Happy Feast Day St. Therese!

For those of you who have been with my for a while, you know that I have been completely changed by my experience reading Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul. In honor of her feast day, here are a few resources to help you teach about this amazing Doctor of the Church: a talk I gave to my middle schoolers last year, some reviews of books about St. Therese and a link to some resources in my TPT store. Happy Feast Day, Therese!

Book reviews:
Summer Spirituality Series: Story of a Soul
Summer Spirituality Series: The Way of Trust and Love
Summer Spirituality Series: Praying with Therese of Lisieux

TPT links:
Living the Beatitudes: features Therese and 7 other saints with multiple worksheets and activities
Oh When the Saints: multiple saint research activities and games for All Saints and beyond

And the talk from our back to school retreat last year:

The Little Way of Holiness

There’s a quote from Mother Teresa that I’ve seen many times and in many places.  “I cannot do great things,” Mother Teresa said. “I can only do small things with great love.”  While I find this quote super inspiring, I also struggle a little bit with it. If you know anything about Mother Teresa, you know that she did do great things.  She completely changed the world. But Mother Teresa’s words are still true, and they are a great illustration of the topic I am going to be speaking about, which is the little way of holiness that St. Therese of Lisieux lived and taught. 

We’ve already heard about who St. Therese was and how she lived, first in a tight knit family of sisters, then in a convent of sisters for the last 9 years of her life.  Aside from her trip to Rome, Therese in many ways lived a very small life- literally, she only lived until 24 and she never left the convent grounds once she entered them at 15.  It was on her trip to Rome that she saw something that would inspire her teachings of the “little way”. Here’s what she wrote in her autobiography, Story of a Soul.

Instead of being discouraged, I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realised, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. I have sought to find in Holy Scripture some suggestion as to what this lift might be which I so much desired, and I read these words uttered by the Eternal Wisdom Itself: “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me.”[4] Then I drew near to God, feeling sure that I had discovered what I sought.

Already I find it encouraging that Therese’s spirituality is inspired by such an ordinary thing: an elevator! She and her sister saw these for the first time on their trip to Rome and thought they were the coolest thing. It seems so relatable to me to think of the elevator as a way of skipping the hard ways to perfection: heroic martyrdom or great deeds. Therese wasn’t afraid to ask God for a different way to reach her goal.

The first step to Therese’s little way is this: think small.  Instead of worrying about all the big things you can’t do, instead find the small things that you can do. Therese tells a story of her first years in the convent.  She was very young and had been very spoiled in her life before becoming a sister. One of her first jobs was to sweep, and she received a lot of criticism from the other sisters for her lack of ability in what were pretty normal chores.  Instead of worrying about it, Therese made sweeping a way that she could show her love to the people criticizing her.

The next step to the little way is the one that gives me the most hope: know that you can’t be perfect.  In middle school, you have a lot of pressure on you. Our school is an academically challenging school. Some of you are facing big pressure from family and friends to get certain grades, do well in certain sports or have certain friends and attitudes.  The good news from St. Therese is: you can’t be perfect. Even the people you look at and think, “Oh, they’re perfect, they have it so easy,” aren’t perfect. In some ways, letting go of trying to be perfect can feel like giving up, but it’s not. Letting go of being perfect is being free to let God do big things in your life. 

Another way Therese lived her little way of holiness was to never let people know that she found them irritating.  Living in close quarters with a small community of women for nine years wasn’t easy for her, and there was one sister who Therese really struggled to get along with.  She found everything about this nun annoying, so she made a special effort to be extra nice to her. After Therese died, the nuns were talking about her, and the super annoying nun said that of course it was hard for everyone, but Therese had been especially close to her, so of course it was harder.  Therese had hidden her irritation and been so kind that the sister had no idea that Therese struggled so much. 

 Part of the little way of holiness is to not draw attention to the small ways you are trying to spread love.  This is hard for me. It was hard for Therese. It’s natural to want to be acknowledged for doing the right thing and for being extra kind, but that’s not why we need to do the right thing.  We need to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, and I promise people will notice. Therese became a saint in record time because people read her book and did notice.

Holiness is hard.  When you are trying your best to be holy, people often misunderstand you or judge you.  I was 12 years old when I had an experience that completely changed my life. My class was praying in front of the blessed sacrament when all of the sudden, I knew- really knew- that Jesus was there.  Jesus loved me! It was something I had always been told and always known, but in that moment I had a powerful experience of God’s love. I started to sob, which as you can probably guess is super embarrassing in a quiet church filled with all your friends.  When I tried to describe what was happening to my teachers, they thought I was crazy, all except for one. My friends thought that I was making the whole thing up to get attention. But that day in front of the Eucharist was real, and it’s part of the reason why I want you all to have a chance to meet Jesus in the Eucharist.  

Therese’s small community couldn’t always understand what God was doing in her life, but the ones who could saw that it was something big.  In your walk towards holiness, expect that others won’t always understand what God is doing in your life.

This last part of the little way is the part that isn’t super fun to think about.  Holiness is often accompanied by suffering. Therese suffered in many different ways.  She was lonely being the youngest nun in the order. Her father suffered from a really intense physical and  mental illness before he died, and this was incredibly painful for Therese and her sisters. Therese also died a drawn out and painful death from tuberculosis.  When you are trying to be holy, God knows what you can handle and you often have to handle some pretty difficult things.

But to end on a more positive note, even when holiness seems too hard or out of reach, you can always start small.  I know it can be a little scary, but I really want you to try to close your eyes and listen to this song. Use this as a time of prayer and reflection on the Little Way of Holiness.

Play “Dream Small” by Josh Wilson. *

So, to wrap up, remember the parts of the Little Way of Holiness:
Think Small.
Remember that you can’t be perfect.
Do kind acts in a way where you won’t receive attention.
Holiness is hard and often accompanied by suffering.

If you are already on the road to holiness, that’s awesome- recommit to that path today.  If holiness is a new endeavor for you, remember that you can do small things with great love every single day.

*The song link and the link to Story of a Soul are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase this song or the book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: Hildegard of Bingen, a Spiritual Reader

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I’m a little ashamed to admit that before last summer I had no idea who Hildegard of Bingen even was. I was organizing a saint peg doll swap focused on the Doctors of the Church, and in my research came across the fact that there are only four female doctors of the Church. Three I was familiar with: Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux. The fourth was Hildegard, a ground breaking writer, leader, naturalist, musician, artist and more. She was born in 1098 in Germany and she lived for 81 years. She founded monasteries, advised kings and Popes and is an incredible example of a woman with power for any feminist, Catholic or not.

Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader* by Carmen Acevedo Butcher is a great introduction to this spiritual giant. The book gives a brief biography of Hildegard, followed by selections from her songs, Scivias, Play of the Virtues, letters, Physica, The Book of Life’s Merits, and The Book of Divine Works. At times when reading the plays and naturalist papers she wrote I felt a bit like a college student again- and I will admit, my Medieval literature class was not my favorite part of being an English majoy. But I loved the songs so very much. Butcher’s translations are beautiful and the poetry is amazing.

I enjoyed that no section of this book was terribly long. Even the parts that were denser in terms of prose style moved quickly into the next set of writings. And Hildegard was so good at writing so many different things that there is something for everyone in this book. Her writing is inspiring to pray with, interesting to read and breaks many of the “rules” of literature at her time.

This book would be great for anyone who likes poetry or drama. The plays are fun to read in terms of the history and style. They show a lot about what plays were like in Medieval times. It’s also a great book for people who want to read about strong women. Hildegard’s spirituality and feminism seem way ahead of her time. I love her vision of women in the Church.

Popcorn Rating: 3. Depending on what you like to read, different parts of this book will be easier or harder to get through. I flew through the songs because I loved the poetry and found it uplifting and inspiring. The naturalist papers and the letters were a little slower for me, but a history buff would probably really enjoy those parts.

Stars: 5. I loved that this book helped me grow spiritually and also helped me learn more about history and literature. I really enjoyed reading literature in the midst of all the YA fiction I read for school.

*This is an affiliate link. This means if you purchase the book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: Praying with Therese of Lisieux

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you use my link to purchase a book I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

It was the ultimate Goodwill find: in one trip, Praying with Therese of Lisieux, collected writings of Hildegard of Bingen, and a book about Our Lady of Fatima*, one of my favorite Marian apparitions. I brought all three home, ready to start my quest to learn more about Mary and the female Doctors of the Church. So far I’ve worked my way through the two about Therese and Hildegard, and I’ve just started the one about Fatima.

Praying with Therese of Lisieux by Joseph F. Schmidt was published as part of the Companions for the Journey Series by the Word Among Us. Unfortunately most of the rest of the series is out of print, which was disappointing, because I would have liked to try out the books featuring the other female Doctors of the Church that the series had. But the book on Therese is still available online, as are several other books by Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC. I am looking forward to checking these out.

The book is set up with a little bit of background on St. Therese at the beginning, followed by 15 meditations from her writings. Each meditation is set up with a theme, opening prayer, story from Therese’s life, some of Therese’s words from her writings, a small reflection, numerous ideas for personal prayer, then a scripture and closing prayer. This sounds like a lot and it is. I normally do my prayer and reflection in the mornings before my household is up, and there were several times I had to spread this all throughout the day in order to do it. I did really like all the prayer suggestions, especially because I am a journaler. I felt like there were many ideas I could think about and write about as part of my prayer.

Because there are fifteen meditations and because of their length, this book would make a great retreat for a group or an individual. I used this book during our school’s winter break, which gave me an uninterrupted two weeks to do one meditation per day without all the extra things I would be doing during work. I could see this book being a nice resource on a vacation when the pace of life is a little slower.

This book would make a great gift for someone going through RCIA or about to be confirmed. It would be an excellent resource for a spirituality group or provide a structure for a retreat based on St. Therese.

Popcorn Rating: 3. Because the lengths and topics vary from meditation to meditation, some days of using this book were easier than others. I got a lot out of all the meditations regardless of ease.

Stars: 4. The only reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars is that sometimes the meditations were too long and detailed to fit my daily life. But the content and organization were great, and the author clearly knows a lot about St. Therese and loves her. I am looking forward to reading his other books.

*The links to books in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase a book using my link, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: Theology of Home

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I had seen the book Theology of Home * all over my instagram feed for months and was drawn to it for several reasons. First of all, the photography for the book is beautiful. Second, especially since having a house of my own and having children, I’ve been looking for ways to build the domestic church. Now during this extended time of quarantine (our county has been locked down since March 16th), my home is more than ever our family’s church. I want to make sure that my home and its physical space lead my family closer to Jesus every day. When a student gave the book to me as a gift, I was thrilled!

The book is set up as a series of essays by several Catholic women: Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber. The photography is the work of Kim Baile. The essays are collected into 12 chapters: Entering, Remembering, Building, Light, Nourishment, Safety, Order, Comfort, Hospitality, Balance, Leaving, and Mary, the Homemaker. The photos of these women’s houses are incredibly aspirational. Even though I knew that no family with four to six children keeps a house that clean and that they were definitely staged for photos, I struggled a little with the perfection in these pages. None of the essays dealt with my piles of laundry in the living room or inability to keep our table clear of all sorts of junk.

Look at the end pages!

If you love decorating magazines, this is a good book for you. It’s beautiful and uplifting, but it didn’t hold the practical ideas that I had hoped it would. I am a huge fan of self-help, and for some reason I thought this might be a little more like Catholic self help for the home. That being said, I want to reread the essays with a notebook and keep track of the ideas or decorating that I want to try in my own home. The first time I just read the book straight through.

I think this book would make a great gift for newly weds or friends who have just bought a house. I would hesitate to give it to a brand new mom because those first months and years are so hard and this book makes it look a little easy.

Popcorn rating: 5. This book is easy and relaxing to read. It will inspire you to clean your house and hang some art. My three year old even liked reading it with me.

Stars: 4. I wanted things to be more specific and practical for my reality, which I realize was not the purpose of the book, but it was my hope for the book. However, it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a while, and I think that counts for a few stars of its own.

*this is an affiliate link. This means that if you purchase the book using my link, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: Wrap Up

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Thanks for following along with my summer spirituality series. This will be the last post in the series, so it’s just a recap of the books in list form, with links for where to buy them and links back to the original posts. In August I’m going to be posting about getting my room and lessons ready while my entire school is a construction zone.

Here are all the books I reviewed this summer:

Interior Freedom by Father Jacques Phillippe, which you can read about here.

Forget Not Love by Andre Frossard, which you can read about here.

A Man of the Beatitudes by Luciana Frassati, which you can read about here.

Esther by Beth Moore, which you can read about here.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen, which you can read about here.

Beautiful Mercy by Matthew Kelly, which you can read about here.

Story of a Soul by Saint Therese of Lisieux, which you can read about here.

Ponder by Elizabeth Foss, which you can read about here.

Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim, which you can read about here.

Call Me Blessed by Elizabeth Foss, which you can read about here.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which you can read about here.

Thanks so much for reading and thank you to everyone who purchased books using my links- this helps me to keep offering content for teachers and students for free. Thanks again and stay tuned for some great back to school topics including classroom culture and retreat topics and talks. Have a great rest of the summer!

Summer Spirituality Series: Call Me Blessed

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I’ve written before about my small community of women who meet to study God’s word with me. While the numbers fluctuate and members come and go, this group has been one of the greatest sources of spiritual nourishment for me in the last four years. So when I found Call Me Blessed by Elizabeth Foss and her ministry of Take Up and Read, I knew my group had to try it.

This book was set up a lot like Ponder, which you can read about here. There are five days of study each week for a four week study. One day is a rest and check in day and one day for a memory verse. The five days of study each feature one woman of the Bible, her story in the scriptures, additional scriptures to deepen understanding, lectio divina templates, reflections from writers and quotes from John Paul II’s Dignity and Vocation of Women. So it’s a fair amount of time for each day of study, and sometimes the pacing of this book was too much for me. I wanted nearly twice the time to study each woman.

I really liked the format of some of the pages, so I am including pictures in a review for the first time ever.

Popcorn Rating: 3. Some days there was a lot more to think about and do than others, and the lack of depth on certain Biblical women made some days go quickly.
Stars: 3. I loved the layout of the book and the style, but some of the character choices were confusing. For example, in the story of Jairus’s daughter, the book focused on her instead of the hemorrhaging woman, who has much more to say and do than Jairus’s daughter.

Summer Spirituality Series: Super Girls and Halos

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Last summer I wrote a post about My Badass Book of Saints by Maria Morera Johnson, which you can read here. Super Girls and Halos is Johnson’s second saint book, which is organized very much like the first one, but with a twist. In this book she matches up inspiring saints with strong fictional women from popular culture. There are four sections to the book, one for each of the cardinal virtues: temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. Each section has two chapters featuring two women each.

I wanted to love this book, just like I wanted to love the one before, but there were a few things that I struggled with. For one, Johnson spends A LOT of time on her analysis of the characters in pop culture. It reminds me of friends who really want you to like D and D so they keep explaining and reexplaining how cool it is. Also, at times I felt like she loved the character but had struggled to find a saint to match. Some of her saint stories seemed flat compared to her character sketches. That being said, this book was super interesting to my students- two borrowed it and actually read it during the year, which is more than I can say about any other saint book I have in my classroom. And even if I felt there could be more about the saints, she picked some really great powerhouse women to highlight.

The saints and character match ups are as follows:
Justice: Wonder Woman and Katharine Drexel; Rey and Claire of Assisi
Prudence: Black Widow and Mary Magdalene; Dana Scully and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Fortitude: Storm and Cunegunde; Hermione Granger and Margaret d’Youville
Temperence: Katniss Everdeen and Mary MacKillop; Nyota Uhura and Kateri Tekakwitha

Popcorn Factor: 3. I got really bogged down in the Wonder Woman chapter.
Stars: 3.5 Again, the saint stories were great, but I felt the balance was slightly off.

Summer Spirituality Series: Ablaze

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When our former assistant pastor Father Peter was in the seminary, he was placed at our school for a semester to see what it would be like to serve in a church that also had a thriving school community. The students loved him immediately, and I discovered another person who seemed to love the saints as much as I did. One of the books he left for my classroom, (in addition to Peter Kreeft, who is clearly above most middle school reading levels) was Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints.

This book tells the stories of 8 beatified or canonized young people, some I was very familiar with, and some that were completely new stories for me. The saints are: Bl. Chiara Luce (Fr. Peter’s favorite), St. Maria Goretti, St. Teresa of the Andes, St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Alphonsa from India, St. Dominic Savio, St. Kizito, and Bl. Pedro from the Philippines. While I sometimes didn’t love the story telling style, I could see that it would definitely be appropriate for my students. Each chapter has reflection questions, and there are spaces for students to take notes. In places there are even movie suggestions.

By the end of the book, I loved the new saints I had learned about. I plan to read more about Blessed Chiara and Teresa of the Andes in particular. For my students, I would love for them to be able to reflect on the ways that these two normal teenage girls became saints. Chiara’s live changed on a retreat, when she decided she wanted to pursue her relationship with God above all else. But she was also completely average- she loved sports, and hanging out with friends. When it was clear that her cancer was terminal, she planned her own funeral as a wedding for when she would get to spend the rest of her life with Christ. I also love that she was alive for a short part of my own lifetime. With Teresa, I loved that she heard her call from God and pursued it, despite the fact that those closest to her couldn’t understand it at all.

I can see how this book could work well in a middle school or early high school classroom. Because there are 8 saints, I could see getting enough for small groups to use and highlighting one saint each month of the school year. You could also jump around the book and match the various saints to other teaching goals- the book does connect each saint to a virtue or character trait. It would also work well as a read aloud, maybe leading up to All Saints Day.

Popcorn factor: 5. I read the entire book in two days. It would definitely work for 2 to 3 days of class time if you broke it down by saint.
Stars: 3. I do want to note that I am not the intended audience for the book. For classroom use I would give it 4 stars, for adult spirituality it was light.

Summer Spirituality Series: Story of a Soul

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It all started with Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe. When my parents came to visit after I had my son, my dad gave me a copy, which I had great intentions of reading while on maternity leave, but I didn’t actually finish until a full year later. It was a book which completely transformed my spiritual life, which you can read about here.

At the end of last summer, when we were in the full swing of getting our classrooms ready and initial lesson planning done, I asked one of my pastors if I could meet with him to go over some ideas I had for my 8th grade religion class. We set a time, and when I realized I had a little time before the meeting, I slipped into the daily mass chapel at my parish where there was Eucharistic Adoration. During that time, I finished Interior Freedom and put the book in my bag so I could take some time to pray in thanksgiving for the incredible spiritual blessings I had received in reading it.

An even farther back piece of back story is this: I have always had a huge spiritual block about Saint Therese of Lisieux. In high school, all the extra holy girls in my very rigidly Catholic high school were always saying rose novenas to Saint Therese for “my future husband”. In a completely unfair and judgmental way, I subbed the spirituality of Saint Therese with the annoyance I felt for these girls.

But Father Jacques is incredibly influenced by Saint Therese and her wisdom is present throughout the entire book Interior Freedom. As I was sitting in adoration, I felt God pulling at my heart. Ok God, I thought. If you really want me to, I will read Story of a Soul. As you probably know, when you allow God to speak to you like this, he often moves fast. As I met Father Peter at the door, he greeted me and then asked, “Would you be interested in a group that reads Story of a Soul and then meets to discuss it?” At that point I couldn’t ignore God’s invitation any longer. I bought the book and read it. Unfortunately Father left our parish before the group could come together, but two friends joined me to read and discuss the book together.

So much has been written about Saint Therese that I don’t know if my review can really do her justice. She was the youngest of five sisters, all of whom became religious sisters, and most in the same order as Therese. Her parents are also canonized saints. Therese became a cloistered nun at 15 and died at 24, and in that time she was asked to write her life’s story out for various Mother Superiors of the Order. I expected that I would learn some valuable things from Therese. I mean, she is a Doctor of the Church. What I didn’t expect is to fall in love with a saint I had kept at a distance for so long based on a high school prejudice. But fall in love I did.

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:
I felt that there was a heaven, and that this heaven was peopled with souls who actually love me.
And my soul grew through contact with holy things.
My God! I choose all! I don’t want to be a saint by halves!
(This is recorded in the afterward, not written by Therese, but said as she was dying.) I will return! I will spend my heaven doing good on earth!

This book has certainly done me a world of good. Definitely read it. 🙂

Popcorn rating: 3. Because the book was written in French, sometimes the translation feels a bit awkward. Also, Therese has a beautiful melodramatic writing style with lots of italics and creative capitalization.
Stars: 5. Therese’s little way of growing closer to Christ is doable for everyone. She also has a great sense of humor about her shortcomings, which I always appreciate.

Summer Spirituality Series: Beautiful Mercy

This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase a book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Additional disclaimer: This book is also available on DynamicCatholic.com, where if you jump through some hoops you can get it for free. Their website is an amazing resource for Catholic teachers, students and anyone who wants to know more about Jesus.

Beautiful Mercy is a compilation of writings by spiritual powerhouses, including Pope Francis, Scott Hahn and Fr. Mike Schmitz. I think it was originally written to be read during Advent in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, but I read it just this year and really enjoyed it. I am also thinking of using pieces from it in my religion class next year.

The book is organized into the Spiritual and Corporeal Works of Mercy with short inspiring stories and essays for each one. I learned about a lot of inspiring people trying to make the world a better place through reading the short and manageable chapters. Some chapters were a bit of a stretch as the author wanted to talk about their area of expertise and then vaguely connect it to mercy, but others were really in depth looks at what actually living the works of mercy looks like for real people in the real world.

I am always looking for resources for my 8th grade religion class, especially as we no longer have a textbook. Some of the essays in here would be an easy read for them, while others could be more challenging. I also think that many Catholics don’t actually read what the Pope writes to us, and we should. Teaching them at 13 that they can handle reading some of the Pope’s wisdom will drastically improve their understanding of the Catholic Church. And besides, Pope Francis is pretty cool.

Another reason this would work well in classroom setting is because it also has lots of companion videos you can stream for free on DynamicCatholic.com. This would be a great resource for someone who commutes on public transit- you could pop your headphones in and learn more about your faith on the ride. I know my friend Corinne has used the videos with her sixth graders with a lot of success.

Popcorn Rating: 5. This book is nice and easy to read, and also easily divided into chunks if you wanted to use it as a daily devotional.
Stars: 3. Some of the articles were better than others.