Did anyone else notice how many Teresas are connected to October? No matter how she is spelled, Therese or Teresa has a hold on this month. The month starts with St. Therese, the “Little Flower’s” feast on October 1; St. Teresa of Avila’s feast is October 15; and at least two others Teresas were beatified or canonized in October—Mother Teresa and St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, better known as St. Edith Stein. And books, including several newer titles, abound on these great holy women.
If you must choose only one book about the Teresas, make it Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux by Heather King. This is kind of a spiritual biography of St. Therese, and partly a memoir of King’s Catholic life. King is best known for her memoir Parched about her life recovering from an addition to alcohol, and Redeemed, chronicling her conversion to Catholicism.
Each chapter of Shirt of Flame is a month and a theme from Therese’s life—for instance, October’s theme is “The Story of A Soul (On Offering Up Our Work). “ You will see Therese in a deeper and different way after reading Shirt of Flame, and you yourself will be different. Consider this quote from July: The Little Way (On the Martyrdom of Everyday Life):
“We can try, at great personal sacrifice, to be perfectly righteous, a perfect friend, perfectly responsive, perfectly available, perfectly forgiving. But at the heart of our efforts must lie the knowledge that, by ourselves, we can do, heal, or correct nothing. The point is not to be perfect, but to “perfectly” leave Christ to do, heal, and correct in us what he wills.”
The end-of-chapter prayers (written by King) are worth the price of the book alone. The prayers, like the reflections throughout, help us learn from St. Therese about the brokenness in all of us, and how Christ is there, too.
Shirt of Flame had me noticing how similar were the spiritual darknesses of St. Therese and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Both experienced a dryness that persisted until the end of life, after times of consolation; both sought holiness through little actions. As Mother Teresa wrote to a spiritual director, “If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” Here, she deepens as she echoes St. Therese’s famous promise, “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.”
This Mother Teresa letter, and many others, are collected and organized by MC (Missionary of Charity) Father Brian Kolodiejchuk in 2007’s Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta.” The book is quite comprehensive, almost overwhelming at times, in its recounting of Mother’s retreats, letters and other assorted documents. Gems like the “saint of darkness” quote above, make it worthwhile.
A completely different, and much lighter, book, than either of the above, is the engaging new Mother Teresa and Me by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, about the author’s many encounters over the years with Mother Teresa, from a chance meeting in Washington, D.C., to a long-running correspondence. Each chapter is charmingly framed with a reprint of a letter Mother wrote to her.
Some of my favorite parts of Mother Teresa and Me: Blessed Teresa was fond of “express novenas,” (yes, that’s what Mother Teresa called them) saying the Memorare nine times in a row, instead of over the course of nine days. Who knew? As one who frequently forgets about mid-way through a novena, this has definite appeal to me. I also found Cooper O’Boyle’s memories of Fr. John Hardon, S.J. enlightening, and a nice addition to this volume.
This is my October column that appears in this weekend's Catholic Post. Come back all month long here at the book group blog for discussion on books about saints named Teresa, author interviews, and more.