“How great is the power of prayer! One could call it a queen who has at each instant free access to the king and who is able to obtain whatever she asks.”
About a year after her death, a letter from Sister Thérèse to one of her relatives and two manuscripts, which she had written under obedience to her superiors in the monastery, were edited and published in a short book called “Histoire d’une Ame” (“The Story of a Soul”). The young Carmelite nun’s revolutionary idea that simple and ordinary people are able—and in fact are called—to deep prayer to seek and attain the heights of sanctity in this life, attracted thousands, then millions to learn about her “Little Way.” When she wrote these lines in 1897, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face was a quiet and unassuming nun in an insignificant Carmelite monastery in France. A few months later, at the age of 24, she would die of tuberculosis, and would be laid to rest—known only to a few outside her community of nuns in Lisieux.
Within a few years, Pope St. Pius X called her the “greatest saint of modern times.” His successor, Pope Benedict XV, worked to further her cause and observed, “In spiritual childhood is the secret of sanctity for all the faithful of the Catholic world.”
The average Catholic might be surprised to learn that Thérèse had great difficulty in her prayer life. When she tried to pray after Mass she tended to fall asleep. She confessed to her sisters: “I am ashamed to admit it … recitation of the rosary is far more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. … I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them.” She also admitted: “I do not have the courage to force myself to search out beautiful prayers in books. There are so many of them it really gives me a headache!” Yet St. Thérèse never gave up in her search for Jesus Christ in prayer—and she prevailed.
Many of us have tried—some for many years—to cultivate a deep life of prayer and we feel like failures. Our daily lives are inundated with noise, crowds, hurry and anxiety. Attempts at prayer seem dry, distracted and fruitless. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is a great teacher and example for those who desire to pray more faithfully, and who may be discouraged by their apparent lack of progress.
Because of our innate pride and fearfulness, we tend to judge our prayer lives like we would an Olympic competition: If we feel close to God, we assume our prayer lives are a 10 and, if we don’t, we assume our prayer lives are a 1. Jesus once told Peter, “You are thinking like men and not like God.” We need to be aware that we too often tend to transpose the usually-flawed thinking of this world onto the mind of God. Let’s profit by St. Therese’s expertise in this area during this Lent and remember that, as she said, even “a glance at God in love” is a prayer and that, quite often, if Satan cannot get a person to commit a sin, he will try to convince her that she has committed a sin when she hasn’t.
Simplicity and trust–or confidence as Therese liked to call it–is endemic to children. She also told us that God would never give us holy desires that He didn’t intend to bring to fulfillment in our lives. So, children that we are who hope for holiness, let us often use the ‘instant access’ that prayer affords us to all the Holy Ones in Heaven. Prayer, no matter how stumbling, is always effective and you can’t beat the price!