ann@feminineproject.com

Our Sister Saints

Written by Ann Burns

April 25, 2022

TFP Membership Options | Catholic Community for Women

Thank you to all the ladies who joined us this Lent for our reflection series.  It was a joy to grow closer to our sister Saints with all of you.

I am attaching the notes from our series. ?

Teresa of Avila 

“Does my femininity — and female body— have something to do with my desires and discontent?”

Have you experienced deep, aching desires and painful discontentment?

Our world promises us so much: glory, success, a you-can-do-anything-sales pitch. 

We are told what our bodies should look like, while simultaneously told to obsess and love our bodies regardless of what they look like. #bodypositivity But at the end of the day, is it ever enough?  Are we truly satisfied if we have to hashtag our confidence so people are aware that we are okay with who we are?

Everything is about you.  You should have the dream career.  Be the center of your world.  And the list goes on.  But why is it that when we pursue these promises, we often discover emptiness or another resounding sense of “is it enough?”

A saint and sister, who can guide us through the world’s loud and beckoning call is St. Teresa of Avila.  

As a little girl, St. Teresa of Avila had such a desire to become a saint she ran off with her brother to be martyred.  But as she matured into a young woman, these zealous, faith filled desires dissipated and she turned to a life of frivolity.  She loved engaging in flirtations and obsessing over fashion and rebelling. 

Her parents did not present a model marriage, which caused her much confusion growing up.  Her father was rigid, pious, and strict to the extreme, and her mother was fanciful.  Her mother delighted in romance novels, which she hid from her husband who forbade her from reading them.  

Teresa felt stuck between her parents — knowing lying was wrong from her father, but her mother demanded she keep her secret.  This dynamic instilled the belief in St. Teresa that no matter what, she was going to do everything wrong. 

Teresa’s early life is not one of perfect sanctity, but something human and full of struggles. 

She grew up in an imperfect family, with their own problems and disunity.  And as a teen, she fell in love with the ways of the world— focusing on boys and clothes, and forgetting about the zealous faith of her childhood. 

As she wrote: 

“I began, then, to indulge in one pastime after another, in one vanity after another and in one occasion of sin after another.  Into so many and such grave occasions of sin did I fall, so far was my soul led astray by all these vanities, that I was ashamed to return to God and to approach Him in the intimate friendship which comes from prayer.  This shame was increased by the fact that, as my sins grew in number, I began to lose the pleasure and joy which I had been deriving from virtuous things.  I saw very very clearly, my Lord, that this was failing me because I was failing Thee.”

Discerning her vocation was not an easy task.  The negative example of marriage her parents provided her made her unsure about matrimony, but at the same time… a nun?  How was that supposed to be fun?  

So often we read about saints, who from such an early age, knew they wished to enter into the religious life, but this is not the case with Teresa.  For Teresa, the topic of vocations posed a serious dilemma.  

Eventually, she decided to become a nun because she believed it would be the only way she could remedy her love for the world and proclivity for sin. 

But Teresa struggled!  Even after entering Carmelite, the order had opted for relaxed rules, and as such, vanity still consumed her.  

  Mental prayer was new for her, and she wrote: “tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ present within me….My imagination is so dull that I had no talent for imagining or coming up with great theological thoughts.” 

She began to undergo health issues, which helped her grow in mental prayer and deepen her love for God. She lived a life craving God but still attached to worldly pleasures. Holiness did not come easy. 

At 39 — two decades of spiritual struggle — she entered a chapel, and upon noticing the bloodied crucifix, her heart shattered.  She fell down in a torrent of tears and begged Christ for the strength not to offend him again.  This time, her repenentence was different “because” as she writes, “I had quite lost trust in myself and was placing all my confidence in God.”

Her prayer life deepened and her attachment to worldly pleasures began to dissipate.  She launched an historic reform of her religious order. Transforming Carmelite convents from “havens for spoiled socialites to places of genuine simplicity and prayer.” She was vigilant in living for God’s glory— not her own.  In 1970, Pope Paul VI Teresa of Avila was declared the first female doctor of the Church. 

She came to understand that  yes, God wishes us to treat our bodies with respect, but the excessive focus on bodily pleasures, people pleasing, and things of the world  only deepens our insatiable desires. When we pursue the world, we live in constant turmoil. 

The story of St. Teresa is inspiring and something that so many women need to hear.  She understands that aching hunger for meaning.  She knows what it’s like to chase after worldly pleasures and success and only encounter boredom.

St. Teresa, prayer for us. 

St. Therese of Lisieux 

It’s easy to overlook a saint like Therese of Lisieux.  She lived a bourgeois life, entered the convent at an early age, and is always depicted in flowery, sweet ways. 

Not much going on. And for many of us, probably not really relatable. 

At least, Dorothy Day thought so— even referring to St. Therese as a “pious pap.”  

Dorothy Day, who championed elements of anarchy and socialism, indulged in drinking bouts, and pursued various love affairs, and eventually converted to Catholicism at the age of 30. She was outspoken and fiery and founded the Catholic Worker Movement during 1933. Yet, interestingly enough, this firecracker, who once dubbed St. Therese pretty much “a bore,” went on to write a biography about her, and became deeply influenced and inspired by her beautiful little way. 

Dorothy Day stated:

“She [Therese] speaks to our condition.  Is the atom a small thing?  And yet what havoc it has wrought.  Is her little way a small contribution to the life of the spirit?  It has the power of the spirit of Christianityy behind it.  It is an explosive force that can transform our lives and the life of the world, once put into effect.”

Looking over the words of Dorothy Day, we are encouraged to revisit the sweet littleness of St. Therese, the youngest Doctor of the Church. 

Therese deeply admired the great, heroic saints like Joan of Arc and Teresa of Avila.  Yet, she believed she was not called to their bold accomplishments and daunting penances.  She saw her own weakness quite clearly and as such, she sought out a path to sanctity that was “very straight, very short, and totally new.”

She explains:

“We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the homes of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.

. . . The elevator which must raise me to Heaven is your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.”

As such, St. Theresa believed that the surest way to reveal her abandonment to God was through offering Him small, everyday acts of love.  What could these acts look like?

Refusing to complain 

Accepting false accusations 

Enduring the cold

Enduring a pointed insult (or any discomfort) 

Befriending those who are cantankerous or lonely 

Showing kindness and patience when family members are ill-tempered or difficult

Mortifying our speech (choosing silence when we wish to pipe up)

Seeking to understand rather then be understood 

Not procrastinating 

The list goes on and on… 

What would you add? 

Therese’s little way isn’t about faking feelings, but rather taking each pain and offering it to Christ as a gift of complete and total love. Therese’s life was rife with suffering: losing her mother at a young age, watching her father undergo dementia, and suffering intensely before her own death. But her little way taught her to do all things in love.  Beneath the sweetness of Therese is a strong, wise woman  who, through great patience, love, and surrender conquered the “sort of deep-seated, every-day shortcomings” that only too often mar our own spiritual growth.  

It’s no wonder that Dorothy Day and so many others have been inspired by Therese.  Therese encourages us to look at the little things in our life— the areas of annoyances, the frustrations, idle chatter, and complaining that we might cling to, and she challenges us to give them to Christ in total love. 

St. Faustina 

Saint Faustina is a woman I did not know much about, aside from the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the famous image of Our Lord signifying His Divine Mercy.

Interestingly enough, the author of the Reflection series guide, Colleen Carrol Campbell, could not be more different than this nun.  Colleen was an incredibly well educated woman with a glistening career.  She worked as a speechwriter for George W. Bush.  St. Faustina was a poor, uneducated Polish girl. 

“In 2002, Colleen began work toward a doctorate in philosophy at Saint Louis University. She interrupted her studies later that year to accept a job as one of six speechwriters, and the only woman speechwriter, to President George W. Bush. Colleen Carroll Campbell presenting The New Faithful to Pope Benedict XVI (photo by Vatican Servizio Fotografico)Colleen worked directly with the President on major policy addresses, writing his speeches on such topics as education, the faith-based initiative, the fight against AIDS and judicial appointments.”

https://colleen-campbell.com/about/

Yet, as Colleen worked for President Bush, she was also trying to figure out her personal life.  She was engaged to a man named John, a medical student. Taking a job at the White House meant she wouldn’t live near John anymore.  Furthermore, if she wished to keep that job, John would need to give up his glistening career opportunities for Colleen.  

I found this story so interesting because it’s a story I’ve heard so, so many times.  Colleen wanted it all: marriage, family, a sparkling career, John, and all of John’s dreams to come true. She saw it through the lens of “motherhood already forces women to sacrifice so much, why should I have to give up the things I’ve worked so hard for?”

She worked directly with the President.  The thought of giving that up for the sake of marriage and babies seemed like a waste.  Wouldn’t people accuse her of being backwards and absurd? 

During this time, the prayer Colleen leaned heavily on was the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  The words that Our Lord dictated to St. Faustina, a poor, Polish nun, who grew up on a farm during WWI, and had the poorest education. 

The message of Sister Faustina is one of radical trust.  In order to grow in holiness, receive grace, we need to abandon ourselves to complete trust in Christ. As I meditated on these words, I thought about our world’s modern look at mercy.  It’s often painted as sugary and turning a blind eye.  But real mercy comes from an encounter and acknowledgement of sin, intense humbling of oneself, and radical trust in Christ.  I thought of all the people Christ healed in the Bible.  “Go thy Faith has made you whole.” (Matthew 9:20)

Trust comes from the virtue of Faith. In the book Abandonment to Divine Providence it reads: “The senses worship creatures; faith adores the Divine Will.”  When we possess the virtue of Faith, we are confidently rooted in Christ; He alone is our anchor. 

The simple prayer “Jesus, I trust in You” — taught to us by Sister Faustina— is a surrender to God.  I don’t trust in myself, the ways of man, the opinions of others, my fears, and so forth.  My trust is in Christ.  In that, there is complete freedom. 

Colleen felt her concerns and anxiety about her job were bound to temporal goods: a career that will one day pass, the opinions of her peers, and a belief that she was better/had more to offer than motherhood.  

But through her prayer, Christ worked on her heart.  And she left the White House, stating it was the most free she had ever felt. 

 

The question that St. Faustina challenges us with: “Is God trustworthy?”  We can easily gloss over this, “DUH!” Of course!”  But do we actually LIVE in the belief that YES. God IS trustworthy; I am willing to abandon myself 100% to His Divine Will. 

Do we truly live what we preach?  Or are we overly consumed with the ways of the world?  Do we worry over what other people think?  The never ending evils that permeate our world? Are we consumed with health concerns?  

Edith Stein & the Daughters of Eve 

Edith Stein was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1891.  She grew up not really believing in anything save for science and philosophy.  It wasn’t until she stumbled upon the writings of St. Teresa of Avila in 1922 that she converted to Catholicism. 

Eventually, she entered into a Carmelite monastery and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. During World War II, she was sent to Auschwitz due to her Jewish background and she was killed in 1942. 

Edith Stein is remembered as an influential thinker and philosopher, as well as a saint. One of the works she is most remembered for is “Essays on Woman.”  

St. Edith understood that women are made for the maternal, and that we have the Blessed Mother as an example.  Mary’s fiat is the model of perfect receptivity to the will of God, which is precisely where sanctity lies. 

However, due to our fallen nature, there are many seasons of life in which imitation of Mary is difficult; St. Edith helps us navigate these trying times by grasping what it means to be a daughter of Eve. 

Genesis 3:16-19

“To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.

Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth.

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”

Edith believes this passage (thou shalt be under thy husband’s power) hints that a woman will be tempted to become the controlling matriarch, whom no one can please.  Her desire to control relationships can also tempt her to idolize relationships, falling prey to sins of nosiness and gossip.  Furthermore, this can encourage “false pursuit of prestige,” or a disordered understanding of “self-worth.” Placing value in success or “keeping up appearances” or falling into a “perverse desire to penetrate into personal lives, a passion of wanting to confiscate people.” 

These are a woman’s maternity gifts gone awry.  Instead of being attentive and caring, she is a busy-body and enjoys finding gossip or smearing reputations. 

The devoted wife morphs into a resentful nag. 

And the woman who struggles to conceive children becomes envious, bitter, and spiritually infertile. 

In all of these scenarios, a woman rejects her maternal calling.  She gives up her receptivity and nurturing components.  She becomes spiritually infertile, since she is unable to bear the feminine fruits of generosity, meekness, humility, and love. 

Part of the brilliance of Edith is that she doesn’t just diagnose the issue, she offers an antidote.  

In order to avoid falling prey to these vices, she suggests that women commit to “thoroughly objective work.”  This could be anything like sweeping the kitchen, doing the laundry, essentially, attending to the tasks at hand. Doing these tasks demand that a woman submit to laws outside of herself, and as a result, they produce  an escape from an obsessive self-focus and haywire emotions.  In doing meaningful work, which is found in homemaking, a woman develops discipline, self-control, and builds a foundation for cultivating a spiritual life (since a spiritual life demands discipline). 

Her second remedy is living each day in a way that “opens doors to God’s grace.”  She encourages frequent confession and reception of Holy Communion.  St. Edith encourages all women, if possible, to attend daily Mass and offer up her day to Christ, asking Him to guide her through it.  Around noon, she should take a break from her day and reconnect with God.  If it’s possible, she should make a holy hour or seek silence and take refuge in the Lord.  Lastly, “when night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much which one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as it is, lay it in God’s hands, and offer it up to Him.  In this way, we will be able to rest in Him, actually to rest, and to begin the new day like a new life.”

“The surrender to which feminine nature inclines is here appropriate [surrender to Jesus]; on the other hand, we also find the absolute love and surrender for which we seek vainly in people.  And surrender to Christ does not make us blind and deaf to the needs of others — on the contrary. We now seek God’s image in each human being and want, above all, to help each human being win his freedom.”

Spiritual motherhood and femininity do not seek fulfillment in people, but in Christ.  It begins with total dependence upon Jesus.  And in doing so, Christ orders OUR love and enables that love to bring others to genuine freedom and transformation in Christ. That is our maternal calling. It is based in giving and not getting.  It is a spiritual fertility that can only bear fruit if the woman possesses a loving union with God and true selflessness.  

Mother Teresa

“Let’s Do Something Beautiful for God!” — Mother Teresa 

Mother Teresa began her work serving the poor in the 1940s.  She was an unknown soul to the world, who ardently wished to do something beautiful for God. It wasn’t until 1968, that Mother Teresa’s name hit the radio, as religious skeptic, journalist, and eventual convert, Malcolm Muggeridge discovered her.  He ended up publishing a moving book on Mother Teresa entitled “Something Beautiful for God.”

Mother Teresa captured Muggeridge with her intense love for those around her.  She truly saw Christ in disguise in all those she encountered.  She loved the poor and the sick as her own brothers and sisters, recognizing that we all share the same Heavenly Father.  

https://catholic-link.org/quotes/i-thirst-letter-written-mother-teresa-quote/ 

Yet, Mother Teresa, who loved with the love of God, experienced what St. John of the Cross referred to as a Dark Night of the Soul, where the soul truly feels abandoned by God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Mark 15:34)

Mother Teresa wrote in regards to her dark night: 

“I want to love him as he has not been loved, and yet there is that separation, that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.”

“When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven— there is such convincing emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.  Love— the very word— brings nothing.  I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

It’s so easy to assume that saints, who live out such holy lives of radiant love, must be filled with an interior high; it’s easy to believe they must experience such an over abundance of interior happiness that, of course, it issues out of them! How else would they find strength and motivation? These ponderings seem fair, especially, in today’s over-diagnosed-culture, where we spend so much time focusing and listening to our emotional state.  But with Mother Teresa we see a life spent in love, BUT also a life that was not full of consolations.  Her life was “riddled with desolation.” 

We often forget that the path to holiness is laced with suffering.  We are called to pick up our crosses and follow Christ as He journeyed to Calvary. “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt. 10:38)

While true dark nights of the soul are not a common occurrence, periods of dryness definitely are. 

When we begin to grow in holiness, God often floods our souls with joy and a sense of satisfaction.  It’s easy, under these conditions, to love God and do good because we are met with joyful consolations.  But, when we persist in cultivating our interior life, God wishes to purify us — and He purifies our senses.  Suddenly, the feelings of elation vanish.  Prayer is arduous.  We feel numb. 

Often, we rely too heavily on our senses, and when we encounter dryness we are tempted to give up, pray less, spend less time with Christ. But, as St. Paul reminds us, we are to “put on the mind of Christ,” and accept and endure, for as long as God wills it, the season of dryness.  Through this, we are purified and called to detachment, humility, and patience.  

We are called to love God with our wills for His sake, and not for precious feelings of joy we are sometimes gifted with. 

We are called to carry our crosses, and Mother Teresa reminds us so beautifully, that the weight of our cross should not stop us from doing something beautiful for God. 

Thank you to all the women who joined us this Lent! Have a joyous Eastertide.

 

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