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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

St. Therese and the side splitting laughter of the saints

St. Therese of Lisieux is one of the great witnesses to the joy God takes in his creatures. She was consecrated and completely abandoned to his mercy. Her faith was nourished on Christ's humility. Her heart explored beautiful depths of Christ's sorrowful passion that few plummet this life. But no one can deny that she also brimmed with jubilation, a joy which was always ready to break out into play. At least, this can be deduced from the words of those who knew her as a nun:

She is a little innocent thing to whom one would give Holy Communion without previous confession, but whose head is filled with tricks to be played on anyone she pleases. A mystic, a comediene, she is everything. She can make you shed tears of devotion, and she can just as easily make you split your sides with laugher during recreation." (Mother Marie de Gonzague, 1893, as cited by Bishop Guy Gaucher in The Passion of Therese of Lisieux, trans. Sr. Anne Marie Brennan, OCD, New York: Crossroads (1989, 1990), 239.)

We need more saints to both help us find those healing tears and, just as important, to make our sides split with laughter! G.K. Chesterton once pondered whether, when Christ went into solitude, He was not keeping a secret that He dared not disclose to the world or even his closest followers. I think this secret echoes in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Belloc, as well as today's Peter Kreeft and Eric Metaxas. St. Therese helps us see that this is also whispered in the lives of the saints, even if many of them were more successful than her in being discrete about it. All evidence suggests that she would plead guilty on this count. She could only complain that her joy did not allow her to hide the mystery of mirth revealed in that knowing smile that even now breaks across the Holy Face.

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