Monday, April 30, 2012

St. Therese and Her Protestant Admirer

When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

Joy rolled up two plastic coated genealogy charts and carefully adjusted large rubber bands around them. "When Glen comes," she said forcefully, "make sure he takes these charts. He gets to talking and forgets to pick them up, every time."

Sue was putting new curtains in the front window, ones that she had sewed. They had little butterflies in the design. You could see in her face how much she liked them.

Joy, however, was not so sure. She liked things plain and dignified.

Sue had just slid the last rod into place when she spotted Glen heading for the little sidewalk that led to the porch of the Oak Street Bible Shop. "Here he comes now!" she exclaimed.

The little bell jingled as Glen entered. "Howdy, howdy," he said in a kind of pre-occupied voice. He obviously had something on his mind.

Joy picked up the two charts from Gary's counter and strode over to Glen. She pulled at his jacket and slid the charts under his arm. "There," she said, "Now you won't forget them this time!"

"Oh, yeah" said Glen, "Thanks." He walked to the counter and asked Gary what he owed for the charts. Glen waited for Gary to tally up the bill and then said, "There's something else I want you to get me. It's a book I read maybe thirty years ago. Maybe you could order it for me?"

Gary turned towards a shelf of publishers' stock books. "Who is the publisher?" he asked.

Glen threw up his hands. "After all this time I'm lucky if I can remember the title," he said. "There's no way I can remember the name of the publisher.”

"It really makes things so much easier for us," said Joy, "if people could give us the publisher. Otherwise we have to look through each of their books until we find it."

"Maybe we can narrow it down by the subject matter,” said Gary. "Is it about prophecy?"

"Not this time," said Glen. "The title is Story of a Soul. The author is St. Therese of Lisieux."

Joy slid off her stool. "Glen have you lost your mind, or is this some kind of joke?" she demanded.

"No joke," said Glen. "But maybe I am losing my mind, at least a little. I hope so.”

"Now that's not funny, Glen," said Joy. "God gave you a good mind and you shouldn't joke about losing it as if it is some light thing!"

"Well, I am not joking,” said Glen, "I just mean I get going on something and then I forget to pause and look around. There's other stuff going on and other people too. I was thinking the other night about her little book and how it
impressed me. I really want you to order it for me, if you will."

Gary put the publisher's stock book back on the shelf. "None of our publishers would carry a book about St. Theresa,” he said. "You'd have to go to a Catholic book store for that."

"I still don't understand why you would even want it,” said Joy. "I am disappointed in you that you treat such a subject with any respect at all. You are always so happy about being a Protestant. And I know you agree with me about how corrupt the Roman Catholic Church is. So what gives, anyway?"

"The Story of a Soul is not about the Roman Catholic Church,” said Glen. It is about a fourteen-year-old girl who only knew about Jesus by hearing about him from that church. That is the only church she knew, and she used that
knowledge to draw close to Him and lead a wonderful life, short as it was."

Sue had been listening with fascination. "Was she a nun?" she asked.

"Yes, Sue, she was a nun," Glen said.

"So a corrupt church produced a wonderful, saintly girl?" said Joy.

"Happens more than you would think,” said Glen. "After all, Paul came out of the Pharisees. And there is no group that Jesus condemned more than the Pharisees. Luther came out of Roman Catholicism,” said Glen. "And as I remember, so did you, Joy."

Joy raised herself up as she glared at Glen. "Yes, came out! The operative word is 'out'," she snapped.

"If you don't mind my asking," said Glen. "How old were you when you came out of the Catholic Church?"

Joy drew a deep breath, as if to contain her impatience. "About thirty years old," she said, grudgingly.

"Therese was dead at the age of twenty-four,” said Glen. "She was in the walls of a strict order, the Carmelites, at fourteen. All she knew was the life of a nun from the day she entered the cloister, until the day she died. That makes her life all the more remarkable in my mind."

Joy was about to speak, but Glen held up his hand. "I agree, the Roman Catholic Church is corrupt. But she found enough truth in her life there for her to realize one of our most prized Protestant doctrines--salvation by faith alone. Although she maybe wouldn't have put it that way."

"How did she learn about salvation by faith alone if she was locked up in a cloister?" asked Sue.

"Theirs was in an order that pursued holiness in an extreme way. The requirements were harsh. She soon found that she couldn't come up to the standards of the order. She would break dishes when she washed them. She couldn't do anything as well as the other nuns. She began to think of herself
as a totally incompetent person."

"I can identify with that," said Sue. "I often feel that way."

Joy rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me you're thinking of becoming a nun, Sue."

"No, but I can see where you could find God that way--by taking time to pray and think about God."

This was too much for Gary. "I always thought of nuns as robots,” he said. "I thought of them praying and saying the rosary endlessly. How boring!"

"Funny you should mention that," said Glen." Therese felt the same way. As I remember it, she thought long prayers were boring. When the nuns had what they called community prayers, she would fall asleep."

Sue was delighted. "She said that?"

Joy climbed back up on her stool with a grim, resigned look.

"That's right,” said Glen. "A lot of her book is about her short comings. They are how she came to God. She was immersed in a culture that taught you had to achieve enough holiness to be accepted by God, and she soon found she couldn't do that."

"Salvation by works," said Gary.

"Exactly," said Glen. "Although to Catholics it is more complicated than that. They say it is grace for God to allow us to work for salvation."

"Huh?" said Joy. I was a Catholic and I never heard it put that way."

"They don't advertise it, but that is what it amounts to," said Glen. "Kind of like telling some boys, ‘Free tickets to the circus, all you have to do is carry water for the elephants.'"

"I do remember saying the rosary,” said Joy. "You got points for that".

"Forgot to mention it,” said Glen, "but Therese didn't like saying the rosary either."

Somehow this appealed to Joy. "Imagine a nun, a Catholic saint, who said she didn't like the rosary!"

"She was different,” said Glen, "in a lot of ways."

"What I don't understand" said Sue, "is how she became a saint if she was so incompetent?"

"It was because of it," said Glen. "She said she had to throw herself on the mercy of God. He was her only hope. A lot of us have to learn that, not just Catholics.

"Since she couldn't do the works required of her, she developed what she called 'the little way'--doing little works with great love. She said it was more important to do little works with love than attempt great works with pride."

"From what I know about Catholics, especially the strict orders,” said Gary, "I'm surprised they didn't just boot her out. After all, she couldn't make the grade, you know."

"Well, Gary," said Glen, "cloister walls don't shut out truth. The Holy Spirit goes there too. Therese's superiors recognized her devotion. They saw her saintly qualities. If they had not, we would not know her story today. After all, the last thing a nun, especially of that order, was supposed to do, was to write a story about her life."

"So how did she?" said Sue.

"She came down with tuberculosis," said Glen. "She woke up one morning and there was blood on her pillow. She knew she was really sick. People just died of it in those days. She was so happy! Now she had found something she could do well. She could die in the love of God, eager to be with her beloved Jesus.

"She was freed from all her labors and was told to write the story of her life. She wrote a journal starting as far back as she could remember. This was edited and became Story of a Soul."

Joy was quiet for a time. Then she asked, "So what did you mean you might be losing your mind a little?"

"Oh," said Glen. "We Protestants forget sometimes that other people have something to offer. We get stuck in our ways and talk our special talk. To me, the warning sign is boredom. I don't know about you, but I am tired of preachers with their preacher voices and spell binding oratory, or their clever jokes.

"Sounds awful, doesn't it? But I am tired of us thinking we know it all. We really need to listen to how smug and boring we are. We need to love more and stop congratulating ourselves so much. All truth is God's truth anyway. We didn't make it ourselves."

"I heard about a man who was held prisoner by some Muslims" said Gary. “He was a Christian, and when Christmas time came around, one of his Muslim guards brought him a little cake. ‘What is this for?’ he asked the guard. ‘It is the birthday of your Jesus,’ said the Muslim. ‘I thought you would like this cake for Him.’”

Somehow this story touched Joy. Beneath her toughness she had a tender heart. "I think I understand,” she said. "The truth is not in us only. God sheds it on everyone. We are just fortunate that His Holy Spirit has given us the grace to believe."

We were all silent for a time.

Glen walked to the back room and poured a small cup of coffee. When he returned he looked at Sue's new curtains.

"Very nice," he said. "Very cheerful. Did you make those, Sue?"

Sue was smiling at the compliment.

"Don't believe I ever saw curtains with yellow butterflies," he said. "Where did you get the fabric?"

"The material is for little girl's dresses," said Sue, "but I thought it would look nice in the window."

"Well, you're right,” said Glen. "They do make the place look more cheerful."

He walked to the back room to throw away his coffee cup.

Joy spoke to Gary. "See what you can do" she said.

Gary was looking in the yellow pages. "How about the Little Flower Book and Gift shop?" he asked.

"Go ahead,” said Joy, "maybe they will return the favor and sell some of J. Vernon McGee's books some day."

Glen came out of the back room. "McGee preached to some nuns once," he said. "They told him they would pray for him."

"Thanks for hearing me out and looking for the book, too," said Glen. "Gotta go."

After he left, Sue walked into the back room.

"You know what, Joy?" she said, "Glen left his genealogy charts again."

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