For All the Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux

I have been wrestling with the angel named Vocation. In August, my wife and I sold our small publishing business, and just this week I completed all but the proofreading for the biggest writing project I’ve ever tackled. Meanwhile, Katie and both of our daughters are on the first steppingstones of new life paths. For our entire family, the future is an open book. The only thing I know is, I have to work.

Yes, sadly the publishing business did not (never did) reap much of a profit. Selling it was not a lucrative deal. So I will have to continue tending the bread ovens, mixing the dough, stoking the hardwood fires. The only thing that has become clear, or seems to have, is that I will work not as a literal baker, but as a writer.

You might think that, as someone halfway to age 118, I should have solved the vocation question for myself long ago. But my favorite nonfiction writer, Norman Maclean, saw it differently in the epigraph to his book Young Men and Fire, and so do I.

As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, Maclean wrote, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth’s crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While the oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love.

Not standing pat. New things to love. Compassion is a form of love. Maclean (left) also wrote:

The problem of identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.

Fortunately, several enticing and/or well-paying projects loom ahead of me like islands in the fog. Today, I am going to a meeting about the most enticing of these options, so far anyway. Last week, looking ahead to my meeting today, I thought, “October 1. Let’s see whose day that is,” as in which saint. My heart grew instantly warmer inside my chest when I flipped the page on my Catholic desk calendar and saw that it is Thérèse’s day. Something about it seemed so right, so apropos. I felt safe, provided for. I immediately began saying a novena to Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

Stumbling back into this blog last night, like not just the Prodigal Son but the Prodigal Father, I find that Frank has beat me to the St. Thérèse punch, and if there were ever a lousy, mixed metaphor, that has to be it. But then in the short century-plus since she left this earth and began showering us with flowers, people have never tired of writing about her, a Doctor of the Church with one slim book to her credit.

What struck me this morning and prompted this post was the selection from that slim book, her Story of a Soul, in today’s office of readings. Thérese wrestled with Vocation as well! Of course, she called this process a “longing for martyrdom,” which are words that have not yet fallen from my lips and aren’t likely to this side of the barroom door:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all the others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind. . . .

I have not yet found peace of mind. But I have a new prayer to steady my mind, a prayer to the Little Flower.

  • Terry Fenwick

    This is great writing Webster – your drew me in with "I have been wrestling . . ." and I stayed all the way. My heart and head were involved, in that order. I stopped a second to figure that I am half way to 156 – and then went on. Then to go with your daring adventure, stopped to say, "Hello" to Norman Maclean and see what he had to say about being only 70 plus – and loving his comment on "The problem of identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time." Happy you chose his words so carefully because the choosing to repeat them is almost as good as the original saying of them. You knew it was a good quote. Then, Webster, I thank you, also, for the reminder of the words of St. Therese who had told us to "set the desires on the greater gifts!" We live by the sea, Webster. I always say "we" even though my husband is now safely HOME because I am so aware of him and then, too, I have this wonderful Angel who hangs around all the time. But, living by the sea, I can assure you of this one thing – "the islands in the fog" you mentioned? I can assure you the fog does clear. It really does and then you will see clearly. When a writer picks up his reader and carries him or her along with the writing? How can he lose? Keep on keeping on and don't edit. BTW Do you know the definition for compassion? It is, Your Hurt – My Heart.Be Blessed, Webster Bull, as you Serve the Savior!

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks so much, Terry. Your entire comment is to treasure, but especially your advice: Keep on keeping on and don't edit. That's a proposal I will think about all weekend and beyond.Best to you and your Angel! (Tomorrow's the Guardians) Webster

  • cjneng1

    What the heck does Maclean try to say? Can't he writes in normal English? It's too "deep" for me to understand every single word…. trying to connect the keys. The only part so clearly conceived is the last line…. when you're dead. I'm so blurred….

  • Terry Fenwick

    I should have mentioned, Webster, that you are so very transparent in this writing. Nothing wins your audience like transparency – unless it is an audience who cannot handle transparency. Then, too, we need all kinds of writers for all kinds of readers. I just see so much of "to thine own self be true" here. I feel safe when the writer is being true to himself. I also notice that you did not try to sell anything – not a method, not a way, but just told us a story.

  • ThereseRita

    Well, since I'm halfway to 120 tomorrow, I guess I can comment too. As a nurse, one of my jobs to take history/physicals on new admissions to a psychiatric youth campus nearby. So every week I hear kids under 18 y.o. tell me stories that sound so sad & old it breaks my heart. One of the reasons it does is because, when I was their age, I felt so much sadder & older than I do right now. I know that makes no sense but its the truth. I want so much to tell each of them: Everything's taken care of. I know it feels bad but it gets better and, most of all, its worth it!

  • St. Paul

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I will remember this: "Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all the others."New Covenant Journal