By Colleen Bassindale
Sometimes we delve into a new book with preconceived notions, based on something we’ve read or heard from a friend, or on past knowledge. This was true for me prior to reading [I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux]; not because I had heard anything in particular about it, but because of the subject: St. Therese, The Little Flower. I considered the term “Little Flower” a bit too cutesy and I didn’t think I could relate to her. Yes, I judged her by her name! But I soon discovered that she could not be further from a “little” anything – she was a powerhouse.
Here’s a brief synopsis of what St. Therese endured in her short life: Besides suffering enteritis (excruciating intestinal problems) since birth, coupled with emotional problems – her beloved mother, who taught St. Therese how to pray and most importantly how to love, died when she was four. This harsh beginning made St. Therese long for heaven, viewing life as continual suffering. She became a Carmelite nun when she was 16, joining her two older sisters who had previously joined the Order. The other nuns considered her good and capable, but unremarkable. St. Therese knew she was “little” and knew what others viewed her that way. “I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short and totally new,” St. Therese said.
She began practicing her “little” way: smiling when anger would have been her earlier response; waiting patiently when she would have been frustrated in the past; striving to manage her short temper by turning her exasperation into prayer. St. Therese died at the age of 24 on September 30, 1887. On her deathbed she said, “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me.” Her last words were, “My God, I love you.” After reading this remarkable little book, I now consider St. Therese a friend. When I feel myself about to lose my temper with my kids, or react quickly in frustration to something political that my three sisters love to text about, I invoke her name… it does help!
For me, our monthly WRM meetings are like mini-retreats. I always walk away having learned something from our time together – gaining a new perspective. We laugh, we cry, we are so happy to get together to discuss these books and share how they affected us. By sharing books over the years, we have come to share our lives. I have also found a sense of freedom in openly sharing my Catholic faith with the women in my group, many of whom I didn’t know prior to joining, although we do all belong to the same parish. I am humbled and eternally grateful to know these women. I love them and want good things for them – each one, my friend.
Colleen Colloton Bassindale lives in Whitefish Bay, WI where she and her husband Jon have raised their four kids. She’s a voice-over actor at her business, Collen Colloton – A Voice to Remember, and coaches the boy’s sprinters at Whitefish Bay High School.
This piece was originally published in the ‘Year of the Friend’ Journal.
Check out the previous reflections in “The Surprise of Friendship Through Literature” Series!