Our community encounter continued this morning with a (too-long!) presentation on "Emotional Intelligence." It related in many ways with the chapters I read last night from a fine book on St Therese of Lisieux: Everything Is Grace: The Life and Way of Therese of Lisieux. (Sr Patricia, my co-novice, is one of our community St. Therese experts; she loaned me the book while I am in Boston.) I got to the part about the grace of her complete spiritual conversion at age 13. That is an aspect of the saint's life that I never quite "got." The book really helped me grasp the significance of that episode, and in some ways I find it gives me an insight into today's saint, Martha, as well.
As a child, Therese unquestioningly responded to her feelings (especially the perception of disapproval) by becoming almost hysterically mournful at not measuring up to the other's desires. Hers was the role of the baby in the family, and she always fulfilled it. But deep down, there was the need to please others, to assure their approval and guarantee her own security, her "place."
But that Christmas Eve, she was awakened to what was happening; how this was making everything around her, all the people and events that even casually touched her life, function as if in view of herself. And the grace of conversion did not mean that those thoughts and feelings were suddenly erased or redirected; it was that she, at age 13, discovered, accepted and used the gift of her own freedom to will to respond to those same situations from the standpoint of gift: she would not seek Therese's good standing, reputation or security, but--being secure in Jesus' love for her and his unfailing presence--she would take the matter in hand and respond for the good of the other. And so when she went back downstairs, her concern was to uplift and delight her father's tired heart. She sought his greater good and not her own immediate emotional gratification (which was so typically her reaction that big sister Celine had run up the stairs after her to console and soothe her, and was quite surprised to see that Therese had not dissolved into her usual despairing tears).
Therese received a Christmas gift of a new interpretive framework from which to experience, process and respond to life's situations, and she accepted the de-centering of her own ego that this involved. From then on, people and events did not orbit the Planet Therese; Therese joined the planetary system and learned how to use her own gravitational influence to the benefit of others and not to draw them to herself, responding in, with and like Christ.
In TOB terms, Therese learned that "man can only find himself through a sincere gift of self."