Many Catholics (including this one) are struggling in their “daily grind” to attain the happy, holy union with God that He intends for everyone, but without the benefit of a regular spiritual director. While no book can replace the saint-recommended assistance of a person gifted by God and trained to help souls, Connie Rossini’s first full-length book, Trusting God with St. Therese, thankfully comes very close to directing us on this very worthwhile — and challenging — journey. Rossini notes that her book is written at an intermediate level, and I would agree that Catholics who are not regularly attending Holy Mass and Confession, and trying to live their Faith each day, will probably find this book unhelpful — until they are, at which point it is “full speed ahead.” (Spiritual growth — like advanced college coursework — assumes that prerequisites have been met.) I can see re-reading this book several times over the course of one’s life.

Rossini is obviously well-read, particularly in the Carmelite Doctors of the Church (the list of abbreviations for her source material gets the book off to an impressive start), and her book not only captures the reader’s imagination, but methodically teaches and provokes reflection, chapter-by-chapter. The general format is chronological chapters that begin with a biological sketch of St. Therese, then continue with a story from Rossini’s own life, then draw-out spiritual lessons (often with the help of secular thought, such as psychology), and then end with several soul-searching questions and practical applications. I find the book exciting and challenging; it is taking me a while to get the most out of each chapter, but it is well worth it. (I am filling many, many pages in my spiritual journal with ink from my fountain pens, which may be unduly delaying me, but I consider the review e-copy of book the author sent me to be God’s precise answer to my prayers to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in a novena preceding her feast last month. Since then, I have bought a hard copy of her book from Amazon Prime for around $15 with tax, a Kindle copy for only 99 cents more [so I can have my Kindle Fire read it to me while I work, and highlight like mad without violating my strict policy of keeping my personal library of paper books in pristine form for my children and future generations], and another Kindle version for a friend for only $3.99. This is possibly the best $20 I have spent in months.)

Though I am exploring Carmelite spirituality, I have not yet read St. Therese’s Story of a Soul (an awful admission, I know), so much of the biographical information Rossini provides about the saint is new and fascinating to me, as it is not part of general Catholic knowledge, which tends to treat The Little Flower like a wilting daisy (which she certainly was not!) in the same way it treats St. Francis of Assisi like a hippie hardened into a garden gnome (which he wasn’t, either). There are two extremes biography can tend to: hagiography and dirt-dullness, but Rossini avoids both regarding St. Therese and herself; in fact, her description of the fatal problems Therese’s mother had providing adequate nutrition to her nursing babies, and the author’s telling of her own family’s devastation by two car accidents, moved this reader nearly to tears. Similarly, though the reflection questions require us to probe the sensitive areas of our own lives, it’s the kind of probing that a doctor does to expose and heal something that will otherwise sap our energy, or even infect us, year after year. There is much practical help here, too. Rossini performs a valuable service by restoring for us the original purpose of the  “Therese beads” that are found in the homes of most Catholic homeschooling families. When our little ones make them as a craft, we are told to instruct them — as Therese and her sisters, and many people since, were — to pull a bead each time they do some good deed, to essentially “keep score” of the good things they do. It doesn’t take long, of course, before our natural vanity takes over and we are preening ourselves on how well we’re doing (and perhaps even competing with a sibling), all the while fooling ourselves into thinking that we’ve earned God’s love, and even Heaven, by hitting a personal best score. Talk about impeding spiritual growth in the family! As Rossini explains, the original purpose of the beads was to remind us of our sins when we make our daily examen, as recommended by St. Ignatius (“Oh, yeah, I pulled that bead when I said that unkind thing, and that one when I told that lie…”). This is, of course, a far more spiritually-healthy use of the beads (and, since there are ten of them, we can even use them to pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, too).

This book is only one of several helpful resources Rossini provides. Her first book was a short e-book called 5 Lessons from the Carmelite Saints that Will Change Your Life. It is available for free on her blog, Contemplative Homeschool  (contemplativehomeschool.com), which also offers frequent posts about practical Carmelite spirituality and helping our children grow in holiness. She also organizes the Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network (catholicspiritualityblogs.blogspot.com) to aggregate blogs that help with spiritual growth. Most recently, she has begun blogging at the popular site SpiritualDirection.Com (spiritualdirection.com/blog/), as well (many useful ideas can be gleaned from the combox there, which is not true of very many blogs).