“The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. You shall see his glory within you.” — Liturgy of the Hours
We are sitting in my living room, reflecting silently together in the glow of the blinking lights of the Christmas tree. It looks particularly lovely in the dark. Its light turns the smooth, gentle face of my companion from pink to yellow to blue and back again. She seems content with her tea in a flowery cup from our kitchen.
“St. Therese, what is Christmas?” I ask.
She likes this question. I have been trying and trying to write about her, but she wanted me to interview her about Christmas. So we’re talking about Christmas.
“It is the time that the children of God remember and celebrate the birth of the infant Jesus.”
She smiles with a faraway look, “It is also a time that once again the doors of heaven swing open, great graces and torrents of spiritual light are poured into the world. The child Jesus will come to each person in a special way, to be reborn in each soul, all the world receives a blessing from heaven.”
“So many people have a hard time with Christmas, St. Therese. Some people have trouble with their families, don’t have money for gifts, or are agitated and stressed at Christmas, or they get their feelings hurt at their family celebration, or things don’t go the way they want them to, or they feel lonely or they are grieving. Can you address situations like that?”
She looks at me tenderly, knowing my mixed feelings at this time of the year, and that, as I said, they are shared by far too many others. She herself suffered grief, sorrow, loneliness, depression, severe illness and disappointment.
“I want God’s children to know that Jesus truly comes to them in all humility and with love. Just as he left his beautiful heaven to be with us on earth, so he comes to be in your soul, a heaven infinitely more dear to him because of his love, his personal love for you. When you are tired, look inside and find the little beggar of love. Cradle him, cherish him; look at him. Find a moment of peace there in the Christmas stable of your heart and he will give you his grace.”
“What should we do if we are disappointed or get our feelings hurt with our families at Christmas?”
“One Christmas when I was 13, my family got back from midnight Mass, and my father was very tired and grumpy. I overheard him say he hoped this was the last year for presents for me because I was getting a little old for this. I was crushed! I had been a very sensitive child ever since the death of my mother when I was little. My family doted on me, but they knew a torrent of tears was coming and they dreaded it. I ran upstairs to cry. Somehow something happened before I reached the top stair. Everything changed for me. A new strength, a new tenderness touched my soul. I encountered in the depths of my heart the light and tenderness of the Holy Child and in an instant I just … changed my mind. My tears dried, I turned around, came back down the stairs and surprised my family very much with my joyful opening of presents and sharing with them all the happiness of the occasion. It was a Christmas miracle!”
“How do we get in touch with the grace you describe in that transforming moment of your life?”
“If I reflect on it, I see that I had been preparing myself for that moment by making small sacrifices wherever I could. I saw this as adorning my heart with freshly gathered flowers for Jesus. Some of these were violets and roses, others were cornflowers or daisies or forget-me-nots. I wanted all the flowers I could gather to cradle the baby Jesus in my heart. “
She is leaning forward now, and I see how her face lights up talking about this.
“It seems to me you are talking about how you trained yourself not to let an opportunity to do a kindness, or make a small sacrifice slip by. Is that what you mean?
“I found that life would bring me plenty of opportunities. So if one of you should find yourself naturally irritated with someone this Christmas, decide for peace and serve that person nicely. It will set you free.
“If your Christmas isn’t going the way you planned, give up your expectations as a sacrifice to Jesus, and you will feel your burden lightened.
“If someone wants to argue, let her win; just this one time.
“You will be surprised how you can walk away happy, or even find that you regard that irritating person with genuine affection. Find opportunities this Christmas, to be kind, to serve, to take the lowest place. I will be there winking at you!”
I laugh, imagining this. “That’s perfect!” I say. “I will be looking for you.”
I lift my tea cup for a toast and we clink our cups together, smiling.
She tells me a story about life in the convent when now and then one of the novices would lose her temper with St. Therese and tell her angrily exactly what she thought of her. “I decided to savor these incidents like good vinegar on a fresh salad.” She chuckles. “You could use that at Christmas, to counteract all those holiday sweets! I will be there to give you a high five to celebrate your glorious victory over yourself, and Jesus will grant you immense strength, you will see.”
“This is hard stuff, though,” I say.
She knows it is hard.
“I had such a longing to be one of God’s great heroes. I had such overwhelming desires to do great things. I came to understand that doing these small things with great love offers plenty of challenge. Yes, these are almost the hardest things of all, these little things to do! But before you know it, you will find such joy. You will realize the presence of the Little Beggar of Love in your soul. And you will be glad you gave him what he wanted for Christmas most of all. The milk of your love at every opportunity you had.
“Ask the good God to show you an opening to do a small bit of good around you, to lighten someone’s burden quietly.”
I am smiling now because I know she is right. This is a way to be good soil for the seeds of the Gospel Jesus came to bring. If we give ourselves over to little Jesus in this way, he will find our souls full of flowers for him to be cradled in, and he will make his sweet presence there known.
We will find ourselves not only doing small things with great love, but with great joy.
And if you burn the cookies, or you say something you shouldn’t have, be patient with yourself, she says.
“Little children fall often but don’t have far to fall, so they don’t hurt themselves very much.” So strive to be little, even to yourself.
Practice this “Little Way,” for his Christmas presents, fill your heart with these flowers, and the little Jesus will come to you with his grace to be cherished within you.
That is the Christmas spirit, I believe, according St. Therese of the child Jesus.
“Love him,” she says, draining her teacup.
“Love him in everything. It’s that simple.”
“In this brilliant night which illuminates the joy of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, the gentle little child of the hour, will change the darkness of my soul into torrents of light.” — St. Therese of Lisieux