Friday, January 13, 2012

Seven Quick Takes I: Thérèse of Lisieux

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For some time I've been thinking of Joining the "Seven Quick Takes Friday" trend on the blogsphere. Following the lead of  Conversion Diary! who acts also as a host, many bloggers are joining into.

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The person of this week, for me is Thérèse of Lisieux, a young Carmelite nun of the late 19th century, who entered the cloistered convent at Lisieux at the age of 15, and died when she was 24. Little Thérèse had an unnoticed life. After her death however she became widely known and become a saint and a doctor of the Catholic Church.
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We know Thérese from three document that she wrote as a request of her prioress. Two of them are authobiographical accounts and one is an explanation of her "Little Way". These accounts were edited together after her death under the title "The story of a soul".  Her writings had awaked the hearts of many and proved her a master of spirituality. Her life show us that everyone can be a saint, that we can walk the road towards perfection by doing every small thing we do with love.

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From Richard Beck, who is doing a wonderful series on Thérese, I learned that when she was excited, she would write in capital letters. It is almost as we would do this on the internet now! What a pity that the version I have these details have been edited of.

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One day Thérèse was wondering why there should be different degrees of glory in heaven. Is this fair?

I told you [her sister] once how it puzzled me that God did not give everyone the same amount of glory in Heaven, and I feared they could not all be happy. You sent me off to fetch one of Father's big glasses and made me put my little thimble by the side of it; then you filled them both up with water and asked me which I thought was the fuller. I had to admit that one was just as full as the other because neither of them would hold any more.
That was the way you helped me to grasp how it was that in Heaven the least have no cause to envy the greatest.
By explaining such great mysteries in a way I could understand, you gave my soul its necessary food.

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Thérèse felt herself very loved by God and she loved Him very much. At the same time she had not great sins to repent from, and therefore she was struck by Jesus saying "to whom less if forgiven, he loveth less". To reconcile this facts she would argue that she, being too weak to face temptation, had been forgiven in anticipation, which is even greater occasion to be thankful to God.

Suppose the son of a skillful doctor falls over a stone lying in his path and breaks a limb. His father hurries to helphim and dresses his wound so skillfully that it heals completely. Naturally, he is quite right to love such a father and will be most grateful to him.
But supposing again this doctor saw the dangerous stone, anticipated that his son would fall over it and moved it out of the way when no one was looking; then his son would know nothing of the danger from which his father's loving care had saved him and so would have no reason to show gratitude. He would love him less than if he had healed some serious wound. But if he did find out the truth, surely his love would be even greater? I am that child, the object of the Father's loving providence, "who did not send His son to call the just, but sinners." (Luke 5:32). He wants me to love Him because He has forgiven me, not much, but everything. He did not wait for me to love Him with a great love, like Magdalene's, but made me see that He had loved me first, with an infinite providence, so that now I may love Him in return even unto folly.

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Thérèse had dreams of an heroic life. If only she were a priest! If only she were an apostle! If only she were a martyr! But she was a cloistered nun. What should be here vocation then? She found it to be love. To be the heart of the Church. 
I saw that if the Church was a body made up of different members, the most essential and important one of all would not be lacking; I saw that the Church must have a heart, that this heart must be on fire with love. I saw that it was love alone which moved her other members, and that were this love to fail, apostles would no longer spread the Gospel, and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I saw that all vocations are summed up in love and that love is all in all, embracing every time and place because it is eternal.
In a transport of ecstatic joy I cried: "Jesus, my Love, I have at last found my vocation; it is love! I have found my place in the Church's heart, the place You Yourself have given me, my God. Yes, there in the heart of Mother Church I will be love; so shall I be all things, so shall my dreams come true."

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