But, their feasts today and tomorrow bring to mind something that rankles me a little bit... What bothers me is this: both of the saints honored on these days have achieved amazing popularity in the modern world.
Why on earth should this bother me? After all, these are two of the saints most dear to my heart. And the worldwide acclaim and love given St Therese the Little Flower and St. Francis of Assisi provide the greatest PR heaven can get, right? Well, sorta. It's certainly a wonderful thing that people who are so holy can catch the public eye, especially in this day and age. But, I think we tend to forget who these people really were/are... We tend to remember the sugar-coated facsimiles of the real people, and forget the work that they did to become the saints we honor.
St. Therese, to the world, is the Little Flower. Her pretty face, her lovely roses, her promise of a shower of gifts from Heaven... This is the immediately recognized iconography. I think we sometimes forget that, along with "Therese of the Child Jesus," she chose the title, "Therese of the Holy Face," and loved to meditate upon the mutilated image of Our Lord's face as depicted on the Holy Shroud. It's easy to forget her suffering, her long periods of spiritual dryness, the many sacrifices she made, her agonized death. She did, indeed, exude a sweet and confident love of God. But it was through considerable suffering and sacrifice. The Little Way is not an easy way. Hers was not an easy way. Sanctity is not worldly, no matter how hard you try to sugar coat it. And sacrifice is not a popular or easy meditation.
We have made St. Francis of Assisi famous as yard decor. We're most familiar with his image as the lover of animals; his statues always have at least one bird on his shoulder and a fawn at his feet. And, while it's true that his love for God overflowed into a tender love for all God's creatures and creation as a whole, St. Francis must be appalled that this has somehow come to define him in our world. Why don't we see more pictures and statues of him with the holy stigmata? They exist, but aren't popular. Talk about a life of suffering and sacrifice! Do we remember St. Francis' painful physical ailments, particularly that of his poor eyes? How he had to struggle to form the seed of the great Franciscan order, and died feeling that he had not succeeded? There is peace and sweetness in the character of St. Francis, but the glory is in the fact that he had so very much to overcome, and that he did it for love of God.
Didn't Our Heavenly Father provide us with the greatest example of love the world can ever see in the sacrifice His Son made on the cross? The saints imitated this example in their lives. Some imitated Him precisely, giving up their lives for Him. Some, like St. Francis, were heroic in their personal sacrifices. St. Theresa taught us how to imitate Christ in our daily lives, with little sacrifices made with perfect love. But the lesson is always the same. Love is a beautiful thing; it's what makes the world go 'round. But, love and sacrifice are inseparable.
Real love isn't easy.
But it is always worth it.