In his second "guest column," Brother Joseph Schmidt, FSC reflects on the response of the young religious with whom he works in Kenya to the prayer of St. Thérèse of Lisieux:
The educational system of Kenya has been greatly influenced, as one might expect, by the experience of colonization. Many of the details of the current system are remnants of the late 19th-century British educational approach and are based on the lecture method. Children in elementary and secondary classes are asked to respond by rote memorization, and there is little emphasis on experiential learning, personal responses, or creative, exploratory thinking.
The same is true with religious education. The result is that young religious and seminarians who are in the process of spiritual formation at the college level think of spiritual development as linked to rote memorization. An experiential, exploratory approach or creative, reflective thinking have been given little emphasis as part of spiritual growth.
When I suggest that one of the characteristics of Thérèse’s spirituality is that she learned from her own experience, students are surprised and fascinated I try to point this out especially with regard to her understanding of prayer.
Thérèse described her private, personal prayer as including a cry of recognition (gratitude) and of love, embracing both trial and joy. The students are surprised when I mention that some of the time Thérèse prayed by simply noticing and welcoming as God’s will the time of suffering as well as the time of enjoyment in her life.
The students have usually thought of praying as reciting memorized prayers or prayers from a book. They regard praying not as exploring and welcoming the experiences of their life but mostly as petitioning. They have not considered that prayer can simply be the prayer of being willing to discover the truth of what God is saying to us in our daily experiences of pain and joy.
Thérèse learned this form of prayer mostly from her own experience. She knew it was true prayer because she trusted that accepting and appreciating her life, as she was held in the arms of God, was all that was asked of her. She remarked once that Jesus does not demand great actions from us, but simply surrender and gratitude. That was her fundamental spirit as she prayed. She knew also that from the position of being embraced by God, she could best respond with whatever action, great or small, was required of her to fulfill God’s will at each moment.
Thérèse’s teaching on prayer has been a great help to young religious and seminarians in Kenya and can be a help to our prayer as well.
Brother Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC
Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC is a lecturer, spiritual director, and pastoral counselor. For many years he was on the staff of the international sabbatical center, Sangre de Cristo, Santa Fe, NM, USA. During the last years he has focused his interest on St. Thérèse of Lisieux. He has written three books about St. Therese and her spirituality.