Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On a feast like this we celebrate all of the Carmelites that have blessed our lives, such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Terese the Little Flower (and of course, all of those secular Carmelite Saints). I thought it would be fun to think of the littlest one, the one called the Little Flower...perfect for a site entitled ChristianManhood.org!
I have always been intrigued by this little girl who forces the hands of all of the tough guys around her so that she can hide herself in the Lord's secret garden. Her father, Louis, was a simple and holy man was her first example of a holy man, and I believe this helped her to achieve her level of sanctity...but this post isn't about him. Her mother Zelie, along with Louis, was a secular Franciscan, and was undoubtedly a holy woman...but this post isn't about her either. While we usually speak about men and family issues, I was thinking, this little girl has something to teach us men about prayer and holiness.
Do you know about St. Therese's Little Way? Do you try to live it? While I could go through her autobiography and pick out all the nuances of her spirituality that led her to be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, I am going to keep it simple, just like her. The two things that stand out, particularly for us men are the following:
1. Simple Prayer
2. Simple Sacrifice
St. Therese had a great way of looking at her relationship with God. She wanted to be closer to Him everyday so that she could simply "gaze" upon Him. As men, we may find ourselves struggling with "wordy" prayer and becoming uncomfortable when put in a position to have to "ad lib" a "spontaneous" prayer publicly. We may also find ourselves unable to get comfortable with long, dictated prayers or other pre-written forms. This cuts to the root of how God made us as men to communicate. We (generally speaking) don't communicate emotionally without forcing it. We prefer to sit in the canoe fishing quietly as opposed to sharing intimate feelings with our pals. This, of course, drives our wives crazy, because they are wired differently and communicate emotionally all the time. Their gaze is inward, ours is on the horizon.
This way that God has designed us is, of course, perfect for us. This gazing outward is a wonderful way to pray. For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have gone for rosary walks in the evening and are always blessed by the sunsets over the open fields on the top of our property. I look at the clouds and bless the Lord, my gaze drawn from the physical world to God. This simple way of "glorying" in God's creation is humbling and a great starting point for deeper prayer. This gazing can also be used in Eucharistic Adoration, gazing upon religious Icons ("windows to heaven"), or by just acknowledging God's presence in other persons.
The beauty of this type of prayer is that one doesn't need to complicate it with many words. I can simply "gaze" and maybe add a few phrases to keep my attention, such as "Praise God", or "God have mercy". These phrases were traditionally called "aspirations" and spring from a heart focused on God. These short prayers can also be used to gain a spirit of recollection during one's workday, the most famous being the long form, "Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have mercy on me, a sinner!" These are all simple ways of growing our relationship with God - aka Prayer.
The second thing that Little St. Therese can teach us tough guys is how to live a life of sacrifice. If you haven't read her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, do it NOW! This little girl combines the focus of a person set upon her goal (life in the Carmelite monastery, and ultimately Heaven) and yet does this without willfulness. She constantly accepted little sacrifices, and it was in this that she gained her great holiness. When one of the nuns was asked to fix her favorite meal (since her health was failing), the nun responded that she had no idea what her favorite meal was because she never complained. For the nuns around her, St. Therese had no specific tastes at the dinner table, but in truth, there were things she liked and didn't like.
I often think of this when my wife serves something not totally suiting my tastes. I have a choice of accepting the little sacrifice and complimenting her cooking, or I can complain, acting like the overbearing bull that most feminists "see" manly patriarchs as. One is a way that brings about the Kingdom of God, the other the kingdom of "me"! It is these little sacrifices, that St. Therese has taught us, are the way to move us further and further away from ourselves and the world, and closer to God.
So, as big, tough guys, let us embrace the Way of the Little Flower. Be simple. Be prayerful. Be Holy. Be a Man!