A Suitable Sign…Getting to Know Saint Thérèse

Grand Tetons“Look, in six months, I am going to graduate and I will need to start making some big decisions. I need to know what you want me to do with my life. If you want me to be a religious, you’ve got six months.”

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When I was first introduced to Saint Thérèse as a young adult, I did not like her. She seemed to be enshrined in such a cloud of saccharine sweetness, scattering roses of every shade with each step, that I was positive that she and I would never be friends. I didn’t mind if others wanted to pray her novenas and I rejoiced with friends who received a rose from her but none of that for me, thank you very much. As it turned out, Saint Thérèse had her own ideas about this relationship that I was so opposed to.

During college I took a year off to serve for a year as a missionary to the youth of the United States. Part of a team of young adults that would travel to parishes throughout the country, I got sick a few weeks into our ministry. Not just a cold or a flu, but a virus that promised to knock me flat for months. I continued to travel with the team for a while but wasn’t able to do much more than pray and offer it up for my teammates and for the young people. During those weeks of helplessness and “uselessness,” our Lord convinced me that the teens we were serving needed so much more than a few hours of talks and fellowship. They needed our prayers and our sacrifices, they needed us to offer up our suffering for them. So that is what I did.

Next thing I knew, my supervisor wrote asking, “have you ever heard of Saint Thérèse?” She proceeded to share a quote from Story of a Soul that spoke directly to my situation. Then another friend wrote to me about Saint Thérèse and someone we met in the parish brought her up. Wherever I turned, people were telling me about her. To tell the truth, I felt like she was stalking me! I couldn’t avoid her. Finally, I capitulated and sat down to read Story of a Soul. I must admit, my main intention was to marshal all the reasons she and I would not be friends. Well, long story short, I was ambushed by grace and found one of my truest friends through the pages of her manuscripts. But friendship was only the first step in her relationship with me, she wanted more.

During my senior year of college, I began to seriously discern my vocation. Sometime in November, I told Jesus, “Look, in six months, I am going to graduate and I will need to start making some big decisions. I need to know what you want me to do with my life. If you want me to be a religious, you’ve got six months.”

No joke, I gave God a deadline. Now, I am not the type who asks for signs so I proceeded to discern this question in very practical, concrete, rational ways. I visited several communities, I joined a discernment group at school, I talked to a spiritual director, and I prayed. Over Easter break, I was invited to visit a community of women religious in the Midwest. Pretty sure that I did not have a vocation to their community, I visited anyways thinking that a “no” there might make a “yes” somewhere else clearer.

It took the better part of a day to drive to their Motherhouse and as we drew nearer, it became clear that we were not going to arrive in time to pray evening prayer with the community. Sitting in the front seat of that packed mini-van, watching the minutes on the dashboard clock tick by, wishing I could make the sister behind the wheel drive a little faster, I realized that the one desire of my heart was to be in that Chapel praying the Divine Office in community. It was a moment of grace, a moment when I recognized that being a sister resonated deep in my heart.

During the week I stayed with the sisters, I spent some time talking with their Novice Directress. I now felt sure that I was called to religious life but I was equally certain that it was not to their community. However, I could not explain how I knew, and Sister pressed me to identify what spirituality I felt called to if not to theirs. “Are you Dominican? Franciscan? Carmelite?” Miserable, all I could say was “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

That evening in the Chapel, I wailed to Jesus in prayer, “I don’t even know what spirituality I am!” As we started the Divine Office, I told Him, “Look, I have never asked you for a sign and I am not asking for one now. I am not even asking you to show me what Community you want me to join. But can you at least tell me what spirituality I am?” The sisters chanted evening prayer around me and all the psalms seemed to echo my confusion and distress.

During a few moments of silence there was a loud noise over in the corner of the chapel and at that moment it was like a wind blew through my soul, sweeping all the turmoil away. Steeped in a sudden deep peace, I knew that I was Carmelite. Later, I went to the Novice Sacristan and asked her about the loud noise in the corner that had preceded the huge grace I had just received. She laughed and pointed to a large picture of Saint Thérèse perched on a little shelf. “The candle in front of Saint Thérèse exploded. Someone must have been praying for a sign.”

Saint Thérèse got her way. More than friends, now we are sisters in Carmel forever. Some people get roses, me, well, I got an exploding candle. Which, if you know me, is a pretty suitable sign.


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About the Author

Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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2 Comments

  1. My mother got a petal of a rose in her bedroom bathroom. I got a scent of roses in my bedroom while watching the story of the life of St. Therese on television. On both occasions we investigated if there was some earthly source of the rose and the scent or if there were some logical explanation as to why we got those. But lo and behold, there were no explanations this side of the universe that could explain why. Well, my mother and I were not asking for signs at that time, so I guess St. Therese wanted to visit us and remind us to devote more time to prayer. We both did, my mother and I. I think now she is very happy with the way things turned out.

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