The Holy Family--An Ordinary Life--The Ordinariness of the Saints

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More insight from St. Thérèse via H.U. Von Balthasar.

from Two Sisters in the Spirit Hans Urs von Balthasar
[here von Balthasar quotes from Manuscript B of Story of a Soul]

What does me a lot of good when I think of the Holy Family is to imagine a life that was very ordinary. It wasn't everything they have told us or imagined. Such as the story that the Child Jesus modeled a little bird out of clay and breathed upon it, so that it came to life . . . . In that case, why were they not trasnported to Egypt by a miracle--that would at least have been useful and not at all diffiuclt for the good God. They would have been there in the twinkling of an eye. But no, that did not happen. Their life was the same as ours.

Here the truth of the Incarnation is in question and therefore the truth of our whole life, which is only true when it is lived through to its utmost depths as it comes to us from its source, the Savior. Men always believe that they are supposed to attribute to the Lord every imaginable, superhuman "perfection"; and the fact that they do so may even be a token of their admiration. Yet ultimately this perfection lies in that very humility and love by which he became like us in everything except sin. For he was obedient unto death, learning this obedience through suffering

And what pious nonsense has been talked in the name of Mariology! Rather as if she herself were wielding the thong of cords at the purification of the temple, Thérèse ruthlessly kicks aside all the heaps of pious, well-meant untruths that have been wished upon the Mother of the Lord and in the end leave souls unnourished and prevent them from drink the living waters.

All the sermons on Mary I have heard have left me cold. . . . How I should love to have been a priest in order to preach about the Mother of God! I believe that just one sermon would have been enough for me to show what I mean. I would begin by showing how the life of the Mother of God is, in fact, very little known. One should not relate improbable stories about her, such as, for instance, that she went to the temple when she was a child of only three years in order to offer herself to God because she was so full of burning love and extraordinary fervor. Perhaps she went there quite simply out of obedience to her parents. . . . If a sermon on Mary is to bear tfruit, it must give a genuine picture of her life, as we are allowed to glimpse it in the Gospels, instead of something imagined. And it is surely easy to sense that her life in Nazareth and later must have been perfectly ordinary. "He was subject to them." How simple that is!

Too often, it seems, we may do the same with Saint's lives. We look upon their extraordinary accomplishments and then embellish them so that they become not so much role models as distant figures of impossible faith and piety. We neglect their ordinariness. We admire them, but we can come up with an extraordinary plexus of reasons why we couldn't possible emulate them in any way. How often have I heard, "Oh, I couldn't be like St. Thérèse, she was so holy from such a young age." So who is asking you to be like St. Thérèse? We already have one of those, and there are those in the world who would maintain that one is more than enough. (I used to be among them--no longer).

God gives us Saints not so much for slavish imitation as for encouragement. No one is called to be another St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Anything. Each person is called to be a unique Saint, just as they are a unique person. The canonized Saints give us a glimpse of how others have achieved this. How they have achieved heroic sanctity despite a less than heroic start; how they have come to love God when they started by dispising Him; how their own persons and personalities are used by God to erect new Saints and new heroes, new examples that tell us--"You can do it."

After all, what is remarkable about St. Thérèse? She grew up a bourgeoise French lady, a potential snob, in a jansenist French society, overwhelmed with the exceeding wrath of God. She was treacly sweet and had a hellish temper at the same time and was stubborn as an ox. Nothing here particularly remarkable. And in that very fact lies our best hope. Just as there is nothing particularly remarkable about any of us, so too God can use that milquetoast or wanness and convert it into heroic virtue.

When I reflect on St. Thérèse this is what I most often think about--her humble beginnings did not stand in the way of her storming heaven, asking for, and receiving the gift of holiness, the gift of love. So what stops me? And when I think like this I realize that there is very, very little in the way--only myself. And if Jesus is willing, I can be healed.

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The Ordinariness of the Saints from Revolution of Blog on July 8, 2004 11:29 AM

Steven at Flos Carmeli always has some great posts, I just never have time to get over there. Although today I visited and I love this piece! It reminds me of when my spiritual director told me that God is... Read More


St. Therese is also a wonderful model because for much of her time in Carmel and in particular the last year and a half of her life, she was not filled with consolations from God. But instead endured a dark night that only lifted immediately near her death.

It is this determination and commitment to "surrender and gratitude," no matter what she was feeling or sensing, that makes her a marvel for me.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 8, 2004 8:17 AM.

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