Author offers insights into 'Little Flower's' life

Monday, March 20, 2017 - Updated: 12:00 pm
By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

We live in a culture that hungers for the extraordinary, said Dr. Susan Muto. But what we should really strive for is an appreciation for the treasures found in ordinary life. And we can find them by following the example of St. Therese of Lisieux.

“We won’t be the same if we live with the light of this remarkable saint and doctor of the church,” she said.

Muto, executive director of the Epiphany Association in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood, touched on the gifts of the “Little Flower” March 13 during the first of three Lenten presentations at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Munhall. The presentations will follow the steps outlined in her recent book, “Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart: Lessons in Holiness and Evangelization from St. Therese of Lisieux. The final two sessions are set for March 20 and 27.

A renowned teacher, author and speaker, Muto is also dean of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality. In noting that St. Therese died at age 24, Muto said that she gets “goosebumps” when recalling that someone so young was not only canonized but is one of only four women doctors of the church.

“We are in the presence of truth when we are with Therese,” she said.

While she has taught on the other three doctors — St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Hildegard of Bingen — Muto said it is hard not to fall in love with St. Therese. We shouldn’t think about her in sentimental or emotional terms, Muto said. We may think that the “Little Flower” was soft or gentle, but St. Therese was strong and had the courage to follow Christ completely.

Likewise, Muto said, a call to follow Christ is not just for brave and holy people but for all of us as apostles of the new evangelization.

St. Therese felt the “dark night of the soul” and waged her own spiritual battle to keep her “raw, naked faith,” Muto said. But she overcame it and offers an important insight into a life of holiness and sanctity.

Muto’s presentation dealt with the first four steps in her book: “Learning to love the hidden — or ordinary — life;” “Appreciating what a treasure the ordinary is;” “Trusting in the Divine Mercy as little children do;” and “Receiving the sacraments devoutly day after day.”

Before we can become a faithful disciple, Muto noted, we must first ask what we need to get rid of in our lives — things such as destructive thoughts and old hurts.

“We have to let something go,” she said. “We have to deny something.”

St. Therese, Muto noted, committed herself to joy in the “ministry of the smile.” She exuded inexplicable joy in the midst of human suffering. Muto added that even in her teenage years, St. Therese was no longer a “spiritual baby” and she challenged people to follow her example.

“There’s no room for spiritual babies,” Muto said. “We’ve got to grow up.”

She also noted that there isn’t room to bargain with God, and we are called to an adulthood of spirituality. It leads to a movement of formation, reformation and transformation.

The fact that we all seek our “15 minutes of fame” makes learning to love the hidden life “so amazing,” Muto said. Every dish washed, every bed made can be done in a way that emulates Mary in Nazareth. The Carmelite charisms that highlight hidden treasures are “astounding,” she noted. They bring a wealth of graces that, when understood, colorize everyday, ordinary life.

Do we wear the face of a person who truly believes in the good news? Muto asked. We need to do our best to make the right life choices. She spoke of viewing things in terms of “this-ness” — this book, this table, etc. We can flow through life, but we can see and hear nothing, Muto said.

We can’t push our way through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel at 5 p.m. on a weekday, she noted. Do we become impatient, or do we spend the time praying? An ordinary day is God’s gift. It’s up to us to do what he asks of us.

Muto spoke of how trust in God’s mercy invites us into a deeper relationship with him, and receiving the sacraments can help prevent us from losing our awe and wonder of the Eucharist. If we are to transition the church into the third millennium and pass the faith on to our children and grandchildren, she noted, we must not let the sacraments become routine in our lives.

She listed a number of ways we can follow in the footsteps of St. Therese. They included cultivating a humble heart, beginning to accept our limits as blessings in disguise, surrendering to God’s grace in our present circumstances, and living in gratitude and joy.

“The Lord is with all of us, and grace is the glue that holds it all together,” Muto said.

In reflecting on St. Therese’s reflection of “My life is but one act of love,” she asked how different our lives would be if we refrained from revenge, hatred and harsh judgments. 

Small acts don’t go unnoticed by God, Muto noted. We must be aware of the many opportunities presented to us to pass along grace — through a smile, by suppressing agitation or even just the willingness to be there and listen.

Father Terry O’Connor, pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux, said the parish was “blessed” to have Muto speak on its patron saint.

“She just presented so many practical and wonderful insights which help us be transformed for the Lenten season,” he said.

The final two sessions are open to the public. They will run from 7-8:30 p.m. in the church. A meager meal will be offered from 6:15-7 p.m. in the parish’s Club Room. More information is available by calling 412-462-8161 or emailing sttherese@st-therese.net.

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