Recently in Therese & the Little Way Category

October Begins

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You all know by now that I love October. I really love October. A Lot.

Today St. Thèr&ecute;se, tomorrow Guardian Angels, October 7, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St Teresa of Avila on October 15th. I know, I know, there are others, but this is just a sampling.

In addition, we get peak color in the Northern states, and in my home states, all of those birds that have migrated north, return to roost in the trees so that you see thousands and thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds. The trees look like they're decorated already for Christmas. This month really makes my heart sing.

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A Pair of Observations

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There are times in thinking when one line of thought leads is some odd way to another. So it was the other day as I was thinking about who knows what and it occurred to me that it takes some of us an entire lifetime to learn to say, "Yes." Others seem to grasp the point much earlier in life. St. Therese leanred "Yes" very early on. I have not yet done so. Learning to say yes, mean yes, and live yes--what a formidable task. But it is all made possible through love:

"Many waters cannot destroy love,
for love is stronger than death. . . "

It is only on the tenuous bridge of love that humanity crosses from one generation to the next. We cannot cross in any other way, but looked at today it seems so much more tenuous than it ever has. Surely this is mere chronological bias--surely. All times must have seemed this way to the people living in them. After all, how many times did God have to tell us that the right thing to do is to give some food to the hungry. Surely our own innate human understanding should make this a point that needs no further reinforcement from a supernatural agency? And yet, when it is not said and repeated constantly, the vast majority of us tend to fall back on "I, me, mine."

Anyway--you can see how thoughts start in one way and end in another. And I am intrigued by the thought that love is that slender bridge, the rope bridge across the chasm that looks at any moment like it might be swept away, and yet which, because of its Foundation, is more solid than the rock it is anchored to. And yet, we trust it so little. Or perhaps we don't, but there are those among us who look at it askance.

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The Beginning of October

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I think I've said before that October is my favorite month. It has long been so. Apple harvest is in, the beginning of pumpkin pie and spice season, and that gradual lowering toward the deep dark of December, but not yet there.

Another thing about October, and perhaps this is just another sign of my calling, is that we celebrate two major Carmelite Saint feasts and the Feast of the Holy Rosary (which is neither Carmelite, nor a favorite of mine, but it adds to that month in which we also celebrate St. Francis of Assisi and indeed, All Saints).

For today, I just wanted to remind everyone of the gentle power of St. Therese, the entrenched determination to love. She is a saint who said she wanted to spend her heaven doing good on Earth, and the good she did, does, and taught/teaches continues to support us all in our journey toward God.

Happy October. Happy St. Therese Day. And a joyous conclusion to Rosh Hashanah, with hopes for a blessed Yom Kippur.

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And Lest We Forget


Today is the feast day of "The Little Flower." The same great saint whose inspiration and wisdom helped other saints of similar name through times of great trial and darkness. Her little way is simple, but simple almost never equals easy. It is simple to roll a wheelbarrow filled with lead from the top of a hill to the bottom; however getting to the bottom without damaging oneself or one's surroundings is not easy.

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James 2:13

Merciless is the judgment on the man who has not shown mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.

Here we have the glimmering of the love of God that, I am convinced, took us a long time to understand fully. In fact, I would mark the turning point in our understanding of this Lord near the turn of the 20th century, with the still quiet voice of a young French girl hidden away in a cloister of little importance in the small French town of Lisieux. This young girl, raised in the Jansenist, puritanical vein of the Church vouchsafed us all a glimpse of what God is really like; and her revelation, prophet-like, received the endorsement of the Church--first with her unprecedentedly rapid canonization and then with her elevation to Doctor of the Church.

She didn't invent anything new, but she showed in a new light what had been proclaimed since the time of Jesus. God is a Father. Not only is He a Father, He is the exemplar of all fathers. And because at the same time He is all Love and all Goodness, He is a Father whose patience is infinite and whose heart longs for our return to Him. The smallest motion, the slightest leaning in His direction and He is there to scoop us up in His arms and bring us to Him, the very finest "elevator to God" because in the entire journey, we are close to Him.

This is the God that Jesus proclaimed, the God who is the Father of the prodigal Son. He isn't a new invention. But Saint Therese had the courage and tenacity to give us a new insight into Him. We understand Him now as we do largely because of the synchronicity of St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Dom Columba Marmion, and St. Pius X. Together the three of these, and probably a host of others, converged upon the vision of God the Merciful and loving Father. The Holy Spirit reawakened this knowledge in a very special way for all of us moderns. And we would do well to recall it frequently and to act with the knowledge that with God as our Father, we are all brothers and sisters. We do well to forgive, put aside our petty sibling rivalry, and show His beautiful mercy and love to all around us.

St. Therese continues to shower roses from heaven upon those willing to receive them.

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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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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. Thérèse quoted in Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition Paul-Marie of the Cross O.C.D.

Merit does not consist in doing or in giving much, but rather in receiving, in loving much. . . . It is said, it is much sweeter to give than to receive, and it is true. But when Jesus wills to take for Himself the sweetness of giving, it would not be gracious to refuse. Let us allow Him to take and give all He wills.

Our merits increase as we empty ourselves and allow God to fill us. Utter self-giving means utter Divine receiving, and whatever merits we might have accrued dim in comparison to being spouse to God. Once again, St. Thérèse is so right on the mark. And one of the great difficulties of our time is that so many know well how to give, but receive very, very poorly.

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