Monday, October 01, 2007

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face - Therese of Lisieux

It took me a very long time to 'grow into' St. Therese. The "Little Flower", sugar coated by her sisters in the edited versions of her autobiography The Story of a Soul and further idealized by biographers, she seemed impossibly good, infuriatingly good, and certainly inimitable.

A number of factors counteracted my early reactions. Publication of the unedited originals of her autobiographical works was a huge step in the right direction. With the approach of the 100th anniversary of her death and the pilgrimage of her mortal remains from Lisieux to locations around the world many were inspired to ventures into previously unexplored areas of research concerning her life. These reality-based efforts broke the plaster saint image which seemed so remote and beyond my human failings. Taking its place was a young woman of great faith and devotion who along with a privileged and spoiled childhood had experienced deep psychic wounds. She, like many others, followed those she admired and the real call of God into contemplative religious life while hardly appreciating the full demands of the reality of that vocation. She wanted to love and serve "His Majesty" with all her heart but she discovered how challenging a desire that was and how very often she failed. But she did not give up. Instead, it seems, she grew up. She began to think not of the grand gesture, not of the missionary assignment to Vietnam, but to lower her sights to what is, in reality, a far more demanding theater of operation. She would concentrate on the ordinary, little, yet extremely challenging things and people and events, and physical pains of everyday life. She came to see that the point of her life would not be concerned with the huge gesture, the great gesture of the heroine Joan of Arc whom she portrayed in plays put on in the Carmel of Lisieux. Rather her sphere would be the "little way", the "little way of love." And she pursued that "way" in spite of great trials in body, mind and faith until the very end of her little life which hasmade its way throughout the world.

In the book Everything is Grace - The Life and Way of Therese of Lisieux, Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC writes:

When the gospel speaks of our being called to be like God and tells us that God is love, Therese accepts this as a truth to be lived brashly. When Jesus assures us that the two great commandments are really one commandment, she accepts that as a truth to be lived selflessly. When Jesus speaks of having come not the righteous but for sinner, she embraces that as a truth to be lived gratefully. When Jesus requests mercy and not sacrifice, she welcomes that as a truth to be lived personally and socially. When Jesus assures us that he will draw everyone and everything to himself, she rejoices in that as a truth to be lived literally. When Jesus commands love of the enemy, Therese applies that in an all-embracing way, to the enemy within ourselves as well as to the enemy outside ourselves. And when Jesus tells us that the reign of God is at hand and that all are welcome, especially the poor, the weak, and the suffering, Therese realizes that the opportunity to participate in the call to holiness is to be found in every experience of daily life, especially in suffering, and even in her own imperfect, weak response to grace. In the evening of life she will come before God, Therese says, with empty hands, confident that she will be clothed in God's own justice and goodness. (SS 277) This is the same "old" gospel, but seen through the eyes of a young woman who is dazzled with the promises of the gospel message. (pg. 26)

1 comment:

Mark in MD said...

I have always had a very special place in my heart for Therese, and I also am enjoying Schmidt's new book.

I have also recently discovered another very interesting Therese study, entitled, Light of the Night, by Jean Francois Six.

I am trying to come to grips with the discrepancy between what has been published as her words vs. what she actually wrote/said.