Dear brothers and sisters,
One of my greatest faults is that I become so easily discouraged when I look at the many holy men and women whom I’ve met both in prayer and actual life, thus when I look interiorly I find someone who is broken, sinful, and so far from holiness that it makes the journey ahead seem all but impossible. It’s as if I were travelling a long, flat dusty road, carrying a great many weights, and for each step I take – a step which requires great effort and determination, perhaps even requiring pulling myself back up after great exhaustion – the road continues on for miles and miles and miles. The horizon goes on forever.
Comparing our own spiritual journeys to another’s spiritual journey is an exercise in futility. What we will gain is an even greater hardship, an additional, unnecessary cross, and perhaps even despair. It won’t take long before that long, flat dusty road seems purely impossible.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus ponders this question at the beginning of her autobiography. Taking a cue from her elder sister, Pauline, whose religious name was Mother Agnes of Jesus, St. Therese muses upon the garden of souls which God is continually tending, “and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy.” It’s common in our pride and self-esteem to want to regard ourselves as God’s own special rose, to want to be that prized flower which receives sunlight from the True Light, to want to receive plentiful water from the Living Water, and to be sheltered from the storms which may ruin our fragile petals; however, like St. Therese, we must too understand that “if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues.”
St. Therese is only echoing, though, the classic passage from St. Paul where he, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, teaches, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” In short, there is diversity in unity and unity in diversity. We should not become discouraged by the role within the Church which Our Lord assigns us, for “if a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” Likewise, if you should think, “I am not a great contemplative like St. John of the Cross,” this does not mean that you belong any less to the Body; or, if you should think, “I am not capable of great acts of penance and poverty like St. Francis of Assisi,” this also does not mean that you belong any less to the Body; even if you think, “I am a damaged limb, a broken heart, a fractured bone, a blind eye,” you are still a member of the Body! “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
Even St. Paul in his great wisdom was only echoing in these quoted passages what the Great Wisdom said in His first sermon, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and similarly, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” Christ is calling us to humble-heartedness, which means recognizing our place in the grand scheme of things as a beloved child of God, placing the needs and interests of others above our own, and making God the center of our lives through prayer. We shouldn’t be asking, “Why am I not like my brother or sister in Christ?” but, rather, “How can I make the most difference to my family? my friends? my parish community?” When we know our place, then we can we recognize in others that they too are also children of God, thus allowing us to be more gentle and loving towards them despite their differences.
In her life, St. Therese may have regarded herself as the smallest of daisies, but as she (like a true sunflower) continually turned her soul towards the Sun, she became one of God’s finest roses. So, let us all strive to put behind us the paltriness of comparison and take delight in being who God created us to be. You are who you are: embrace that person, tell that person you love them, that you forgive them, and that you will do what’s best for them.
May Our Loving Mother guide you all towards Her Infinitely Compassionate Son!