Story of a Soul

When we read of the saints, it’s easy to forget they were real people. They seem to have it all together and always in-tune to God’s voice and desires. Logically I know that’s not true, but they sound really good on paper. At first, St. Thérèse is no exception. She speaks of her strong connection to God from the age of three, even knowing for sure as a child that she would be a Carmelite. But underneath that devotion, there are hints of her humanity. She wasn’t perfect, and in her autobiography we witness her gradual spiritual growth. It shows that St. Thérèse was, in fact, real.

This is part autobiography, part spiritual guide. A common theme is her great suffering, from the innocent trials of childhood to her later illness leading to an early death. She loved deeply, both Jesus and humanity. She often prayed for the souls of the unsaved, and cared greatly for the clergy. She desired to take on the suffering of others so that they may be saved. In that, she lived as Jesus himself did. She became a guide to her fellow Sisters, and always had a word of spiritual wisdom for the novices (sometimes harsh, but always truthful).

My vocation is love!… I am but a weak and helpless child, yet it is my very weakness that makes me dare to offer myself, O Jesus, as victim to Thy Love.

She speaks often of her littleness and weakness, but there is another depth to that—of being unworthy, of feeling separated from God though she writes these lofty words. “I sing only of what I wish to believe,” she says. Though she frequently offers herself to Jesus there are times that she doesn’t feel that way. She writes the words so that she may feel it. That’s a sentiment all too familiar. St. Thérèse was young and often naive, but she didn’t need worldly wisdom and praise. She understood her vocation to be wholehearted love for Jesus—a simple devotion, but with great responsibility.

This edition includes an epilogue by the Prioress after St. Thérèse’s death, which sheds more light on the end of her earthly life. Maybe that’s what makes this all real to me—it includes a timeline of her life, and many details about her last weeks. There are excerpts from her letters to novices, and a section of written prayers later found tucked in her Bible. Against my self-imposed rules, I’ve dog-eared several pages of this book for later reference: I’ll need her guidance on charity, love, and prayer again.

Scripture teaches us to approach God as a child, not in a childish way but in wonder and admiration. We’re to love with that simple innocence. This is the way of the “Little Flower.” We often complicate things, especially as we get older. We become bitter by what we’ve learned of a hardened world. But Jesus isn’t bitter. Jesus is that pure and simple Love, and that’s how we’re to live, too. That’s how St. Thérèse lived.

Without love, even the most brilliant deeds count for nothing. These gifts, which Our Lord lavished upon me, far from doing me any harm, drew me toward him.

Jesus: A Pilgrimage

This is one of those books mentioned during RCIA (nearly two years ago!) that I never felt quite ready to tackle: an entire book on Jesus, as told through the Holy Land lens. I was both excited and intimidated by the prospect, but I finally decided Lent was an appropriate time to explore it.

This is part Bible study, part travel journal. I much appreciate the way each chapter is laid out, beginning with traveling to a destination and then discussing its relevance in Jesus’s life. Though the pilgrims did not travel in chronological order, as originally planned, the book tries its best to. We journey from Bethlehem to Galilee to Jerusalem; we delve into details surrounding both Jesus’s humanity and divinity. Every so often a personal anecdote is included, like an overenthusiastic cab driver or nearly dying of heat stroke in the literal Valley of the Shadow of Death.

I really enjoyed the chapters on Jesus’s humanity, which take up much of the early chapters. After all, during this time he was a simple carpenter, not yet ministering. Though we don’t know a lot about his early life, it’s easy to picture it with archeological evidence. Nazareth was a small, poor village, and the young Jesus likely knew everyone in his then-vocation. I’d never considered how much his preaching had been inspired by this experience, and how there are so many metaphors relating to construction and farming. That was his life.

The chapters on his actual ministry were regrettably not as interesting, but do offer some insight not commonly known. Fr. Martin has studied Greek, so he often discusses the original translation and intent. In traveling the land, he comes upon many locations (especially around Galilee) where Jesus would have been, and their descriptions are so vivid that you can nearly feel the salty air off the sea. I was often reminded of a phrase repeated during my own Israel excursion, when confronted with an area that Jesus may have been: “If not here, then near.”

Sometimes the book tries to do too much, and it’s clear than its original intent was a much larger tome. Between travel journal, Biblical study, and personal reflection, there’s a lot of information to take in. I do wish there’d been more talk of the pilgrimage itself, rather than retelling Gospel stories. It tries to cover this ground for non-Christians who may be reading, but I also feel it would be difficult to grasp for someone who doesn’t already know something of Jesus’s life.

One the whole, it’s a great read for Lent. The chapters on the Crucifixion and Resurrection hit it home, especially after exploring Jesus’s life and humanity. And it shows me how much I still need to see in Israel. Fr. Martin spent a lot of time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, whereas I regrettably did not. But I’ll return one day, and take some travel tips from his notes.

Jewish-Christian Sacred Scriptures

The full title, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, doesn’t fit nicely in the subject line. So I improvised. This deceptively little book caught my eye when I visited Rome, at the same time my Jewish boyfriend traversed Israel. Being an intimidating subject to tackle, the book sat on my “to read” shelf since. But I finally picked it up.

It’s divided into three parts: The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish People are a Fundamental Part of the Christian Bible; Fundamental Themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their Reception into Faith in Christ; Jews in the New Testament. Part I is mostly introduction, sharing information that I hope is already understood when picking up this book—that the Old Testament is still true and relevant. So the meat of it is Part II, which digs into Scripture itself.

I like the format: it explores a specific theme, discussing its appearance in both the Old and New Testaments. We hear about such things as the goodness and wickedness of humanity; God as Savior; prayer; and the Law. Perhaps needless to say, we mostly only differ on the last one. (It’s a big one, but Jewish-Christian differences aren’t as much as we tend to think.)

The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected… [The Church] understands her own existence as a participation in the election of Israel and in a vocation that belongs, in the first place, to Israel.

The salvation of the Jews comes up frequently, even across topics. I’ve been meaning to delve more into the subject, and took notes to help further my understanding of how this works (a future blog post, perhaps). But it always piqued my interest—God made a promise that His chosen people be saved, but you also need Jesus Christ to be saved. How does that work? The more I think about it, the more my mind boggles.

Part III explores Judaism within the New Testament itself, pointing out the distinctly Jewish parts of the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Paul talks a lot of Judaism, being a Pharisee himself, so is a great reference for both sides of the argument. But the apostles were also Jews, which is easy to forget in their travels with Jesus. The book takes each New Testament writer and picks out the parts relevant to the Hebrew Scriptures, helping to create each of their Jewish identities. It doesn’t shy away from Revelation, either.

Though I’ve finished this book, I’m not quite done with it. It’s a good reference while reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. It explores the depths of Judaism in all of Scripture, a theme we shouldn’t forget even through Jesus’s ministry.