To Die of Love

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The Saint of the Little Way, well known for her French schoolgirl and sentimentality, disliked by the intellectuals, a little repugnant to modern sensibilities, had this to say:

Our Lord died on the cross in agony and yet this is the most beautiful death of love. . . To die of love is not to die in transports.

-St. Thérèse

Spoken by one in the throes of a most excruciating crucible of ravaging tuberculosis, it carries the weight of authority. This is not some starry-eyed Schoolgirl--this is a young woman facing her own death, alone as Jesus was alone, in the midst of the deepest, darkest night any of us can begin to imagine. She neither turned her back on it, nor did she flee to seek refuge in some vain hope or in bitterness. Instead, knowing full well what was at the end, she embraced it and went to it. This she did because of her love and Jesus and her thirst for souls.

The exterior of the package, no matter how much sugary dressing it may have, does not reveal the interior strength, the beauty of the soul that even now "Spends [her] heaven doing good on Earth."

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St. Therese wrote, of course, using a literary style informed by her cultural background (French, late nineteenth century) and her own personality (analytical, passionate, compassionate). But, I believe that she was a great writer as well as one of the great jewels of Catholic spirituality. When one reads, the passage in "The Story of a Soul", wherein she describes the spiritual darkness in which she found herself as she went through the dying process, it is impossible to imagine how it could be improved. She describes how the "voices" of disbelief taunt her, beckoning her, not with the hope of heaven, but the likelihood of personal extinction. She also unflinchingly describes the loss she felt at the death of her mother and the long illness of her father without treacly sentiment or morbidity. Therese presents these episodes without self-pity. Her sole point, as she states at the outset of her "book", was to sing God's praises in the middle of joy and sorrow. I think that the overarching hallmark of her style--of her life--is good manners. She manages to be both sweet and provocative as she describes the most difficult subjects. For us living in a much more coarser age, this surfeit of tact leaves us confused.

Dear Juan,

Thank you so much for the comments. I agree entirely, although at one time I did not. There is a general distaste for St. Therese's style, although not her spirituality. It is prevalent among many Catholics who prefer the more robust phrasings of, say, a St. Edith Stein, to the more delicate, and perhaps less intellectually informed phrasings of a Therese. Both are great saints, and I'm sure St. Edith Stein would agree with St. Teresa of Avila, "It is not to know much, but to love much."

Thanks for your beautiful appreciate of St. Therese. It really adds to the blog and to the entry.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 20, 2006 9:17 AM.

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