutta in precisely the same way that Therese ministered to her fellow sisters, seeing Christ in them and acting as Christ towards them. Mother Teresa’s achievements are known the world over, but her greatest accomplishment was probably expressed best by one of the people whom she served, a Muslim resident of Calcutta who said of her:
“All my life I have been begging. Then, one day, the sisters picked me up from the roads. [And] Mother Teresa made me feel like a human being for the first time.”
To make another person feel seen, known, and cherished – what better way to seek the good of others and enrich their lives than by showing them that we love them in this way? May the example of St. Therese and Mother Teresa inspires us!
Have a beautiful week. God bless you all!
Pax et bonum,
Distinguished Guest Lecturer Event
Fall Hike – You’re Invited!