St. Therese grew closer to Christ through her difficulties. She loved that which those who are perfectionists hate and despise. That’s what made St. Therese who she was. It was not her becoming great in her perfectionism, but that she rested and accepted her lack of perfectionism. She understood in a much deeper way that it’s really God who does whatever is great within us. He is the one who brings about a change in our lives.
Gaitley talks about “Thieves of Hope” in his book 33 Days to Merciful Love. This can be the lies we tell ourselves in order to convict us that God couldn’t love us because we’re not good enough or not holy enough. For more explanation, see section below with the explanation Gaitley gives of “Stealers of Hope.”
My Aunt Betty asked me not just to read St. Therese’s letter (also included below), but also to chew on the words over and over. She said, “Until you live it, it’s not known.” A cow chews hay and then belches it up and then chews it again. She said we could have a stubborn resistance to a word that can change us. She quoted the scripture where Jesus says,
Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear? (Mark 8: 17-18)
We try to protect ourselves from being changed by God’s word. She stressed the importance of taking Scripture and saying it over and over and sitting in prayer with it until it goes deep into our being.
My assignment for Advent is to sit with the words St. Therese wrote in her letter to her sister Marie and to meditate on them continually. St, Therese said, “My virtues, talents, many gifts, etc. are nothing. They are not what give me the unlimited confidence that I feel in my heart. They are, to tell the truth, the spiritual riches that render one unjust, when one rests in them with complacence and when one believes they are something great…Ah! I really feel that it is not this at all that pleases God in my little soul. What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy…That is my only treasure…Why would this treasure not be yours?”
My Aunt Betty told me, “We can allow perfectionistic thoughts to steal our joy and our hope. “If Christ is for us, who can be against us.” We don’t hear the Word deep enough if it isn’t echoing in our life. We stop ourselves from really letting the Word take us. If God takes over, we will be changed. The controller in us can fight hearing the Word of God.
It’s not in being perfect that we please God. It’s in recognizing our need for Him in our brokenness. We can get upset when we see our imperfections, whereas St. Therese threw herself on the mercy of God. She said, “See how much I need You.” It became an occasion to draw closer to God.
We have to choose to want to open to this great freedom St. Therese had. She rejoiced in her brokenness. Stealers of hope are when we are beating ourselves up instead of seeing how much we need God. If we find ourselves wanting, we throw ourselves on His mercy. We give greater glory to God by forgiving ourselves.
Ask St Therese to teach us how to love the imperfect parts of ourselves and to see it as a gift because it’s helping us realize how much we need God. If it weren’t for our faults, we could get enamored with ourselves. Brokenness turns us back to God. The beginning of wisdom is to know your own weaknesses. Those who are perfectionists want to think they are already perfect. The Perfectionist can stop us from being able to understand what St. Therese is trying to teach us. We need to get the freedom to laugh at our littleness. Being perfect is a lie. Perfectionists have a hard time letting go of the idea of being perfect and they don’t let go easily. When we work on our stuff, we have to accept our brokenness in order to receive healing.
The more the perfectionist dies, the more we realize she has to die and that we’re not helping her by living her lies. The part that thinks God will love us more if we’re perfect is the part that needs to give up that lie.”
I’ve included the full letter written by St Therese to her sister in the attachment. I’ve also included an attachment, which further explains the “Stealers of Hope.”
NO MORE THIEVES OF HOPE
Fr. Gaitley shares in his book, 33 Days to Merciful Love, that when he first learned about the Little Way, it filled him with hope that maybe even someone like him could become a saint. But he also shared that he’d run into “thieves of hope.” Here is what Gaitley said,
“They’re the people who would says things like, “That St. Therese wasn’t so little. She was actually quite big.” And then they’d go on about Therese’s impressive virtues, desires, sacrifices, and sufferings such that I’d think to myself: “Well, maybe the Little Way is too big for me. Maybe it’s just the big wrapped in a sugar-coated crust and a flowery rhetoric.” And with that, I’d get discouraged. But then, eventually, I’d read something in Therese’s writings that would give me hope. And then, it wouldn’t take long before the thieves of hope were getting me discouraged again. This went on and on.
Tired of being on such a roller coaster of spiritual ups and downs, I decided to read just about everything St Therese ever wrote, trying to find out if the Little Way really could help someone like me to become a saint. Well, my research was not in vain. I found what I was looking for. Rather anticlimactically, it’s called “Letter 197” in Therese’s collected letters, and it offers some of the most consoling words I’ve ever read. It destroys all the arguments of the thieves of hope and set me “full sail upon the waves of confidence and love. But before I share it, I should first give a bit of background.
Letter 197 is St Therese’s response to a letter from her sister Marie, which itself was a response to one of Therese’s teachings that we read earlier: the little bird that could not fly. Remember that image? Well, that story of the pitiful little bird with the heart of an eagle was actually Therese’s attempt to explain her Little Way to her sister Marie.
The problem is that Marie didn’t like the story. She felt is was inaccurate. After all, she lived in the same convent as Therese. So, every day, she saw her sister’s impressive desires, sacrifices, and sufferings right up close, and she concluded that the future saint was no little bird at all. Instead, she was an eagle! Moreover, Marie felt that she herself was the little bird and that there was no hope for her to love God as Therese loved him.
Even though she writes like one of the thieves of hope, I thank God for Marie. I mean, I couldn’t have put the objection better myself. Therese responds to Marie with her glorious Letter 197. The letter speaks for itself, so let it speak to you.” Please read it slowly and prayerfully:
LETTER FROM ST. THERESE TO HER SISTER
How can you ask me if it is possible for you to love God as I love him?
… If you have understood the story of my little bird, you would not have asked me this question. My [___________ (fill in the blank: virtues, talents, many gifts, etc.)] are nothing; they are not what give me the unlimited confidence that I feel in my heart. They are, to tell the truth, the spiritual riches that render one unjust, when one rests in them with complacence and when one believes they are something great…Ah! I really feel that it is not this at all that pleases God in my little soul; what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy…That is my only treasure…Why would this treasure not be yours?
Oh, dear Sister, I beg you, understand your little girl, understand that to love Jesus, to be His victim of love, the weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more suited one is for the workings of this consuming and transforming Love…But we must consent to remain always poor and without strength, and this is the difficulty…Ah! Let us remain then very farfrom all that sparkles, let us love our littleness, let us love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to look for us and He will transform us in flames of love.
…Oh! How I would like to be able to make you understand what I feel!.. It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love.