Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

StoryOfASoulSuggested by Brad Nelson • A story of a soul searching for God at a very young age. Theresa and her four sisters were all devout. The story is enlightening to people who may believe that financial comfort is all we need. She realizes at an early age that this world is not her home and that she is living in exile on earth and looking forward to an eternity in heaven.
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9 Responses to Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m not sure how much one will learn of this Saint compared to the various biographies written of her. In many ways, she is a child (and did indeed did die quite young at the age of 24). She had a devotion that seemed obsessive-compulsive at times…which may be the trait needed if a human being has any hope of approaching perfection on this earth.

    I must say, at the end of this biography I was fatigued from all the drama. Therese is a Saint and a Doctor of the Church but she must have been a real fireball to handle. Peace does not radiate from the pages of her autobiography, but a zealous spirit driven toward a harsh perfection and thus of never-ending self-immolation. I think her destiny was always to burn brightly and to burn out soon.

    That said, she was a fighter, driven also by love. And she was not afraid of suffering. To understand how far many of the religious leaders in our time have drifted from the core spirit of Christianity, it would do to read this autobiography. A Catholic, let alone a saint, finds meaning in suffering. It’s not something to be categorized as “social injustice” and then all efforts taken to eradicate it.

    St. Therese is full of all kinds of marvelous (and sometimes over-dramatic) insights. But I think one of her best insights involved this analysis of the love expected of us, and how those expectations had changed:

    In the Old Law, when God told His people to love their neighbour as themselves, He had not yet come down upon earth; and knowing full well how man loves himself, He could not ask anything greater. But when Our Lord gave His Apostles a New Commandment—”His own commandment” [love one another as He had loved them]—He was not content with saying: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” but would have them love even as He had loved, and as He will love till the end of time.

    To read an autobiography of a Saint like this is to be in communion with them in some respect. Suffice it to say, it is not like sitting back passively and watching prime time TV. It is not trivial and it is not vulgar and it is not profane. That is, such writings are so unearthly they give some evidence for the assertions contained therein.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In one of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, someone asks Father Brown what he thinks of criminology. He responds by asking what the questioner thinks of hagiography, and then observes that we have gone from studying why people became saints to studying why people became criminals. (Despite popular belief, criminology is about criminal motivations, not forensic science.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That’s a very interesting observation, Timothy. And perhaps you capture why reading the biography of a saint interests me. Certainly it is not because I have an ambition of being a saint. I do not. That is far too much work and, besides, I’m not absolutely sure that that approach is the only approach or even the best approach, although it has become a successful “type.”

        But most of our pop culture focuses on glorifying and gaining entertainment value from the criminal. And, yes, I enjoy the next detective show as much as anyone. But I do try to take a self-conscious approach at being at least somewhat well-rounded and versed in Western Civilization.

        Plus there’s a practical reason. You can’t swing a dead cat around the subject of conservatism and Americanism without hitting upon the topic of Christianity. So I find that in order to pick a thoughtful path amongst this difficult intersection of politics, religion, and culture, one must be wholly (if not holy) conversant in the topic or else those who merely fling bible verses might hold sway. And I’ve always held (particularly in this Orwellilan era of language manipulation) that we must be able to deal with the meaning of things rather than the mere symbols. Certainly this has something to do as well with the commandment not to build idols.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Of course, I’m not exactly one to talk, given my vast array of true crime books (including the complete works of Ann Rule and even a few autobiographical accounts by criminals). To be fair, much of it focuses on forensic science — but a lot of it could be placed in the field of criminology. A strong sense of morbidity will do that.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            It’s just a fact that tales of crime and of moral defects are far more interesting to us humans than stories of benevolence. Why this is so would make for an interesting discussion. But you don’t have to be some kind of deviant (although I think it helps) to enjoy monster movies, gangster movies, war movies, femme fatale movies, etc. A steady diet of them probably isn’t so good. But such movies, books, and plays are damned entertaining. I won’t pretend otherwise.

            Still, it can be fascinating to read about the other side. I wouldn’t say that this particular biography falls into the field of “damned entertaining.” It doesn’t. But it’s interesting, in large, if only because it is a wholly different point of view. It’s at least novel in that respect.

            I believe most humans are sadists to one degree or another. We love watching others suffer, especially if “they have it coming.” This is written in the pages of history in the stunningly cruel punishments that used to me meted out – punishments that were often public forms of entertainment.

            In our century, we’re much more civilized because we generally shun such things as torture or cruel and unusual punishment. But we still love immersing ourselves in cinematic tales of retribution, crime, pain, terror, and vengeance. Maybe the only real cure for Islam is to buy them all Blu Ray players where they can watch “Goodfellas” over and over again. Maybe then they wouldn’t feel the need to act out the real things (such is a prevailing, generally liberal, theory about violence in the arts, one that I don’t entirely agree with, although I think it’s mostly a neutral issue).

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I definitely have that cruel impulse, at least for those who deserve (my reaction to those who receive undeserved torture is a desire to see their victimizers tortured). I once had the idea of a dialectical novel about a character: the thesis would be that he had a strong sense of morality and justice, the antithesis that he was also at heart a sadistic killer. The synthesis would be a savage avenger of wrongs. In many ways this would be a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One of the things you’ll note in a Saint such as Theresa is that their inclination is not to feed all their petty faults and human foibles as you might feed a ravenous rodent. Whether striving for perfection or for a Love of God, Theresa would (eventually) actually be filled with joy upon hearing offending or critical comments about her from others. There was a desire on her part to not deny these faults and to see a type of welcome benevolence that someone should point them out, for to her it was a chance to suffer these critiques for a loving purpose, including to better herself.

    Contrast that with the Pope who had some fuzzy words about free speech of late. Yes, he said, we should have free speech but shouldn’t perhaps offend religious sensibilities. Theresa, on the other hand, rejoiced in it.

    I think it’s human nature to simply want to sanctify all the little desires, grievances, inclinations, or whatever, that one already has. We tend to think of ourselves as good as we are. It’s the rest of the world that must change. But that doesn’t seem to be the message of Luke 9: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it.”

    There are certainly two inclinations in our culture. One is to puff up and prop up ever little human vanity until we eventually see those vanities as such a grand “right” that to be “offended” or denied the sanctity of those vanities is tantamount to the erasure of some “human right.” The inflation of human conceits and vanities leads inevitable to discord, even violence.

    No wonder that perhaps Job #1 of anyone purporting to be a Savior of the human race would be to de-inflate our over-stuffed egos and sense of entitlement. Maybe some of the saints have something to teach us…something that doesn’t come from third-world Marxism and other such “social justice” nonsense. Could be.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      One of the things you’ll note in a Saint such as Theresa is that their inclination is not to feed all their petty faults and human foibles as you might feed a ravenous rodent. Whether striving for perfection or for a Love of God, Theresa would (eventually) actually be filled with joy upon hearing offending or critical comments about her from others.

      This used to be the norm in society. People were urged to pursue real self-improvement, not to promote their faults and imperfections.

      Watch your thoughts; they become words.
      Watch your words; they become actions.
      Watch your actions; they become habits.
      Watch your habits; they become character.
      Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
      Lao Tze

      First we make our habits, then our habits make us.
      Charles C. Noble

      Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
      Vince Lombardi

      A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.
      Gandhi

      We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
      Aristotle

      With the decline in Christianity i.e. our transcendent moral system, the pursuit of personal moral excellence had to weaken and with that decline, needs must, came the overall discounting of excellence throughout the society.

      Half-assed accomplishment, if one can call it that, is thought to be praiseworthy. This is not a formula for progress.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        With the decline in Christianity i.e. our transcendent moral system, the pursuit of personal moral excellence had to weaken and with that decline, needs must, came the overall discounting of excellence throughout the society.

        I think the character of people today isn’t built so much as it is absorbed, democratically, from popular culture. “Good” can be little more than a fad, and a bully fad it may be. Seinfeld captured this aspect masterfully in an episode where there was a charity walk. Kramer didn’t want to where the mandatory ribbon.

        One of the comments under that video is hilarious:

        I declined the “Ice Bucket Challenge” a few folks de-friended me from FB, because I’m in their opinion a willful social misfit.  Good riddance to ’em.   This little snippet from the past was the first thing I thought about.

        Mob ethics.

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