Michel Pascal is a cradle Catholic, born in France. Church was his home, his soul, always. His parents brought him to Lisieux as a child of six and he became smitten with Thérèse, the Little Flower.
All these years later, “St. Therese” — the play he has written, directed and produced — has been staged all over the world, more than 700 times since 2009. This month, he’ll bring it to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Michel sat down with me in the courtyard of the Cathedral recently after Sunday Mass to tell the story of the play:
“As a child you have not enough words. As an adult, you have too many. But I felt the power and presence of Therese, even as a child. I returned many times to the Carmel at Lisieux. For 20 years, I had the idea of the play.
“We have a physical, psychological and a spiritual dimension. If we are sick, for example, it’s because we’re not tending to our soul, our conscience. When we take care of our spiritual dimension, when we discover that we have the presence of Jesus in our hearts, suddenly we feel better. We can have good situations, bad situations, but we have something in our heart that no one can take away from us. As Thérèse said, everything is grace.
“People sometimes ask me, ‘What is a Christian?’ The Christian is not someone who is more intelligent than the next person. It’s not someone who is more kind. The Christian is someone who loves you in your heart. That is Thérèse.
“Meditation says, ‘Clean up your bedroom.’ Christianity says, ‘Open your window’ — to the presence. There is a presence, a real presence, we feel at the Mass, for example, in the Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ. But we can’t feel that in life all the time. So I try with the play.
“Thérèse explains the difference between having and being. We’re hungry and we eat and we get fat because our real hunger is for spiritual food. We forget to come back to the Sacrament, to Mass. To read the Gospels. To pray. Thérèse said praying is not gripping your head and calling out, ‘Jesus! Jesus!’ The peace of Jesus doesn’t come through a technique. Jesus is beyond the world. The world is very important but God begins after the world.
“I have written in the play that God begins after the silence. Silence after the concept of our projection of God. Also I have written that the most important thing is not to believe in God but to let God believe in you.
“In our world we think the more complicated we are, the more intelligent we are. But it’s not true! If we are too complicated, we create our own suffering. It’s as if we create a war between us and Christ. Therese is very simple and very concrete. The simpler our vision of life, the lighter and happier we feel.
“So Therese’s message is a huge success all over the world. People of many religions are drawn to the play: Jewish, Muslim, Buddhism, Catholic of course. Atheists will say, ‘We don’t believe in God, but Thérèse, that’s different!’
“We’ve performed the play in churches, at the circus, for Alzheimer’s patients. They’re not able to focus, but for the one hour of the play they were focused. Eve Hernandez, the first actress to do the play, was a genius on stage. She performed the show 400 times. When she arrived at a prison in France, dressed as Thérèse, the prisoners gave her a standing ovation.
“After seeing the play, one prisoner who was suicidal said, ‘Michel, I have changed. I want to live now.’ After we performed the play at a church in New York City, a young seminarian cried and said, ‘My decision to become a priest is clear. Very clear.’ So Thérèse speaks to people through the play.
“The play is my vocation, my life, that I give to Thérèse and to my Church. I do everything: produce, write, sing, compose, direct the actress, do the marketing. The play is supported by free-will donations. Faith must be free. People sometimes give nothing or one penny or they can give a million dollars if they want.
“At the same time, we need money. We travel, we pay our salaries. I use just two lights, the local lights of the church. The play is so simple. We need money to produce the play, but not to make a big business. That’s not the way of Thérèse.
“Thérèse is one of the biggest, grandest, saints the Church has ever known because she’s so simple, so small! The Little Way! We come back with Thérèse to being like children. We see the beautiful trees in Los Angeles. Oh, the beautiful smell of jasmine. Oh, the ocean is wonderful. We rediscover the world.
“You can have many problems. You can be sick, unemployed, but Thérèse says, ‘I have a meeting with you, and I will give my love.’ So for all the people of Los Angeles, Thérèse is using your newspaper to talk to the people and to say, ‘Come, come!’”
“Story of a Soul: St. Thérèse,”with award-winning actress Fanny Veliz, will be presented at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles, on Sept. 26, 7 p.m. (English), and Sept. 28, 7 p.m. (Spanish). Free-will donation requested. Information: (213) 680-5200, www.olacathedral.org or saintherese.com.
Heather King is a blogger, speaker and the author of several books.