Hazelnuts in the Drawer: St. Zelie’s Method for Helping a Child Overcome a Bad Mood

41JtLGa0kuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I came across some parenting wisdom that was both simple and surprising in a letter from St. Zelie Martin to her teenaged daughter Pauline in A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus 1863-1885.

Talking about Pauline’s younger sister Leonie, St. Zelie writes,

“Yesterday she had an awful day. At noon I told her to make some sacrifices to conquer her bad mood, and that, for each victory, she should put a hazelnut in a drawer I pointed out to her, and we would count them that evening” (p.275).

It took me a little while to think through what was surprising to me about St. Zelie’s method, but then it came to me: St. Zelie recognized that bad moods (ordinary, of course, not clinical) are often caused by our own sinful will and that only the child himself can correct that through conquering his will by self-sacrifice. We know that’s true in our own lives. Happiness isn’t the result of the free exercise of our will but the free exercise of our will to do what’s right: God’s will.

A quick internet search on helping a child overcome a bad mood revealed that St. Zelie’s advice runs counter to what current childhood websites offer for solutions: making sure the child isn’t overtired, hungry, over-scheduled, helping the parent understand that hormones are a difficult thing to manage, etc. In other words, these websites presented plenty of ways to help soothe a child’s body and lots of excuses for a child’s bad behavior, but offered nothing in way of correcting what most likely was the cause: a selfish will, which is a spiritual problem.

We’re often inundated with the messages that if children only have the right environment, the right school, and the right experiences, they’ll turn out just fine. But we’ve been collectively forgetting that children are more than just bodies, they’re souls, too, and unlike plants, they need more than just the right atmosphere in order to flourish.

Good behavior—virtue—is a result of the gradual conforming of our will to God’s. Whether it’s our own bad mood that needs taming or our child’s, St. Zelie helps us remember that nothing beats a little self-sacrifice to help bring back the sunshine.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer

Christmas Pep Talk from the Saints

Here we are, friends, in the final stretch before Christmas. In a few short days we will open our homes to our family and friends or pack up our own family and journey afar to see relatives.

The last-minute prep falls squarely on our shoulders. We decide who will receive a Christmas card and who won’t, how carefully the presents will be wrapped, and how warm our homes will be for the holiday. Our attitude and care for others will set the tone for how our family will celebrate Christmas. While it seems unfair—the person with the biggest burden can’t possibly be expected to be the best-behaved—it appears that that’s what God had in mind when creating us as the hearts of the home (we can take that up with Him later!). For now, though, a little pep talk from our friends the saints before we delve into our beautiful, albeit laborious, last-minute Christmas prep.

If there is simply too much left to do before Christmas, call on St. Peter Canisius.

Today is the feast of St. Peter Canisius, a sixteenth-century writer and scholar who was tasked with implementing in Germany the decrees of the Council of Trent. He was a tireless worker and is said to have replied to the question if he felt overworked:

If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all.

St. Peter Canisius is the patron saint of Germany, so extra points to you if you are German!

When the work is repulsive or painful, talk to Mother Theresa.

Mother Theresa is known for one of her favorite sayings:

You did it to Me.

She constantly reminded the nuns in her order that they were not simply caring for other human beings, but the Lord Himself. The Missionaries of Charity are renown for their tender care of the poorest of the poor, and Mother Theresa frequently invited all of us to do the same. When the work is reviling, like cleaning up someone else’s child’s vomit from between the cracks of an inflatable mattress as a dear friend once did for my child (thank you, Kelsey!) or simply making conversation with a relative who has hurt us, we can ask for Mother Theresa’s prayers to do our jobs with all the love we can muster, certain in our belief that we also do these things for Jesus.

If it seems like just another thing on your to-do list, do it anyway and ask for St. Therese’s intercession.

St. Therese of Lisieux spent her life doing lots of little things with great love. When it would be easier for us to skip the little things because there’s simply so much else to do, we should remember this quote from St. Therese:

Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes, those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts.

We can do this, ladies! Let’s band together with each other and our friends in heaven to help welcome the Infant Jesus and His children into our hearts and homes with love, warmth, and an abundance of generosity. It’s a difficult call, but an important one and ours. A very merry Christmas to you and yours!

Copyright 2015 Meg Matenaer
Photo by GaborfromHungary (2015) via Morguefile

St. Faustina, St. Therese, and Their Mission This Fall

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Faustina, the beautiful soul to whom God entrusted the spreading of the message of His Divine Mercy. She is no doubt preparing to work overtime during this upcoming Year of Mercy which begins on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as called for by Pope Francis.

Her feast day comes just a few days after that of St. Therese. St. Faustina had a special relationship with St. Therese, even dying with a picture of Therese by her bedside. As a novice, St. Faustina had prayed a novena to St. Therese who then appeared to her in a dream and assured her that she would become a saint like Therese but first had to learn how to trust in God more.

St. Therese’s Little Way and the message of Divine Mercy entrusted to St. Faustina have at the heart of them spiritual childhood. We simply cannot love God with our whole hearts or fully trust in His Mercy if we are hiding ourselves from Him. We hide ourselves when we avoid confession or withhold sins while in confession, when we despair about sins of the past, or settle for hanging our happiness on an easier-to-attain pleasure.

Ironically, the process of becoming little can feel overwhelming! Where to start? How low do we go? We can wonder: am I being childlike or simply childish? Fortunately for us as the leaves burn bright in October so do so many powerful saints in their eagerness to help us to heaven. Let’s call on these sister saints to help us learn not how to be just like them, but how to live the messages of Divine Mercy and the Little Way in our own lives, in our own way, as God wants us to.

For a longer reflection on these two saints, the unity of their messages, and how we can live those messages in our own lives, check out this article by Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC for The Divine Mercy.

“Write this for the benefit of distressed souls; when a soul sees and realizes the gravity of its sins, when the whole abyss of the misery into which it immersed itself is displayed before its eyes, let it not despair, but with trust let it throw itself into the arms of My mercy, as a child into the arms of its beloved mother.”

–Diary of St. Faustina, 1541

Copyright 2015 Meg Matenaer.
Photo by levischouten (2013) via Morguefile.

Lessons from Zelie

October’s going to be a big month for the Martin family. St. Therese’s feast day on October 1st will kick off the month in which her parents will be the first married couple to be canonized together on October 18th. Blesseds Louis and Zelie will also be the patrons of the Synod on the Family, also occurring in October. Now that’s something for the Martin Christmas newsletter!

Holy Mother Church is drawing our attention to this extraordinary family because they embody the virtues that are so dearly needed in our own families today. Happily, the Martins left behind a treasure trove of correspondence with each other and biographies written by family members so that we have a clear idea of what family life was like for them and so many stories to learn from. Blessed Zelie in particular has left us over 200 letters to family and friends that are full of examples of her faith and virtue.

In The Mother of the Little Flower written by Celine Martin, St. Therese’s sister, we’re given several excerpts from these letters that give us a look into this beautiful soul who was the heart of a family of saints. No stranger to suffering, struggle, and loss, this mother of nine who lost four children in infancy is now our dear friend in heaven who understands the heartache and joys of motherhood and is intensely eager to help us in our own journey in helping our families to heaven.

If we were to sit down with her over a cup of coffee (maybe a café au lait for her), and pour our hearts out to her, perhaps she’d offer some of the following advice:

Be strong! Zelie was known often to say, “The good God who is a Father never sends His children more than they can bear.” When irritations and bumps in the road come, we should do our best to persevere with calm. On February 14th, 1868 she wrote to her brother:

You must be courageous and not worry so much. I used to be like you when I started my lace enterprise, to the point of being actually ill about it. Now, I am more sensible. I am much less apprehensive, and am resigned to whatever annoying things happen, or may happen. I repeat that the good Lord permits it all that way, and I don’t worry any further (p. 29)

Trust in God: What I love about the Martins is that some of their girls were really difficult (ahem, Therese…) and yet they persevered in working to raise them to become saints. When we feel particularly upset about one of our children, we should remember Zelie’s letter to her mother-in-law about her dauther Leonie, who struggled emotionally and intellectually at home and at school (whose own cause for canonization, it should be noted, is beginning!):

I no longer depend on anything but a miracle to change her nature. It is true that I do not deserve a miracle, and yet I hope against all hope. The more complicated she seems to me, the more I am persuaded that the goodness of God will not permit her to remain that way (15).

Don’t Be Discouraged: Zelie was humble, often talking of her imperfections. One time she wrote, “I often say during the day: ‘My God, how I wish I were a saint!’ But then I do not accomplish the works of a saint.” But she never gave up. One All Saint’s Day she wrote to her daughters:

I want to become a saint; it will not be easy at all. I have a lot of wood to chop and it is as hard as stone. I should have started sooner, while it was not so difficult; but, in any case, ‘better late than never.’ (37).

God’s given us a treasure in Zelie. This October is the perfect time to get to know her better, a mom who struggled to love God and her family and who can help us do the same.

Copyright 2015 Meg Matenaer.
“Fall maple” by openopin (2014) via Morguefile.

Dolls from Heaven

St. Therese doll by Dolls from Heaven.
St. Therese doll by Dolls from Heaven.

Have you heard of Dolls from Heaven? I was just introduced to them this week. Dreamed up by the Kiczek family, their goal is to produce beautiful, high-quality 18” dolls of children’s favorite saints.

The Therese doll is their first design which they hope to have out by Christmas. Dressed in her Carmelite habit, the Therese doll beautifully captures St. Therese’s sweet face and is sure to be a treasured friend at home. Like other 18” dolls, she comes with her own book, I am Therese, which is based on Story of a Soul. She also comes with an optional Sunday dress and accessories.

The Kiczeks want to inspire children, who are great imitators, with those most worthy of imitating: the saints! Help them in their mission to spread devotion to these great saints through lovable dolls by visiting their site, Dolls from Heaven. You can pre-order a doll or even just make a small donation to their young company.

I was so excited to hear about these dolls. What a beautiful idea! Sometimes the messages behind the personal stories of other dolls like this can be a bit off, but obviously there’s no need to finesse the message with these. So check out the Kizceks’ site today, keep their efforts in your prayers, and consider giving one of these dolls to a special child for Christmas.

“I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” –St. Therese

When Excellence Comes: St. Therese and the Little Way

It might not happen as often as we’d like, but sometimes we do something excellent: that fondant-covered birthday cake that actually looked like the Pinterest pin that inspired it, that time we calmed down the about-to-explode toddler with serenity and grace, that one time last fall when the entire house was clean.

When such unexpected—and usually unfamiliar—feelings of accomplishment and pride come, what do we do with them? The normal reaction in the face of such superhuman feats might be to do a little victory dance, eat a celebratory slab of cake, or humblebrag about it on Facebook.

But St. Therese might have a better way. Her Little Way was built on spiritual childhood, the unshakeable belief that she was a little child of God and that as her Father, God had given all that she had to her as a gift, including the virtues that she practiced. Knowing that in human families the smallest child usually receives the most attention, St. Therese endeavored to remain small in spirit, eager only to remain in His close protective care. Anything that might take that smallness away from her—thinking too much about the good that she’d done or attributing that good to herself—she avoided, preferring to stay in Our Lord’s arms.

St. Therese writes, “To be little also means not to attribute to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of something; but it means recognizing that God places this treasure of virtue in the hand of His little child that he may make use of it when necessity arises; and it is always God’s treasure.”

St. Therese preferred to stay close to Our Lord as the smallest of souls, recognizing her need for constant tender care. Compared to the fleeting and shallow consolation we receive when we seek others’ praise, St. Therese seems indeed to have chosen the better part.

Copyright Meg Matenaer (2015).
Photo by GaborfromHungary (2015) via Morguefile.

Prep for First Communion with St. Therese

27445_WFrom Story of a Soul we learn that St. Therese took great pains to prepare for her First Communion, helped along by her sisters and father. On the day of her First Communion, she experienced a profound union with Our Lord that only grew throughout her life.

If your child will soon receive First Communion, Leaflet Missal has a lovely little booklet to help your child prepare for the sacrament in the same way that St. Therese did. Entitled 40 Days of Preparation for My First Communion with St. Therese of the Child Jesus, each day offers the child a little prayer that St. Therese herself prayed along with a little act of virtue to practice. A different flower is represented each day, and the child is encouraged to gather those flowers, or acts of virtue, for Jesus.

Complete with spaces to keep track of prayers and acts completed, the booklet helps the child keep track of how his or her heart is blooming with love for the Lord. So sweet and simple, it’s a wonderful way to maintain conversation, interest, and eagerness for the sacrament at home.

“Oh little Jesus, I want to be for you a bouquet of the most fragrant flowers.” -St. Therese