by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
As I mentioned in an earlier reflection, I have committed to reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation this Lent. Each day over my morning cup of coffee, I read one chapter from the book, sometimes splitting longer chapters into two readings. Merton in small sips is much easier to digest!
In the chapter “A Body of Broken Bones,” Merton offers a definition of natural law that really spoke to me recently. He writes:
“…natural law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves.”
He goes on to explain that “the plainest summary of all the natural law is: to treat other [humans] as if they were [humans]. Not to act as if I alone were a [human], and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.”
He says that we “must learn to share with others their joys, their sufferings, their ideas, their needs, their desires” and that we must do this even when someone is not of “the same class, the same profession, the same race, the same nation.” Most importantly, Merton says we must share this love “even to groups that are regarded as hostile.”
Merton’s words remind me a lot of Theresians International’s commitment to being a Partnership of Equals. Written by Theresian Anne Murphy, who passed away in February, this statement says:
“We are a Partnership of Equals: no one stands in front, no one stands behind, no one stands above, no one stands below. We are a Partnership of Equals.”
It is easy to be in partnership with those who look like us, act like us, and believe like us. But what about those we regard as hostile? Do we treat those who are not like us as animals or a piece of furniture, ignoring their needs and wants? Or are we truly committed to being a Partnership of Equals?
As you contemplate these questions, I invite you to watch this short (2:21 minute) video “Eating Twinkies With God.” (For those not familiar with Twinkies: Twinkies are a small sponge cake with a creamy filling that are produced and sold by a major food manufacturer in the United States.)
I challenge you this Lent to see God in the smiles – and even the frowns -- of every person you encounter, especially those who are not like you! And maybe put a few Twinkies in your purse for sharing.
Review of The Theresian Story: Women in Support of Women
Review of The Theresian Story: Women in Support of Women by Elwood C. Voss, Patricia Mullen and others, eds. by Gail Murphy Schneider, Women at the Well Community, Dubuque, Iowa
As a Theresian, you probably know quite a bit about our patron, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. But do you know the history behind this beautiful organization of which you are a part?
In 1961, Msgr. Elwood C. Voss, then a priest in the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, had an idea. He realized that although women in the church were quite involved in doing things for others, there was something lacking – an organization that existed FOR those same women.
Msgr. Voss’ idea began with a group of 32 women in Pueblo in 1961 and has since grown into an international organization. In 1986, Msgr Voss, along with Patricia Mullen, wrote a history of Theresians: The Theresian Story. The book was updated in 1996.
I encourage you to read The Theresian Story to learn more about Msgr. Voss and the women who played a role in the history of Theresians. The book is available to download as a PDF or you can contact the Theresian office about purchasing a copy.
A personal note: I was never privileged to meet Msgr. Voss. After my first regional conference, I sent Msgr. Voss a card and note, expressing my gratitude to him for having the wisdom and foresight to start this wonderful organization for women. In return, he sent me a brief note thanking me and telling me that he was in a retirement home with a rare illness that had no cure, but that he was at peace and anxious to go to God. He signed it “Love, Woody”. Msgr. Voss died just a few months later.
Review of Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Review of Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux by Bridget Hilbe, Spiritual Springs Community, Richmond, Texas
When I became a Theresian 12 years ago, I actually knew very little about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. As I read about St. Thérèse, I had difficulty relating to her life. Quite frankly, Thérèse never had to worry about earning a living, maintaining a loving relationship with a husband, caring for children and elderly family members, and navigating the pitfalls of our material, high tech, complicated world. Thérèse’s circle was so small, with very few distractions. Her young life was one of privilege, of course she would have time for quiet meditations, devotion and focus on loving our Lord. You know how it is, the more you read and learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know or understand. It wasn’t until I went to the Theresian National Conference in New Orleans, LA in 2018, that I found a way to relate to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and more fully understand and attempt to apply her little way directly into my daily life.
While at the 2018 National Conference I had the opportunity to meet and hear author Heather King speak. At that conference, I was introduced to Heather’s book Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Heather was the keynote speaker at that conference. Heather’s book pairs her conversion from a former life as an attorney, alcoholic, a self-described “bar-fly” (from her book Stumble), non-religious person into a celibate, contemplative author, obedient and devoted practicing Catholic. Spending a year with St. Thérèse, Heather adeptly elaborates on the human crosses and everyday annoyances that distract all of us from giving ourselves fully and completely over to the service and love of the Divine. By using examples from Thérèse’s life journey of devotion and love, Heather shares examples from her own journey of faith. Heather speaks honestly and frankly to the questions, distractions, and barriers we all put up when trying for a deeper life of faith, love and devotion.
Sometimes it is the little annoyances in life that we focus on, distracting us from loving fully. In Shirt of Flame, Heather King relates how, by practicing St, Thérèse’s Little Way, we can move past those annoyances that bring about their own barriers to love and kindness. Heather uses the story of the nun that sat behind Thérèse at choir clicking her rosary against her teeth making a distracting, annoying sound. Instead of saying something to the nun, “Thérèse realized that the more charitable act would be to pretend that the sound was music to Christ’s ears and endured the annoyance in silence.” Heather provides additional examples from her life, thus helping me to relate and understand how to more effectively put the Little Way into practice in my daily life. For example, I would let it bother me when my husband would occasionally leave his dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. If left alone, Dave would eventually pick up his laundry. But would I wait for that? Succumbing to my OCD, often I would let him know that it needs to be picked up on my time schedule, which is right now. Not charitable or loving. Instead, I can quietly pick up the dirty clothes and take them to the laundry myself. It’s a little thing – a little way of showing love, whether it is acknowledged or not.
My life’s journey is far from that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Heather King, through her book, has helped me to relate to St. Thérèse, to push past the distractions of everyday life and give myself permission to embrace the simple, to act out of kindness, to carve out quiet time to reflect, and to simply love our Lord. This book would make a wonderful book study for any Theresian community. At the close of each chapter, Heather offers up a wonderful prayer to reflect upon as you digest what was presented. I love honest heartfelt writing. Heather King is unapologetically honest. At times, I think she is speaking directly to me, lovingly making sure that I have fully grasped the message behind St. Thérèse’s life and how I should and can incorporate the Little Way into my own daily life.
Review of Life Lessons from St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Review of Life Lessons from St. Thérèse of Lisieux, written by Br. Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC and Marisa Guerin, PhD by Melanie Hartshorn, Spiritual Springs Community, Fort Bend, Texas
As Theresians, we are well acquainted with the life and spirituality of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Like most members of a Theresian community, I have read numerous books about our patron saint, and was touched by them all. Recently, I came across a new book titled Life Lessons from St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The book was written by Br. Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC and Marisa Guerin, PhD. Br. Schmidt was one of the world’s most respected scholars on the teachings of St. Thérèse. Marisa Guerin is a former leader of the youth ministry office of the U.S. Catholic Bishops and has served as a consultant to religious institutes in the U.S. and abroad. These two have teamed up to present us with a fresh look at St. Thérèse, her “Little Way” and her “Only Treasure.”
The book is divided into two main parts – Thérèse’s Healing Vision and then Six Heart Qualities of that Healing Vision. Each section is presented in chapters which begin with background on Thérèse’s life – much in her own words and thoughts. The authors make liberal use of her personal experiences, memories, and letters, allowing the reader to travel along with Thérèse as her spirituality grew and developed over time. Following this biographical information, we are presented with Mentoring Messages for Reflection. This section helps us to adapt Thérèse’s experiences to our own life. The reader will gain a new understanding of Thérèse. Even though she lived and died over 100 years ago, and much of her short life was spent as a cloistered nun, the challenges that Thérèse faced are in many ways very similar to our own. With this realization, we can open our hearts more fully to the beautiful thoughts the authors present in the Mentoring Messages that conclude each chapter.
Much attention is devoted to deepening the reader’s understanding of what Thérèse called her “only treasure” – her gentle and patient acceptance of her own limitations coupled with her total confidence in God’s love and mercy. Thérèse’s radical message to accept one’s faults patiently and lovingly is a challenging concept. As Theresians, we have a special connection with Thérèse and her spiritual wisdom – a connection that will be strengthened by prayerfully meditating on all that this little book has to teach us. Oh, and don’t forget to pray for Saint Thérèse’s intercession as you read!!
Review of 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do It Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy
Review of 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do It Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy
Review of 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do It Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy, by Fr. Michael Gaitley (especially The Little Way, pp. 47-65) by Jet Booth, Luminaries Night Community, League City, Texas
Pssst! You! Yes, you! You need to read this book. Way back in 2020 my sister Theresian, Helen Anderson, and I discovered this book. Normally I would pass up a book with such a pious title and impossible goal. But Thérèse’s gaze in the picture on the cover gripped me. I was directed to read the book day by day for 30 days to make my consecration to Divine Mercy. Helen followed the rules but I did not! I gobbled the book down in no time flat and re-read it several times. Fr. Mike gets St. Thérèse! We were both excited to share Fr. Mike’s insights into St. Thérèse and we had a wonderful sharing with our community over the next months during the COVID pandemic.
We read so much about St. Thérèse and her doing little things with great love. We so often only get half of St. Thérèse’s spirituality. We often picture her on pretty holy cards but she is so much MORE! Thérèse’s way of love came from a tremendous realization about Divine Mercy. Her actions came from a deep relationship with Jesus. Her Little Way is about doing little things with great love AND being a little soul. What does it mean to be a little soul? How can we become an army of little souls she prayed for?
This book is a do-it-yourself retreat that prepares you for a consecration to Divine Mercy-but in the style of St. Thérèse. You do a lot of heart-pondering prayer. You understand St. Thérèse a lot more. You get to understand her Offering to Merciful Love. She had an insight so profound about the heart of Jesus. She saw how He longs to pour His mercy into our hearts and have a real relationship with us. He pursues us and wants to give us so much. We all struggle to believe that. We don’t trust enough to let go. We want to be in the driver’s seat. St. Thérèse saw how to do it.
This book helps you see that all He asks us is simply to surrender and have gratitude. The part that brought me to tears every time was the quote from Letter #197 where Thérèse responds to her sister Marie. She speaks of such a tender, seeking Jesus: “…let us love our littleness, let us love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to look for us….” I picture Him seeking and finding me. Get the book. Get the Kleenex. Read this book.
Review of Elizabeth Ficocelli’s book Shower of Heavenly Roses: Stories of the Intercession of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Review of Elizabeth Ficocelli’s book Shower of Heavenly Roses: Stories of the Intercession of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Review of Elizabeth Ficocelli’s book Shower of Heavenly Roses: Stories of the Intercession of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Mary Schreiber, Women at the Well Community, Dubuque, Iowa
“I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making others love God as I love him, my mission of teaching my little way to souls. If God answers my requests, my heaven will be spent on earth up to the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth…After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses.” --St. Thérèse (1873-1897)
When I was in 8th grade, and preparing for Confirmation, my mother suggested that I consider taking the name Therese. She encouraged me to learn about St. Thérèse, and that’s when my appreciation for her Little Way began. I continue to be impressed by her deep faith and spirituality, and her profound love for God and others.
And now, after reading Shower of Heavenly Roses, I am further impressed by St. Thérèse’s intercessory powers. The contributors have shared personal stories of dedication (often lifelong) to Thérèse. Over sixty stories prove that Thérèse, who died over 100 years ago, is still very much a contemporary saint and a spiritual companion to many. People of all ages and backgrounds continue to turn to her, and to pray to her, for healing and guidance. Miracles of both small signs received, and life-changing events, have been curated by the author. People prayed to Thérèse in times of joy and happiness, and in times of sorrow, hopelessness, and uncertainty. All felt that their prayers were answered in some way. Thérèse believed that God would grant her special efficacy from heaven on behalf of those for whom she prayed. And these inspirational stories give us hope and offer opportunities to trust in the intercessory power of St. Thérèse.
By Vicki Schmidt, Women Before God Community, Springfield, IL
I first met Anne in 2004 at a meeting of Theresians of the United States (TUS) in Phoenix. Anne wasn’t serving in leadership but was there to help provide hospitality at the home of Kathleen Karol in Glendale. The board was holding a quarterly meeting there. I knew right away that Anne would be a great leader and I invited her to consider joining the TUS board the following year. Anne was particularly interested in the early discussions about the process we had begun to discern if TUS and TWM should merge into one Theresian organization.
Within just a few years, Anne was serving in leadership and she willingly shared her gifts in leadership. Anne impressed everyone with whom she engaged. Having been a former Notre Dame Sister and a teacher, Anne brought to the table great organizational and communication skills. She held a deep understanding of consensus decision making. I believe Anne taught Sharon Benson’s children in Phoenix and had wonderful memories of those years.
As the TUS and TWM boards moved slowly toward making a final discernment about merging into one organization, Anne was serving on the TUS board 2005-2007 and then was called to serve as President of the new organization named Theresians International (TI) in 2008. It was a stressful time and Anne’s leadership kept us on task and moving forward by firmly establishing a new board of directors to lead the ministry of Theresians. For the sake of continuity, those serving on the first TI board were asked to serve two consecutive terms so the board could continue working toward projects that were essential for the board to move forward. Anne served on the TI board until 2012.
Celebrating Our Story (COS) was a workshop which Anne helped to create in order to help members understand the amazing journey of the Theresian organization. She wanted to celebrate our story! The workshop was circulated within the USA, Ghana, and the Philippines. A new paradigm was in place after the merger of TUS and TWM. During this time, Anne lost her husband, Murph, who was the love of her life. Yet she persisted in completing the calendar of commitments we had scheduled.
In 2010, Anne and Kathy Scott from New Iberia, LA journeyed to Ghana to present the Celebrating Our Story workshop. The women in Ghana were thrilled to welcome them. They visited all nine communities in Accra and Kumasi. Kathy said this about Anne’s presentation of the workshop. “True to form, Anne presented an excellent workshop. She was spent at the end of the day...used up in service for the Lord and for Theresians. We have a treasure in her.”
In June, 2014, Anne assisted the USA NLT Spirituality Committee in writing a new resource on the Five Dimensions. Holy Newness and the Five Dimensions developed under Anne’s direction. The document they presented for publication received high praise from members and it is still an important resource for every member and community in 2023.
Anne and I surprised each other each year with a new book in the field of spirituality. We would read them together and then spend time talking about the teaching and how it could apply to Theresians. We were particularly taken by the writing of Margaret Wheatley and the work of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. Co-founder Sr. Nancy Sylvester, IHM spoke at the international conference in Ghana in 2012.
In the early years of the formation of TI, it was Anne who led us to reflect and discern that this body of women, Theresians, would be a “partnership of equals.” No one would stand before, no one stands behind, we all stand together. It may sound like a simple statement, but it was this theme that opened the hearts of women in international leadership to fully embrace each of our sisters in the eight countries within Theresians. Anne played a significant role in guiding TI in its earliest days, 2008-2012. She reminded us often of a quote from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”
Anne will always be known for her generous distribution of silver bracelets that had her favorite words engraved, “Embrace the Journey.” Many Theresians will remember exactly where they were when they received her gift of love. Rita Freeman from Reflections Community in Fort Bend, TX shared with me just the other day that she was so touched when Anne sent her a bracelet after her son was killed in a tragic car accident. It meant so much to Rita; she treasures it.
Anne was a friend and mentor to her former students who still reached out to her as did Theresians around the world. I will always be grateful for her presence during my term with Theresians. We shared conversations and processed questions, all focused on the furtherance of this ministry and the support of existing communities. As I write the history of Theresians from 1999-2021, there are hundreds of outstanding women who were extremely generous with their time. Today let us recognize Anne for all she accomplished during her time with Theresians. May the seeds Anne planted continue to become fruitful.
Please join me in thanking God for the gift of Anne Murphy, a loving Theresian sister who journeyed with us faithfully and made a difference with the offering of her life to us.
A poignant thought from her letter in early January telling us she was entering hospice, “God has a plan… not always clear day to day, so I find myself repeating: “All that I am, all that I have, and all that I am to become, I offer now to You”. I do not see it as an appointment with death, but a choice I have made to find the means to live each day to the fullest.”
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich, 14th Century English Mystic)
A Lenten Reflection
by Claire Mueller, Espiritu Community, Houston, TX
Last Sunday, I was asked by a friend to attend her girls' confirmation class with them. It was a meeting that sponsors were supposed to attend, but neither of their sponsors could go, so I was a stand-in. The priest shared a beautiful poem entitled "I Would Like to Rise Very High," by French priest and author, Michael Quoist. In the poem, the author wishes he could "borrow" God's eyes and describes what he would see from such a vantage point.
This is what really caught my attention and what I have been praying about as we begin Lent.
"I would understand that nothing is secular, neither things, nor people, nor events.
But that, on the contrary, everything has been made sacred in its origin by God"
What a very beautiful and profound thought that “nothing is secular.” Everything is of God, by God, and from God. When I see a beautiful tree just beginning to bud, I feel like it is easy to see a work of God. I can easily recognize the hand of God when I share a special time with family. These moments of beauty move me to gratitude. However, can I see the handiwork of the Lord in an unexpected delay in a project or in a disagreement with a friend? What a challenge it is to see the not pretty parts of my life as also sacred and a gift. Yet, when I reflect on this idea, I can bring to mind many times when what was thought to be a burden turned out to be a blessing.
This Lenten season, I am going to try to hold in my heart and mind that nothing is secular and that all is sacred. I will try to remember how so often hurts and obstacles are transformed by God into beauty and blessing.
I pray for each of you a holy and blessed Lent!