This article was originally posted at Reverb Culture, an online young adult community for Catholics. Go check them out at reverbculture.com.
Who else wants one more article about why Millennials are the worst/best/most worthless/super creative/impossible to work with/so authentic/Ben Franklin generation? I know I do!
Honestly, though, has any generation ever been so thoroughly analyzed and complained about? I don’t know exactly what makes “those Millennials” such a fascinating topic to journalists, but they certainly seem to find something particularly confusing or compelling about our generation. Either way, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that there do seem to be universally recognizable Millennial traits: our love for community, work/life balance, desire for fulfillment et al., in the same way that Gen-Xers were known for their love of rebellion and Kurt Cobain.
Recently, I had a realization. St. Therese is the ultimate patron saint for millennials. For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a little listicle here on why St. Therese is the perfect patron saint for the millennial soul. Only by an act of heroic virtue did I resist the temptation to title it in a click-baity fashion: “4 things about Millennials and St. Therese that will blow your mind!!!&#*!!!!*” is soooo optimized for search engines, but this is Reverb Culture and we’re way too cool for that. Who needs website traffic anyway?
On a personal note, Therese has been one of my favorite saints for as long as I can remember. I don’t quite know why I found her autobiography Story of a Soul so impactful, but it really was. Truthfully, I don’t even really *get* her personality all the way. I have a feeling that if we met each other in person; we wouldn’t have even gotten along super well. Pretty sure I would have unwittingly hurt her feelings in the first 10 minutes with some untimely joke and then spent the next hour trying to figure out what I had done to offend her. As a saint friend goes, though, I’ve always felt a strange connection to her. I think, for me, her message of utter love and trust (she calls it “confidence”) in God’s love and plan for her was something that I crave for myself.
Either way, let’s embark. Four things that make St. Therese the perfect patron saint for Millennials:
1. Her Little Way perfectly combats our tendency toward perfectionism and hyper-activity.
What’s more Millennial than trying to be perfect at all times? What’s more Millennial than considering yourself an utter failure if you’re not the boss of your company and a Broadway star on nights and weekends by age twenty-five? Guys, we NEED Therese’s Little Way of love and trust. Her conviction was simple. Wherever you are, in whatever situation you find yourself in, even the most mundane job or task, can be a place where real greatness and holiness is found. Our tendency to take our grandiose plans and apply them to our spiritual life (if I haven’t founded an orphanage by 30, I’m basically never going to be canonized) needs that gentle reminder from Therese that God’s plan for us is to be right where we are, and greatness can be found in the little sacrifices and joys of life.
2. Therese had a restless soul that wanted to be everywhere and do everything.
My first daughter was born two months ago. She’s a little girl and her name’s Eva and she’s the greatest thing you’ve never seen. Trust me. I can never adequately express the joy I felt holding her in my arms for the first time. However, my greatest struggle in adapting to the life of being “Dad” hasn’t been the lack of sleep or the inability to go on dates with my wife with ease anymore. My wife could tell you, the biggest difficulty for me was that I can’t go to Africa.
This was weirdly difficult for me. I’ve always had this thing where I want to do everything, a trait I believe many of you share with me. Right now, I’d love to be serving as a missionary in Cameroon, studying theology in Rome, and traveling the rest of Europe, while living in Hawaii. At the same time.
This latent restlessness has become one of the defining traits of Millennials. Companies have started complaining because they can’t hold on to young employees for more than a year. There’s always a bigger, better something out there and we can’t be stuck here while we could be over there!
Therese had great and manifold desires as well, even ones that she knew were impossible to be fulfilled! She famously said,
“I feel as if I were called to be a fighter, a priest, an apostle, a doctor, a martyr; as if I could never satisfy the needs of my nature without performing, for Your sake, every kind of heroic action at once. I feel as if I’d got thecourage to be a Crusader, a Pontifical Zouave, dying on the battlefield in defense of the Church. And at the same time I want to be a priest; how lovingly I’d carry You in my hands when you came down from heaven at my call; how lovingly I’d bestow You on men’s souls! And yet, with all this desire to be a priest, I’ve nothing but admiration and envy for the humility of St. Francis; I’d willingly imitate him in refusing the honour of the priesthood.”
I feel a great solidarity in her struggle. Therese’s great desires to do something impactful with her life were often frustrated. She died at 24 as a cloistered nun. That’s why I love that she is now the patron saint of missionaries. Her desires to do great things were fulfilled, just not in the way that she expected or even wanted them to be. I remember this when I just want to be on that plane to Cameroon by tomorrow.
3. Therese had struggles with faith.
Therese’s famous Dark Night of the Soul in the weeks leading up to her death led to some shocking moments of temptations against faith.
“I get tired of the darkness all around me. The darkness itself seems to borrow, from the sinners who live in it, the gift of speech. I hear its mocking accents: ‘It’s all a dream, this talk of a heavenly country, of a God who made it all, who is to be your possession in eternity! All right, go on longing for death! But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will only mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence!’
Though this is scandalous to some, and especially to those who don’t understand the spiritual life, these temptations are not uncommon in the lives of the saints. Really, they are not even uncommon in the lives of many Christians who experience the normal struggles with faith that come from the natural ebb and flow of spiritual consolation and desolation. The holiness of a person doesn’t depend on their ability to keep absolute psychological confidence in God’s existence at all times. Everyone has moments where, as Pope Benedict remarked, they taste the “saltwater” of doubt.
For Millennials, a consistent difficulty in life as a disciple of Christ is having so many our age identify as “Nones.” Skepticism seems to be the flavor of the day, and what a painful thing that can be! When we crave community and support in our walk with Christ, often we find outright hostility and misunderstanding or even just that kind of low-level ridicule of, “For real? You actually believe that?” Even in our most fervent attempts to believe, we are not immune to the mocking, scoffing voice forbidding us any hope of seeing our Heavenly homeland.
I think it’s important to see skepticism or lack of belief in the human heart as a kind of suffering. What greater loss could there be than the absence of an awareness of God? Too often, we see the atheist as only a sparring opponent. How about a human person suffering from the experience of abandonment?
As far as Therese’s own temptations, what more perfect attribute could there be for a patron saint than one who shares our struggles? God allowed Therese to suffer the loss of the supernatural help of faith in her heart, to enter into communion with those who experience that same pain of the loss of awareness of God in the coming centuries.
4. And, finally, she was a little bit selfish.
Therese’s great conversion moment came as a kid when she decided not to throw a tantrum after her dad made a slightly exasperated comment about her childishness. I remember reading this the first time and being like, “That’s so beautiful; what a special moment.” When I came back to the Story of a Soul later, my reaction was more like, “Seriously? That was the big moment?” But for her it was. Therese’s main spiritual battle was not against drunkenness or sexual sin, but against the inner tendency toward over-sensitivity because she viewed life and reality in terms of how it made her feel.
Come on, we can all admit it: those articles about Millennials’ self-absorption are at least a little true, aren’t they? Maybe I’m the only one. Probably. Either way, Therese’s main struggle was against seeing her own life through what Father Mike Schmitz calls the “Luke Skywalker mentality.” The original Star Wars movies have a lot of different characters and events, but really, at the end of the day, it’s all centered on Luke. This can often be the isolationist mentality found in many millennials. Sure, there are a lot of persons/places/things/happenings going on around me, but it’s all received through the lens of how it affects me. Therese battled against the same tendency and temptation.
All of this makes St. Therese the perfect saint for Millennials. She can sympathize with our weakness. She’s one of us. She shares many of our same foibles and personality defects that make the transition into adulthood at times such a maze of confusion.
St. Therese, pray for us.