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When Christians disappoint you, follow St. Therese’s example

woman praying in church with st. therese of lisieux

Milkovasa | Immaculate | Gorodenkoff | Shutterstock | Collage by Aleteia

Cecilia Pigg - published on 12/05/23

The next time a fellow parishioner or family member does something that offends or hurts you, St. Therese can show you how to keep the flame of love burning.
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“Why did you even bring him?! Just leave him at home!” an older gentleman made fiery eye contact and angrily hissed at me as I struggled past his pew on my way back from Communion with my young sons in tow. Already dealing with what had been a frustrating and long walk, I just kept moving and made it to the back of our church, rattled and sad.

It had turned out to be one of those Sundays. I was solo, wrangling my two-year-old and one-year-old, and we had spent most of Mass in the back of church. I had gently reminded my two-year-old that we were about to go to Communion, and that he needed to walk on his own because he is such a big boy now. He held my hand contentedly for a moment, but as we walked through the church doors, his mood changed drastically. “Noooooooo!” he protested loudly with tears starting to well in his eyes. “I don’t want this!” He proceeded to alternately cry, refuse to move, and protest loudly the whole way up to Communion and the whole way back.

I tried in vain to help my son calm down, but with my squirmy youngest in my arms, in addition to trying to keep moving forward in line, nothing worked. I considered just leaving the line and retreating to the back, but if I did that the line would be over, and I wouldn’t be able to receive Jesus. So, I kept going with my squirming little toddler and my screaming big toddler — creating a scene every step of the way.

From anger to peace

As I sat in the back after the whole incident my first reaction was anger. “What was he thinking?! If you feel like you need to hiss at someone during Mass, that’s a sign you should just keep your mouth shut! Does he think I wasn’t already embarrassed enough?! Gosh!” But then, I took a deep breath and started to pray for him. I changed my inner monologue to dialoguing with Jesus about it and thought, “Who knows what is going on in his life, and maybe he was hoping the peace and quiet of Mass would be a healing balm — and then he was that much more disappointed when my screechy kids walked by him, ruining the little stability he had left.”

I tried to reframe the situation to understand him, and his needs, instead of wallowing in my discomfort and hurt. And you know what? It worked. I felt at peace and just shook off the experience as one more memorable day in the life of having small children. I have St. Therese to thank for that. She has helped teach me how to handle it when the Christians I encounter (including those in my own family) disappoint or hurt me.

A life-changing grace

St. Therese shares a moment of pain in chapter five of Story of a Soul when she was hurt by her father’s words, but then received the grace to overcome the hurt. She was a very sensitive 13-year-old, and it was Christmastime. She had overheard her father remarking in annoyance “Well, fortunately, this will be the last year!” when he saw that her shoes were out waiting for presents by the fireplace. Her eyes filled with tears, but she then received a pivotal and life-changing grace to overcome her hurt and turn it into service. She explains it, “I felt charity enter into my soul, and the need to forget myself and to please others; since then, I’ve been happy!”

Pope Francis recently promulgated an apostolic exhortation on St. Therese called C’est la Confiance. In it, he describes how St. Therese discovers the heart of the Church. He writes, “This discovery of the heart of the Church is also a great source of light for us today. It preserves us from being scandalized by the limitations and weaknesses of the ecclesiastical institution with its shadows and sins and enables us to enter into the Church’s “heart burning with love,” which burst into flame at Pentecost thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is that heart whose fire is rekindled with each of our acts of charity” (41).

Keeping the flame of love alive

Replace “ecclesiastical institutions” with “our fellow Christians” and you have another way to look at handling disappointment. Jesus’ heart burning with love overshadows all of the pain we cause each other. Plus, our acts of love and charity help keep that flame of love alive and burning. My proactive acts of love and charity help when the shoe is on the other foot, and I cause pain and frustration to my fellow Christians through my own sinfulness and negligence. I hope others will pray for me when I fail them!

So, next time a fellow parishioner, or a parent or sibling, does something that offends you or hurts you, keep the flame of love burning. Turn the pain into an act of charity ala St. Therese. St. Therese, pray for us!

Parish lifeSpiritualityTherese of Lisieux
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