Friday, February 11, 2011

St. Therese of Lisieux, Textual Critic

Most of the time I am reluctant to speak of a book---even a great and edifying book---too often in a short space of time, but Bishop Guy Gaucher's The Passion of Therese of Lisieux (click) has mesmerized me. And after a tough week I turned to her again as I often have when news or other more personal things seem bleak. After 30 years I thought I knew pretty much everything I needed to know about this blessed Saint who died so young (age 24) who I have always felt close to. But this book is different. The bishop's methodology is to use Therese's own insistence that the best lives of the saints, like the simplicity of the Gospels, are not embellished with conjectures and overly pious interpretations and projections. They simply relate the facts (often wondrous enough to be sure), the context, and their words which will have their own power. And in this instance the simplicity of the facts of her life and words are indeed filled with astonishing consoling power. Therese, Gaucher relates, often reflected,

"If some of the saints were to return to the earth, I wonder how many would recognize themselves in what has been written about them"

And so in this account of the last 6 months of the life of this remarkable young woman, her own conviction in this regard has become the hermeneutic, or principle of interpretation, throughout the book. Therese was so insistent about this simplicity and sticking to the facts that she did not hesitate to apply it even to the Blessed Mother, Mary of Nazareth. She said that if she had ever embarked on a writing about the Virgin Mary she would

"...first make people understand about the life of Mary at Nazareth. We understand how little we do know about her life. We shouldn't say unlikely things, or things we don't know anything about...as they [so many writers or homilists] imagine...I must see her real life, not her imagined life...[sermons] should present her as imitable, bringing out her virtues, saying that she lived by faith just as we do, and give proofs from the Gospel."

Therese's faith was thoroughly Christocentric first, and then---as it should naturally follow--- Marian in the most heartfelt way. It was precisely Mary's simplicity which enraptured her, despite the Saint's well-known trouble contemplating the mysteries of the rosary (her 'hair shirt' she called it). It was also why she was so edified in meditating on Jesus as a child. It was the true humanity of Christ and of the Holy Family which continually helped her to contemplate the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14). True God and true man.

In reflecting on Therese's own life bishop Gaucher has followed this method. And far from diminishing her, by staying strictly with the facts and her words which were documented carefully and regularly by her [flesh-and-blood] sisters who were in the same Carmel as the Saint, Therese comes alive in so many ways I had not previously known. This is seen especially in her last months, how she taught others during the time of her terrible suffering, often with amazing humor (she had a remarkable gift of mimicry---even of herself), with love and faith---even when the Night and inevitable "little" annoyances of community life were allowed to purify her and make her even more into the Love she longed to become. Even her voluntary acts of asceticism, i.e., self-sacrifice, were often motivated by the needs of others---as when, as a teenager, she gave up drinking water for a time for the soul of a condemned murderer who in the end, and against all odds, kissed the cross before being dispatched into eternity by the State.

St. Therese received certain extraordinarily profound graces to be sure, but only one very brief vision in her life, and it happened when she was healed from a crippling case of scruples as a child. She was not a Saint of miracles in the ordinary sense. Her whole and very real life was one great miracle of trust and grace. It was this simple trust in the saving goodness of the Lord which in the end made the Church declare her a Doctor of the Church. Evidently we needed to be reminded again of this trusting Love for the time to come. My mother's maiden name was Martin, the same as the Saint's, and the nuns in my mother's Catholic grammar school used to say "You may be related to the Little Flower!" Even the remote possibility brought joy to my mother as a girl...and to all of us since. This was a saint of the most remarkable spiritual depths. I hope you might get the book. It was a tough week here. But St. Therese came to the rescue---again.

--->Quotes of St. Therese of Lisieux...
________

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For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them their sins; and he hath placed in us the word of reconciliation. For Christ therefore we are ambassadors, God as it were exhorting by us. For Christ, we beseech you, be reconciled to God. ---2 Cor 5:19, 20

1 comment:

  1. A lovely reflection, and good points. I think of Little Therese as our Big Sister. Starting out my life as a sickling (like her, towards her end), there wasn't much dithering about a Confirmation namesake. I was glad then, and I'm even more glad, now. I've never met anyone of any faith who felt obliged to remain remote from the Little Flower or the Little Poverello. Pre-hagiography, both were very real indeed. They still are.

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