Monday, February 05, 2007

Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower

Sightings of the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux have been occurring on our posts of late as well as in the book I am reading Christology From Within by Mark McIntost on Hans Urs von Balthasar. McIntosh writes in his book that von Balthasar feels that obedience is a means of self-discovery far better than our usual process of discerning, reflections or scrutinizing of ones own talents and potentialities.
“In the case of Thérèse, the self-discovering journey of obedience begins with the move into Carmel. Only in this way, says von Balthasar, could the potential dynamic in her life grow into an “infinity movement.”

“What Thérèse needs is that her personality should die, and that she should be reborn as a person at a level where she has to draw upon all her latent possibilities… Through entering this new state of life Thérèse is given the opportunity to shed her personal limitations and acquire the stature which is hidden for her in God and is only to be revealed through her mission to the Church."

Check out the following site for chapter III of Thérèse OF LISIEUX - THE STORY OF A MISSION, by Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1954 - This chapter may open up the depth of the teaching of Saint Thérèse on the "little way" in a whole new and exciting way! Hans Urs von Balthsar shows just how radical, innovative this little saint is, and yet how traditional and how rooted in the Catholic vision. It is my own opinion that this book on Thérèse, just one chapter of which is reproduced here, may have contributed greatly to the ultimate decision made by our Pope, John Paul II, to declare Saint Thérèse a "Doctor/Teacher of the Universal Church." Her doctrine goes to the heart of the Gospel, and perhaps not all have really discovered its riches yet.... and it is my joy to make this available.

A side note: I must say that my wife and I did not think much of the movie Thérèse


Porthos said...

Thanks for this, Aramis! I did read most of the Balthazar book this summer, but had to abandon it 2/3 through when I left the place it was at. Come to think of it, same thing happened, same place, with The Story of a Soul. The summer of unfinished books.

Yeah, I did not see the movie, but it also got panned by Barbara Nicolosi as sentimental tripe.

I saw a French movie this summer on Therese (same title?) which was probably much higher quality in terms of cinematography (and a very charming lead) but was all kind of like, Bergmanian whispers and shadows of adolescent sexuality and so forth.

Alas, I fear our poor film-makers are out of their depth here. As are we all.

I tell you, Ar, Therese is a real good friend to make.

Post more on Therese! You couldn't possibly overdo it!

More Therese! More Therese! More Therese!

Porthos said...

Splendid chapter you link there, Aramis, though I've only got about 1/4 into it so far. Thanks!

Athos said...

O my, O my. Aramis, such a feast you have set before us in this low tavern. Such a feast! Hoist tankards to St Therese, and Fr von Balthasar for, for such a repast:

'Therese inserts her New Testament theology and asceticism at the exact point where the transition takes place. Her "little way" to "little sanctity" at first appears quite innocently as one way amongst many others, and she contrasts it particularly with the "great ways" of the "great saints" (to start with these include her big sisters Pauline and Marie, both of whom she describes as "eagles" in comparison with herself, the "little bird "). These great saints have done mighty deeds for God, but they are so superior as to discourage Therese, who does not dare to set out on their highway.

'But the more she gets to know the little way the more she realizes, to her genuine surprise, that it is the only way. So we need not ourselves be impressed when we notice an ironical, scolding twinkle in her eye as she gazes reverently towards the "great saints". The twinkle becomes more obvious as time goes on and she assumes the role of David, armed with a sling, and venturing into the open to attack the Goliath of "great sanctity." "The great saints have gained Heaven by their works; myself, I wish to imitate the thieves, I wish to take it by a trick, a trick of love which will give me entry, me and other poor sinners."

'And what is this trick? "It is quite simple. Hold nothing back. Distribute your goods as soon as you get them ... if at the moment of death I were to present my little coins to have them estimated at their true worth Our Lord would not fail to discover dross in them which I should certainly go and deposit in Purgatory. Are we not told that although the great saints appear before God's judgment seat with their hands full of merits, yet they sometimes go to that place of expiation because no justice is without blemish in the eyes of the Lord." And now she transfers her amused gaze away from men towards God, as it were teasing the God of justice: "When I think of the good God's statement: 'I shall come soon and bring my reward with me, repaying everyone according to his works', then I say to myself that He will find Himself wonderfully embarrassed with me, because I have no works! So He will not be able to repay me according to my works. Very well, then, I trust that He will repay me according to His works."'

Porthos said...

Wonderful! Balthasar says elsewhere in the book that Therese is Catholicism's answer to Luther. Also, I read somewhere that much of the impetus behind Vatican II was Therese and the quiet little revolution she initiated.

Athos said...

Amy Welborn has spoken recently about Into Great Silence, a film about the Grande Chartreuse, considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries high in the French Alps. Similar to the likelihood of a teenager or denizen of pop culture sitting down to read the Little Flower, the notion of monasticism has all the appeal of the waiting room of a bus station.

And this, I think, speaks to the problem formulated earlier by Aramis about evangelization and education of the laity of the Church as well as non-Christians.

How does the Church "get the word out" to people whose lives and ability to discern truth, goodness, and beauty have been burned out by crassness, brutality, and sheer volume of distractions?

Eliot said it in Ash Wednesday:

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile


But is it that the sister IS silent (no), or that the world pays her no heed (yes)?

Athos said...

Speaking of evangelization and conversion, Joseph Pearce says in an interview:

I believe that evangelization can take place in three distinct ways, constituting what might be termed "a Trinity of Truth". There is the evangelizing power of Reason, the evangelizing power of Love, and the evangelizing power of Beauty.

Ultimately, of course, these three, though distinct, are all one. The evangelizing power of Reason manifests itself in apologetics, philosophy and theology; the power of Love resides in the example of sanctity given by the saints and those trying to be saints (Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II being great examples of the evangelizing power of Love); and the power of Beauty is manifested through culture and the arts. I see my own vocation as being in the area of evangelizing the culture through Beauty, specifically the beauty of the work of great writers such as Tolkien, Chesterton, Lewis and others.

It is true that Chesterton and Lewis also evangelized through Reason in their works of apologetics. I also hope that I might grow in virtue so that I can evangelize through Love!

This interview can be found @:

Porthos said...

Balthasar: it's a choice between caritas or cupiditas. Charity or cupidity. I've got to scratch that onto my palm with a rusty nail or something, so that it gets through, and sticks.

Porthos said...

More Balthasar:

By this time it has become clear what this way of renunciation involves, and what a surprise it holds in store for those accustomed to traditional spirituality: Therese's demand that we must even love our own imperfection and not long to escape from it. First the joy of being treated as weak and imperfect. "What you need, what is most profitable for you, is that you should be found imperfect. When creatures realize that you are without virtue that deprives you of nothing and does not make you any the poorer; it is they who lose inner joy! For there is nothing sweeter than to think well of our neighbor... For myself it is a great joy not only when others find me imperfect but, above all, when I feel I am." 

The first thought was traditional. The originality comes in the conclusion. "Now I have reconciled myself to seeing myself imperfect always and even to finding my joy in it" -- and this knowledge is connected with another one, which clarifies it: "At the beginning of my spiritual life, at the age of about thirteen or fourteen, I asked myself what I should learn later; I then thought it impossible for me to understand perfection better; but I realized very quickly that the further one advances along this road the further from the goal one believes oneself to be." 

It is indeed the case that the feeling of getting nowhere is a sort of indirect guarantee of being on the right road. Yet Therese's joy has an even deeper foundation -- a genuine love of her imperfection. "How fortunate I am to see my imperfection, to need God's mercy so greatly at the hour of my death." Mercy can only be fully accepted with the whole soul by a person who feels a deep need for it. Faults are welcomed as occasions of humility towards God: "Whenever I have been guilty of a fault which causes me sorrow, then I know that this sadness is a result of my infidelity. But I do not let it rest at that. I say to the good God, 'I know that I have deserved this feeling of sorrow; nevertheless, let me offer it to You as a trial bestowed on me by Your love. It grieves me that I have done it, but I am glad to have this sorrow to offer to You'." 

They are also occasions of humility towards one's neighbor. When she was seriously ill one of the Sisters asked her to perform some superfluous service: Therese, betraying her momentary annoyance, then stood there silently blushing. "That evening she wrote me a little note, 'This evening I have again shown you my 'virtue', my 'store' of patience. I, who am so good at preaching to others! I am glad that you were present to observe my failure. You did not correct me, and yet I deserved to be... Oh, how it does me good to have behaved badly; I prefer to have failed rather than to have appeared, by God's grace, a model of gentleness. It helps me beyond measure to find that Jesus is just as gentle and loving towards me as ever'." It is better to feel humbled through remembering one's faults than to be self-satisfied at the thought of one's conquests. "The remembrance of my faults humbles me and prevents me from ever relying upon my own strength, which is only weakness; it just tells me more and more of God's mercy and love."

Not that Therese loves her weakness for its own sake. But she prefers to be in a condition where she is naked to the grace of God. Weakness, not only physical but moral weakness, also brings with it a marked sensitivity to grace which she would not have apart from her failures. Therese's Christian view of time as a constant encounter with eternity demands this refinement of her soul if her whole being is to be bared to the whole stress of God's love. In this fallen world that is only possible through constant humiliations. Without them the soul would soon relapse into contentment and transform the uniqueness of eternity into a long extent of time.

And since this encounter with eternity in faith, hope and charity is not a measurable "experience" the refinement of soul is not directed towards exquisite feelings but towards a more intense fidelity, described in the New Testament as patience. Infidelity, according to Therese, stands very close to unbelief: "Mother, if I were to be unfaithful, if I were to commit the very least infidelity, I should have to expiate it with the most frightful mortifications and it would leave me incapable of facing death. I always pray to the good God, 'O God, preserve me from the misfortune of infidelity'. From any involuntary thoughts of my own superiority, such as imagining that I have acquired some virtue which I am certain to be able to exercise. For then I should be relying on my own strength, and whoever does that is in danger of plunging into the abyss. If I were to say, 'O God, You know I love You too much to be disturbed by thoughts against faith', this would so increase my temptations that I should undoubtedly succumb to them."

David Nybakke said...

Oh, Porthos, oh my. My pee-brain will need many days and nights to go through this. Thank you.

In each and every statement there seems to be multiple layers of thoughts to digest. I am simply skimming here this first run through.

Okay, 1st paragraph:
"When creatures realize that you are without virtue that deprives you of nothing and does not make you any the poorer; it is they who lose inner joy! For there is nothing sweeter than to think well of our neighbor..."

Woooo..., she writes, "it is they who lose inner joy! For there is nothing sweeter than to think well of our neighbor..."

Interesting comment.

What do you think if she were to place herself in the "they" position? In other words, what if she came to realize that the other had no virtue, would she lose inner joy? Is this one of those statements that can only be said by a saint and in only one direction? I think of St. Francis, my patron saint, who saw absolutely no virtue in himself, but (and I could be wrong here) he saw total abundance of virtue in all other things. So when she writes; "When creatures realize that you are without virtue..." This means that when you, a creature, realizes that another has no virtue when you thought they had, then you lose inner joy. Is that correct?


Porthos said...

Let's break this down, then. She is saying that when others (e.g. Athos and Porthos) realize that you (e.g. Aramis) are without virtue, it doesn't make you (Aramis) any poorer but rather richer. In fact, is is Athos and Porthos who lose inner joy because we have robbed ourselves of the opportunity to think highly of Aramis. Is that right? Now, let's do the switcheroo: if Aramis realizes that Porthos is without virtue (a relatively easy realization to make) are you robbed of inner joy? Perhaps insofar as it's either a huffy superiority or crochety annoyance on your part. But maybe there's another way of being robbed of inner joy in a not necessarily bad way, e.g. genuine concern and sorrow that Porthos is not being what he could be in Christ.

Indeed, that sorrow would seem appropriate as a charitable take on the sin in ourself and others, or in other words, the right approach to the world. How does this stack up with St. Francis?

David Nybakke said...

OOOHHH this is a bit slippery. So this whole thing "where's virtue? puzzle" (like in the where's Waldo? puzzles) is a hoax?

LUKE 18:19 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. (NASB ©1995)

"When creatures realize that you are without virtue that deprives you of nothing and does not make you any the poorer; it is they who lose inner joy! For there is nothing sweeter than to think well of our neighbor..."

"For there is nothing sweeter than to think well of our neighbor..." Hummm "..." Is this some sort of projection game? And what is this thing she calls, "sweeter"? Is it actually something that sets one up for the old switch-a-roo?

We, the Massketeers would do well (so as to maintain inner joy) for our neighbor, Therese, and ourselves, to not look on our neighbor (Therese) with virtue as Therese has no desire to be with virtue. It is only God Who is Good.

I think I am sensing a headache coming on.

David Nybakke said...

Porthos, you write: In fact, it is Athos and Porthos who lose inner joy because we have robbed ourselves of the opportunity to think highly of Aramis.

No, Aramis laughs for I have no virtue. Lets drink to this.

And Aramis laughs with all who thinks me have no virtues. And a round for everyone.

But alas, Aramis is sad for those who think highly of me for they do not see. So Athos and Porthos lose inner joy when they build old Aramis up full of virtue. Moral of the story -- don't go building one another up only give praise to what is good, God.

Athos said...

I like the notion of the Little Flower going / coming before God empty handed ... no virtues, no merit, nothing to judge, nothing to gain or lose. A "trick", yet a warrior, o yes.

Cheers and what ho!

Porthos said...

Yeah, me too. I wonder if we aren't overinterpreting a peripheral or incidental item. Our empty-handedness before Christ is the thing, I think. There's a question of whether Therese slipped a bit in the formulation Aramis highlights. It's quite possible that she did. Is it important?

But she's writing in a cloistered context, I think. There are situations where, for instance, Therese is unjustly reprimanded by a superior for something that she didn't do wrong, or even meant as a good thing, but which she could not explain to the superior. So, she accepts the reprimand, and then even treasures it. Which is better, she asks, to be praised for a virtue that was actually less of a virtue than it seemed or was even no virtue at all, or to be reprimanded for a slip that was not actually a slip but a virtue? For Therese it's a no brainer: the latter. To be reprimanded for a bad that was actually a good is better than to be praised for a good that was actually a bad.

Of course, there will be problems translating that insight into Girardian Victimspeak (tm).

And at that precise point Porthos says, Who cares?

David Nybakke said...

I don't think that what von Balthasar brings up here in the writings of the Little Flower is of "little" importance, but rather a cause for the deepening (and probably it is illuminating a need for conversion) of our limited and culturally shaped sacrificial belief systems.

For me good psychological work is tied with a deeper understanding of personhood shaped in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. And the simplest form I have seen to help people -- 1) life is hard; 2) you are going to die; 3) you are not that important; 4) you are not in control; and 5) your life is not about yourself -- also does not incorporate any sentimentality of our new-age psychology of political correctness.

In another place von Balthasar writes on the notion of personhood: "In course of history Jesus' full "I" is realized not in a solipsistic (self-absorbed) fashion that would isolate him from others permanently, but rather his "I" becomes an "area" in which his people can also live and discover the reality of the human nature they were created to enjoy."

Life is not a being-on-the-sidelines affair, but rather a partnership with God, neighbor and ones own personhood shaped in Christ. When Therese brings up inner joy I think she is surveying the “area” which is inclusive and not isolated to our cultural-induced and diminishing concept of self. So when Athos comments that he likes to think of “the Little Flower going/coming before God empty handed…no virtues, no merit, nothing to judge, nothing to gain or lose” I think it is important that we, as the others, do not get caught in the sentimental “trick” of judging and therefore stand on the sidelines foregoing our own conversion and the taking-up-our-cross (a participation in the “Christian mission in which (we) can be given a share in His salvific work and suffering for the world.” von Balthasar). In our discussion of others projecting onto Therese, for ill or good – for tearing down or building up inner joy – she will have none of it, just as little children have none of that.

So as she says that whatever others think of her it will not have the power to disturb her inner joy and that for the others, they should abandon the “trick” of that same game of “judging” and simply open up into relationship with God and one another. Get out of the “I” and into the “area” of personhood created by Christ in the world.

Porthos said...

Aramis, that's a heavy post and worthy of a header (rather than being hidden down here in the comment boxes). However, I do question this part: "1) life is hard; 2) you are going to die; 3) you are not that important; 4) you are not in control; and 5) your life is not about yourself."

You write that this is key to "a deeper understanding of personhood shaped in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ." I don't deny there are some natural truths floating within your five items, but a fair smidgeon of that is cynical nihilistic wisdom of the sort I engaged in in HS and Uni: "Life's a b****, and then you die." I certainly didn't and don't need Christianity to come up with that.

Actually, if I'm "not that important" (item 3) I'm not sure why there would be a incarnation, life, death and resurrection" of Christ on my behalf, or why I should give a rat's patootie about what some "Christ" person did for "me" (that meaningless and accidental being whose thoughts words and actions have no effect on any outcome and who is slated for disintegration in the bizarre crap shoot of physical existence). What was that "Good News" again, Ar?

Porthos said...

Here's how I would rephrase it. What do you guys think?

"1) life is hard"
How about: "'in this world you will have trouble' but Christ has overcome the world--through our trouble we can find that it has meaning, and we can participate with Him in the redemption of the world; in our troubles we share in Christ's Passion. This is a great privilege. In fact there is no greater."

"2) you are going to die"
Yeah, but ditto above.

"3) you are not that important"
How about, "You are of infinite importance ('His eye is on the sparrow, consider the lily, etc.') but you are not competent to appreciate that or realize that; lose your importance in Him who gave His life for you; your importance will then become clear in ways you could not have imagined."

"4) you are not in control"
How about, "You are actually in control of very little that matters, but that small amount matters much more than you can possibly realize; you are in control of your freedom, and this freedom concerns your consent, or will."

"5) your life is not about yourself."
How about, "You are not competent to understand what your life is about. Lose your life in Him. Then you will find out that your life is about loving Him and that you can love Him in a completely unique way from anybody else. However, you don't achieve this by trying to be 'unique'; you achieve this by loving Him and letting Him do a unique work in you; this will echo back to Him and give Him great pleasure. Lose yourself and you will find yourself: a you-shaped vessel of the glory of God--but you didn't and don't make this vessel; He did and does. "

David Nybakke said...

"Who-we-are-in-God or 'love' takes no offense (1 Corinthians 13:5). The True Self is an indestructible image; as opposed to the 'heap of broken images' that Eliot calls the modern 'Wasteland.' An honest self-image needs neither to be asserted nor defended. It just is, and it is enough. Thus the saints speak of 'resting' in God. Only the True Self can rest. The false self is inherently restless." Father Richard Rohr

Though I would use a different term than True Self I think he explains why there does not need to be soft peddling of the truth. My contention is that it is in the soft peddling that culture puts its spin on it and romanticizes and puffs up the ego once again widening the gap between the person and God. Bailie’s Conversion tapes help us to realize just how much we all are “heaps of broken images.”

Going back to the comment in which I included this list I think you can hear the faint whisper of a conversion that opens up the person into an "area" of inclusion and mission that no longer needs to be so obsessed with one's self - just as the Little Flowers over and over tells us.

Porthos said...

Sorry, Aramis, I missed the follow-up because it was way down the scrollbar!

Now I see what you're saying. It's a delicate operation, though, because hardened nihilists already agree with those five points. And soft nihilists do in a softer way. Life's a b**** and then ya die (so increase pleasure, avoid pain), you're not important (so your actions don't matter), you're not in control (so you're not responsible for anything) life is not about you (so there are no consequences).

David Nybakke said...

Major, Major, MAJOR point to everything is that Christ is the answer.

We humans run around like as if our heads are cut off trying to come up with alternative answers to that major point, Christ is the answer. And all these things we use or come up with to prop us up tend to only distance us from the Truth. So I do not necessarily say that we take away those pseudo sciences, but I do agree with Amy Welborn that we who claim our personhood through the body of Christ - the Truth, that we must be more emptied of the world so that we can be filled more with the mission of Christ in the world. Bringing our Christ filled lives to others is their hope. This is the reality that Girardian thesis or “positive mimesis” helps to reveal. Understanding MT at a deeper and deeper level helps us to die to self, see ourselves as not important, realizing that we are going to die, we are not in control and that life is not about me - LIFE IS ABOUT CHRIST and how we participate in Christ.