Saint Thérèse of Lisieux – for whom hell on earth was a training ground for heaven! This post has some pointers on prayer!
If I remember the story correctly, Saint Thérèse heard about some criminal, a bit of an atheist, who was to be executed the following day. She told Jesus that she would pray for him, but wanted to know the results. The saints are pretty straightforward and bold with such things. Pray she did. She was plunged into the depths of despair, that is, the horror of spirit one would know if one’s eyes were opened enough to see what it means to be apart from God and facing an eternity of hell. Little Thérèse remained looking to the Lord in the midst of this hell, offering this up for the fellow about to die. The newspaper the following day after recounted how this fellow repented and turned to God in his last moments, having hope now of going to heaven.
An essential spiritual principle is that we NEVER carry the cross of another, and this is NOT what Saint Thérèse was doing here. She was just noticing more of what she herself would be like if she herself were to be without the grace of God. She remained in the grace of God, and the union of this prayer in such circumstances offered for this other fellow was an intercession that was very powerful.
I would go so far as to say that no spiritual growth is possible without the Lord providing that such union with Him acts as an intercession for others in ways that only He knows. He is always working on us, in this way and that, for our good, and the good of all. We are one in Him, He the Head, we the members. We help each other out. But there is no transference of rubbish! Let me repeat that: there is no transference of rubbish! The Lord draws us to Himself.
We are trained in with this soul and that, and the Lord continues until we can ever so weakly embrace the whole mystical Body of Christ. The Immaculate Conception did this perfectly. The sword of sorrow piercing her Heart under the Cross proves this. It’s awesome, really, all this, with our Lady, and with Thérèse and with all of us, for we are all being trained in for heaven in this way by our Lord, whose burden is light, if we only continue to look to Him.
By the way, I wouldn’t offer to pray for anyone in the way Saint Thérèse did, offering this to the Lord, without the direct input and guidance of a spiritual director. Saint John the Evangelist even says that he doesn’t say that we have to pray for that kind of thing. It’s a bit dangerous for us to do the offering. The Lord will always provide, don’t worry. He will always provide.
I’d like to make a wildly ferocious and yet loose paraphrase of a few sentences she’s written in her autobiography, about a third of the way through. This girl is braver than all the fires of hell, quite literally. Let me explain…
She’s probably not feeling too well when she wrote these sentences. After all, she died very, very young of tuberculosis, spitting up blood and all that gory stuff. Anyway, she wrote that there were thoughts from hell continuously in her head, making her think that there is no merciful God, that there is no heaven. Pretty bad, that. She didn’t want those thoughts. She’s a good girl. At the same time as she was having those continuous thoughts, at the same time — that’s important to understand her greatness — at the same time she saw, as it were, at a distance, our Lord, Who had a good grip on her soul and was drawing her to Himself… at the same time as all that hell was going on. She wrote that since all the hell was going on at the same time, this recognition of the Lord at the same time did not give her a jump up and down for joy kind of experience, but rather a peace adequate to go on. NOT an overwhelming peace — for all that hell was still going on — but a peace adequate to go on. She kept looking to our Lord Jesus no matter what, no matter what.
Why all that? Actually, we’re blind to all that, we who have not progressed in the spiritual life. We need to get to know all that, either here, or in purgatory. Why? Because we have to know the hell from which our Lord saved us. If we do not know this, we cannot have the joy in heaven of thanking Him, for we won’t know what to thank Him for. So, hell on earth is a training ground for heaven. That’s our Lord working with us with all justice and mercy and charity and truth. What great irony, an irony of love, with which we can be hidden with Christ in God, no matter what, no matter what.
This great Carmelite saint is a patron of Holy Souls Hermitage because of all that she has taught me about prayer and looking to Jesus, to the Holy Suffering Face of His Passion, to His wonderful childlike union with His Heavenly Father. I’m a terribly bad student of hers, but I think she’s patient with me, with all of us. And that’s good!