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Thérèse of Lisieux, Part II

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mysticism: Week 2

Thérèse of Lisieux, Part II
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I understand so very well that it is only through love that we can render ourselves pleasing to the good Lord, that love is the one thing I long for. The science of love is the only science I desire. —Thérèse of Lisieux [1]

Thérèse of Lisieux died just before the most violent century in human history. What if we had studied the “science of love” in the Little Way as she did? Harnessing the energy of love in the smallest interactions, moment by moment, we might have found that, indeed, “Love is as strong as Death” (Song of Songs 8:6). What if we had practiced confidence as Thérèse did—as deep trust in the mercy, love, and goodness of God? Maybe we would not have found ourselves in the position where good people participated in wars that killed over 100 million people in the twentieth century.

I am convinced that “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) is ignorant killing, and as we see today, we are destroying the world through our ignorance. We need to recognize our own personal and structural violence. The death instinct always comes from people who are unconscious, unaware, and indeed do not know what they are doing. Now we can hear Jesus on the cross and know why he said, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). When we love, we do know what we are doing! Love, if it is actually love, is always a highly conscious act. We do evil when we slip into unconsciousness.

Thérèse learned the “science of love” not by willfully forcing herself to be loving, but by being aware of and learning from the times she was tempted to be unloving or overly attached to her own emotions. Brother Joe Schmidt brilliantly describes how God taught Thérèse to apply her initial weaknesses of self-consciousness and sensitivity to studying how to especially love the most unlovable of the sisters with whom she spent nine years in the convent. Then that widened to loving the whole world. Schmidt writes:

Through prayerful self-reflection on her spiritual journey, Thérèse came to know the depth of her self-centeredness, the extent of her God-inspired desires, and the role and significance of her thoughts, acts, and feelings in the spiritual life. Thérèse had a great self-confidence in her ability to be honest with herself and an enormous intuitive capacity about the ways of human and divine love. Under the microscope of prayer, in her self-awareness, she came to learn universal truths about love: how love originates, how it is nourished or blocked, and how it grows. Her life became a microcosm of love, her teaching, a school of love. [2]

Thérèse has emerged as a primary teacher for many Christians throughout the world, Catholic and Protestant, lay persons, ministers, and formal religious. Many of us just think she “got it!” And then she gets you!

Gateway to Silence:
We are all one with You.

[1] Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, trans. John Clarke (ICS Publications: 1996), 187-188.
[2] Joseph F. Schmidt, Walking the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux: Discovering the Path of Love (The Word Among Us Press: 2012), 33-34. 

Image credit: 4th and Walnut Streets, Louisville, Kentucky, looking south, 1956.
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