Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Passion of Therese of Lisieux

Click to purchaseThe Passion of Therese of Lisieux. By Guy Goucher, O.C.D. With a new Introduction by Benedict Groeschel, C.A.R. Crossroad. 370 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 100 17, 1997. Pp. 268. Paper. $14.95. Also available at

Reviewed by Keith J. Eagan

The name of Guy Gaucher, Discalced Carmelite Friar and now [2000] the auxiliary Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, has become synonymous with the effort to discover and present to Therese's readers a portrait of her life and a description of her teaching that are as accurate as possible. The book under review is a reissue of the Crossroad English edition of 1990 that had been published as an English edition for the first time in 1989 by St. Paul Publications, Homebush. The 1990 edition was reviewed in Spiritual Life 36 (Fall 1990) by Patrick V. Ahern, auxiliary Bishop of New York.

Gaucher's undertaking on behalf of reliability is all the more crucial now that the saint of Lisieux was named on October 19, 1997, the third woman doctor of the church. The first two women declared doctors of the church were Teresa of Avila on September 27, 1970, and Catherine of Siena one week later. The church raises to the rank of doctor of the church one whom she judges not only to be holy but one who has significant doctrine that merits the attention of the whole church. The search for an authentic portrait of Therese of Lisieux's life and doctrine is no act of pedantry but an exercise in searching for that truth which her devotees deserve and which the church is duty bound to seek. Therese would have wanted no less for she valued the truth highly. On the day of her death, September 30, 1897, she said, "Yes, it seems to me I never sought anything but the truth." The previous month she voiced the same conviction when her sister, Marie, tried to console her with the notion that angels would accompany the Lord when he would come for Therese. To Marie she responded, "All these images do me no good; I can nourish myself on nothing but the truth." And listen to this strongly worded conviction of a young woman not far from death (July 21, 1897): "I've never acted like Pilate, who refused to listen to the truth. I've always said to God: 0 my God, I really want to listen to You; I beg You to answer me when I say humbly: What is truth? Make me see things as they really are. Let nothing cause me to be deceived". (Last Conversations, p. 105)

Bishop Gaucher is, indeed, a true friend of Therese in his lifelong commitment to establish the facts about her life. Readers will recall that this was the foundation of his biography of the saint, The Story of a Life: St. Therese of Lisieux (French original 1982 and English translation 1987): "Saints do not need any embellishment" (p. 249). Note that Bishop Gaucher goes about his scholarship without any aspersions on the intentions of Therese's blood sisters and her community nor on the efforts of others who in their own way seek the real Therese.

In this book Gaucher sets out to trace "in chronological order" the final six months of Therese's life, from April 4 until September 30, 1897. That means that he must focus on the progress of her pulmonary tuberculosis. That very focused concern has left him with less of an opportunity to explore her trial of faith, that "night of nothingness," her sharing in the night of atheists. [This, if I understand the reviewer correctly, strikes me as a misperception; this matter is in fact dealt with in the book very movingly and at some length---SH] Gaucher's second aim is to "sketch a portrait of Therese in the face of death" (pp. 12-13).

Beyond Saccharine Images

It is abundantly clear that Gaucher wants to counteract the overly saccharine image of Therese which was all too prevalent in pre-Vatican II days and which has deprived many, even in our own time, of a genuine appreciation for a young woman whose wise ways subverted a piety of fear and a spirituality of subservience. Rather, Therese became a herald of love and trust. Recall that the very last words in her notebooks were, "I go to Him with confidence and love" (Story of a Soul, 1996, p. 259). Bishop Gaucher also insists that the saint of Lisieux not be quoted out of context.

Gaucher demonstrates that the wisdom of this young woman was refined in the crucible of suffering, especially her suffering during those final months before she died. And this wisdom was enlarged by her grasp of the teaching of her guide, John of the Cross, to whom she turned when she was about seventeen. Moreover, John of the Cross's writings were at the saint's bedside in the months before she died, a time when she often found her way to another John, the author of the fourth gospel.

Readers of Gaucher's The Passion should note that, in its latest reissue, use has not been made of the most recent edition (1991) of the Kavanaugh Rodriquez translation of The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. The Passion briefly, on pp. 224-245, explores what appears to be a difference between Therse and her mentor, John of the Cross, on the topic of death by love rather than by natural causes. Elsewhere and more recently, Bishop Gaucher has given a more extensive treatment to this subject in his John and Therese: The Influence of St. John of the Cross in the Life and Writings of St. Therese of Lisieux (New York: Alba House, 1999). chapter 5

Bishop Gaucher's investigation of the last six months of Therese's life, during which tuberculosis so ravaged her body, leaves no doubt about the horror of the terrible sufferings endured by a young woman hardly in the prime of her life. No plaster saint is this little winter flower. Serious followers of Therese's teachings and anyone who wishes to write or speak about her and her doctrine cannot ignore The Passion and other books and essays by Bishop Guy Gaucher.

Reviewed by Keith J. Egan [Source: here]; Keith J. Egan holds the Aquinas Chair in Catholic Theology at Saint Mary's College and is Adjunct Professor of Theology at Notre Dome University.vCopyright Spiritual Life Spring 2000

"There is but one thing for us to do in the night of this life and that is to love, to love Jesus with all the energy of our heart and to save souls so that He may be loved by them. O let us cause Jesus to be loved by men!"---St. Therese

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