St Therese and Spiritual Childhood

With the Feast of St Therese of Lisieux on October 1st, it is well-timed to reflect on the spiritual childhood of St Therese. Being childlike involves certain characteristics. Among these are confident trust and knowing unconditional love. Knowing unconditional love is very important and leads to that confident trust we want to have in God. However, St Therese’s cultural milieu had a strong emphasis on God’s justice and a rigorous adherence to the rules. This culture contributed to her struggle for holiness and perfection. In some way, we all struggle to some degree with these things. This is why St Therese is still relevant and continues to speak to us today.

In the gospels, Jesus reaches out to connect with lepers, cripples and those people considered unimportant and insignificant in the eyes of the religious authorities and leaders. Jesus often makes reference to the Kingdom of God and how it belongs to children and all the lowly and the despised people in society. Let the little children come to me, He said, for such does the kingdom of God belong. On the contrary, He had harsh words for the scribes and Pharisees. These people were focused on religious perfection, gaining merit in God’s sight, and ultimately, being justified before God. Today, we still have many of those underlining attitudes ingrained in our psyches. Like us, St Therese aspired for holiness and perfection. She wanted to be a saint. She continued to try, yet came up against the wall of her own “littleness”–her weaknesses, limitations, and failures. Her frail humanity weighed her down. But instead of being discouraged, she continually turned to God in prayer. And thus she writes in her autobiography, Story of a Soul:

“I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new. We are now living in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the homes of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.”

From this passage, St. Therese began to develop her “little way” of being a child of God. With childlike trust and confidence, she threw herself in the arms of Jesus. The photograph below is what this childlike confidence and trust might look like. The girl on the big rock is ready to jump off knowing that her father will catch her in his arms. She loves this experience and it is like the bliss and joy of heaven for her to be able to leap off the rock knowing that her father will be there to catch her. This pure confidence and trust of a child is the essence of what the spiritual childhood of St Therese is all about. Maybe we can reflect and pray with the image? How many times have we been on a rock, figuratively speaking? Do we stay stuck on the rock in fear and worry, or do we find the joy and bliss of leaping into the arms of God our Father.

This is the kind of trusting abandonment that Jesus asks of us. Unless we have that childlike trust to jump off that rock, we will not enter into the heavenly bliss that Jesus desires us to experience even in this life. This trusting abandonment means turning away from the mentality that our justification rests upon our own shoulders. It is a turning away from the denial of our own frailties and limitations. We need to become like little children who trust in the unconditional love of God. St Therese discovered that her littleness was the very source and foundation of her relationship with God, not a hindrance to it. God’s mercy is always there for us, and is found in the midst of our struggles. We need only to turn to God with all our weaknesses to receive His unconditional love and mercy. This is what St Therese came to know and experience in her struggle for holiness. Let us pray that we can follow in her footsteps.

St Therese

 

St Therese: Her Family

From the archives! A talk by Fr James Geoghegan, OCD in the Evening Lecture Series at the Carmelite Institute of Spirituality in Stanwood, WA.  October 10, 1990

 

Prayer to the Holy Trinity

Today, November 14, is the Feast of All Carmelite Saints. Our newest Carmelite Saint is St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, canonized on October 16, 2016. In her honor and for all the Carmelite Saints who have continued to build the Order based upon the foundations established by Sts. Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross, we offer St. Elizabeth’s Prayer to the Holy Trinity:

O My God, Trinity whom I adore! Help me to become wholly forgetful of self, that I may be immovably rooted in You, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. May nothing disturb my peace or draw me forth from You, but may I, at every moment, penetrate more deeply into the depths of Your mystery!

Establish my soul in peace, make it Your heaven, Your cherished abode, and the place of Your rest. Let me never leave You alone, but remain wholly absorbed in You, in living faith, plunged in adoration, and wholly yielded up to Your creative action!

O my Christ whom, I love! Crucified for love! Would that I might be the bride of Your Heart! Would that I might cover You with glory and love You even until I die of love! Yet I realize my weakness and beseech You to clothe me with Yourself, possess me wholly; substitute Yourself for me, that my life may be but a radiance of Your life. Enter my soul as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior!

O eternal Word, Utterance of my God! I long to spend my life in listening to You; to become wholly teachable, that I may learn all from You! Through all darkness, all privations, all helplessness, I yearn to keep my eyes ever upon You, and to dwell beneath Your great light, O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may be unable to withdraw myself from Your rays!

O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love! Come down into me and reproduce in me, as it were, an incarnation of the Word, that I may be to Him a superadded humanity, wherein He may renew all His Mystery!

And You, O Father, bend down towards Your poor little creature and overshadow her, beholding in her none other than Your beloved Son in whom You are well pleased.

O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity wherein I lose myself! I yield myself to You as Your prey. Immerse Yourself in me that I may be immersed in You, until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness!

In the Carmelite Proper Liturgy of the Hours, the second reading in the Office of Readings for this feast is taken from the writings of St. Teresa of Jesus. She reminds us that the Carmelite vocation is one of prayer and contemplation. “For this we were founded,” she says. Prayerful and contemplative reading of St. Elizabeth’s Prayer to the Holy Trinity is an excellent means of fulfilling this vocation.

 

What are the Beatitudes?

One thousand nine hundred and ninety years ago, on a low hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus Christ sat down and spoke to his disciples. The site is the present-day location of the church of the Beatitudes, memorializing the spot where the transformative Sermon on the Mount was pronounced. The Sermon contains the Beatitudes, nine poetic expressions of God’s values.[1] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” is the first Beatitude, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew at 5:3.

What are the Beatitudes? What is their significance, especially for people nowadays? A common, but mistaken, impression is that the Beatitudes are just a set of rules that Jesus added, over and above the Ten Commandments, for people who aspire to a higher level of holiness. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us this common interpretation “totally misconstrues these words of Jesus.”[2] So, what are the Beatitudes?

The Beatitudes are paradoxes—they turn the standards of the world upside down because they see things from God’s perspective; they state God’s values.[3] “The Beatitudes are promises resplendent with the new image of the world and of man inaugurated by Jesus, his ‘transformation of values.’”[4] The Beatitudes tell us that it is not the rich and successful, the powerful and praised, who will be rewarded; rather, it is the poor in spirit, for their reward will be eternal life in heaven. As such, “the Beatitudes stand opposed to our spontaneous sense of existence, our hunger and thirst for life.”[5]

But the Beatitudes are not just some contrarian philosophy of life. They give “a proper ordering to our lives.”[6] Ancient Greeks were “deeply aware that man’s real sin, his deepest temptation, is hubris—the arrogant presumption of autonomy that leads man to put on airs of divinity.”[7] “This awareness that man’s true peril consists in the temptation to ostentatious self-sufficiency, which at first seems so plausible, is brought to its full depth in the Sermon on the mount in light of the figure of Christ.”[8]

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” says Jesus in His third Beatitude. The Beatitudes are revealed truth; they are the words of God, instructing us on how to live, about what is valuable and right. They give us “the correct image of man and his happiness.”[9] As promises, the Beatitudes foretell the great reward that will be given to those who adopt the Beatitudes as their attitude of life: reasonable happiness in this life and eternal happiness in the next. As such, “they are directions for discipleship[10],” for following Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Luke also gives an account of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke recounts a warning added to the Beatitudes: “But woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Lk 6:25). The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche asked “what has been the greatest sin on earth so far? Surely, the words of the man who said ‘Woe to those who laugh now’”.[11] Though Nietzsche died of mental illness, much of his philosophy “has found its way into the modern mindset…”[12] His philosophy worked its way into the minds of the Nazis, whose ideology resulted in the greatest man-made catastrophe in human history.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4). “The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because ‘everyone does it.’”[13] The Beatitudes present us with a challenge. We can exercise our freedom to follow them or we can exercise our freedom to be indifferent to them, as did Nietzsche.[14] The choice to live the Beatitudes results in a freedom of excellence.[15] On the other hand, history teaches us that we laugh at the Beatitudes at our own peril.

[1] (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth-from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), p. 71).

[2] (Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, 70).

[3] (Jesus of Nazareth, 71).

[4] (71-72).

[5] (98).

[6] (98).

[7] (Id.).

[8] (98-99).

[9] (99).

[10] (74).

[11] (97).

[12] (97).

[13] (87-88).

[14] (Dr. Matthew Ramage, PhD.,lecture on The Sermon on the Mount: Beatitudes (Cromwell, CT: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, recorded 12 September 2016).

[15] (Id.).