The Little Way

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from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

Thérèse stands at the centre of the Carmelite tradition with her belief that we can all achieve closeness to God through our prayer and our following of Jesus Christ as we live the Gospel. . . . For Thérèse, holiness, closeness to God, in not achieved by spectacular ascetic practices. We come to God by infusing love into every aspect of life. The 'Little Way' is one of childlike trust in God, but it is not infantile and naive, or a searching for the lost innocence of some idealised childhood. . . . She wanted a quiet hidden relationship, to live out in secret her love for God.

The Little Way is simple but it is not easy. Thérèse has clearly shown us that the way to God is not paved with the spectacular--neither in actions, nor in deeds, nor particularly in high-flown thought. It is remarkable that Thérèse is a doctor of the church in that she had a very ordinary intellect--she was not a genius in our understanding of the word. But she was a Spiritual Genius. She saw into the heart of the teaching of St. John of the Cross and pulled out of it the Little Way. That is an act of imagination and genius that is hard to qualify.

In addition Thérèse was tempted many times to despair and even to suicide as her life came to an end. She was ordinary in every sense of the term, and extraordinary of spirit. She was a living embodiment of John's passive dark night of the spirit and through her love of Jesus Christ came to an end of love that would resound through the Church and through the ages.

One wonders what future writers will make of this little Saint, how the patina of years will change her story and make of her something akin to what the great Medieval Saints are to us. Will she be shrouded in legend, or have we grown too rational, too sophisticated, too hardened to begin to accrete legend to her story. I hope not. I hope that over the years studying and rethinking her doctrine and her life will lead many to understand it in a new way and that way will become legend. Just as Filipe Ribot thought about and meditated upon the life of Elijah as he wrote De institutione and formulated a legend, a story of origins that pierces to the heart of the Carmelite charism and which inspired countless Carmellites after him to come to the way and to return to the way described as that of the first monks.

We cannot know what the future will hold for her story, but it is possible now to follow her little way, scarcely a century old, and yet shown durable, powerful, and meaningful to ordinary people in ordinary lives.

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I believe that Therese has defied "gravity" by becoming a more defined, vivid person now than she was at the time of her canonization. During the first half of the twentieth century she was hagiographed within an inch of reality, reduced to a "Little Flower", a Sister Barbie. Starting, I think, with Ida Goerre's masterful and provocative biography, "The Hidden Face", she has become the frequent subject of theological and (possibly too much) psychological study. I wonder, if any saint other than Francis (who had a 600 year head start) has been more studied. Will this level of inquiry hold up as interest in the saints seems generally to fade? When I've visited Lisieux, there appeared to be a decent flow of pilgrim traffic, but I do not know how today's numbers compare to whatever existed in the 50's and 60's. Are the French still aware of their secondary patroness? I hope so, although "Catholic" and "France" are no longer joined concepts.

Therese, her charisma never dimming, may just remain that most rare of saints--the subject of grassroot devotion and scholarly study. I pray so.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 7, 2006 9:26 AM.

Another Word from La Madre--Practical Love was the previous entry in this blog.

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