I was delighted to get to a chance to see again my old “boss” Father Gary Caster. We spoke briefly when he did a book signing at Lagron-Miller in January, and then we were able to chat more recently about his new book, one of my Lenten recommendations, over e-mail.
Q. Your book The Little Way of Lent is Lent from the perspective of St. Therese of Lisieux . How did you get the idea for approaching Lent through St. Therese’ spirituality?
The idea of approaching Lent from the perspective of St. Therese came from my own personal experience and at the request of the Pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Birmingham, AL. We went to seminary together so he knew of my devotion to the Little Flower. He invited me, two years ago, to lead a Lenten Mission for the people of his parish and when I shared with him what I had in mind, he asked if I could do so but from the perspective of the Little Way of Spiritual childhood. I, of course, said yes. I welcome any opportunity to extol the genius of the Little Flower. I should also add that perhaps the most ardent supporter of this project was Msgr. Rohlfs, who has been encouraging me for years to write reflections on the Scriptures from the perspective of St. Therese.
Q. Who is your intended audience for The Little Way of Lent?
The intended audience of both of my books is Catholics and non-Catholics alike, between the ages of 16 and 100 and beyond. It’s my hope that what I long to share is as accessible to as many people as possible. If not, why write at all?
Q. Talk about how you came to know and love St. Therese of Lisieux. Has she always influenced your spirituality?
I was introduced to St. Therese in the fourth grade by my teacher, Sr. Teresita. The reason she first gave me materials on the Little Flower was because of my certainty that I was called to be a priest. Since the Little Flower also knew at a young age that God was calling her to Carmel, Sr. Teresita felt that the Little Flower and me would be a perfect match.
And so it seemed at first. However, when I learned that she died young from a painful case of tuberculosis, I wasn’t so certain I wanted to be friends with her. I thought, “Great, I’m going to catch some horrible disease and die young.” Fortunately I didn’t give in to my fear and continued learning about her life.
I think I have read just about everything, in many different languages, about her. I even wrote my master’s thesis in Church History on her. Still, I return every year to her spiritual autobiography. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have read it. Her approach to God and her conviction of being loved by Him resonated with what I most wanted to believe as a child, as a young adult and it still resonates with what I know to be true. The confidence with which she embraced her life is, in my mind, the single greatest example of what it means to live in the freedom of being a child of God.
She wasn’t maudlin, she didn’t believe she had to prove herself to God or earn his love, and best of all, she wasn’t self-centered in the way that too often happens when people try and “make themselves’ a saint. She left everything up to God and simply tried to make every facet of her life an expression of her love for Him.
Q. You are a college chaplain. How do you see young people living a faith-filled life, especially one as seemingly simple as St. Therese, in today’s Internet/fast-paced culture?
I think the first problem young people have is that the spiritual life is misrepresented. Many young people do not embark on a life in the Spirit because someone –erroneously, has convinced them that it is difficult to maintain a spiritual life. They don’t abandon God because of lack of interest, they abandon God because they have been convinced that living in relationship with God is incompatible with their lives. IT ISN’T.
Once someone presents to them that because we have been made for God living in relationship with Him is easy and possible, then they readily respond. Anyone that approaches a young person with an rigorously involved program, or worse, with a proposal that the only way to really be in relationship with God is to impose some sort semi-monastic rule, should be put in time out! They are WRONG, not just where young people are concerned, but where all non-monastic people are concerned.
The internet doesn’t have to be an obstacle to a substantial life of prayer, nor does culture have to be an obstacle. We live the time in which we were born and we consecrate the unique moment of history that is ours by the way in which we incarnate the same truth that has set us free, a truth described by our current Holy Father, Benedict XVI in these words, “God says, “I believe in you!” By far the easiest way to get young people to live their lives as prayer is to bring them to the One who says the words we all want to hear, “I love you and you matter to me!”
Q. If people are inspired by your book to learn more about St. Therese, what other books would you recommend?
People wanting to learn more about St. Therese of Lisieux should first and foremost read her own words about her life and her relationship with Jesus Christ: “The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.” The current edition by John Clarke, OCD is the best, unless of course one reads French.
Q. The Little Way of Lent is your second book (Mary, In Her Own Words was published in 2006). What writing or new books do you have planned next?
I am currently waiting to see if Servant Books will be publishing The Little Way of Advent this year. I am writing a book on St. Joseph, my mother’s favorite saint, because I believe that although there are no recorded words of his in the Scriptures, what has been preserved in Scripture about him and handed down to us by the Church is eminently rich.
I am also writing a novel about Heaven since it is my contention that far too many Christians want to live bound by time and space as long as possible and thus do not consider the destiny that is ours, one which should be shaping every aspect of our brief sojourn in this, a foreign land. It is told by a man who opens his eyes and shares the experience of recognizing his new condition of being as communion with God and freedom from all physical, emotional limitations becomes clear. Perhaps it is only of interest to me, but it is certainly fun writing.