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Thérèse of Lisieux, Part IV: The Science of Love

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 4

Thérèse of Lisieux, Part IV: The Science of Love
Thursday, August 6, 2015
(Bombing of Hiroshima & Feast of the Transfiguration)

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]

Today we remember, lament, and grieve our own complicity in the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 on the Feast of the Transfiguration. The atomic bomb became a symbol of humanity’s capacity for negative transfiguration. The “dawn of the nuclear age” began near my home here in New Mexico; the first atomic bomb was developed in Los Alamos and tested at “Trinity Site” near Alamogordo. This is a reminder to me that my capacity for evil is as close as my backyard and my own shadow.

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 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 the continual “sin of the world” (John 1:29), which I am convinced is ignorant killing. Endless forms of ignorant killing are destroying the world. 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. Recently, I studied Joe Schmidt’s book Walking the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux. He 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. Joe 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]

As Carl Jung taught after the First World War, so much external hatred and carnage could only have emerged if it was preceded by decades of inner fear, hatred, and negativity that grew unchecked and unrecognized. Because the inner world was not healed or renewed, Jung predicted that another blood bath was on its way, which of course became the Second World War. Thérèse showed us the way out of this pattern by addressing the foundational cause of all historical wars and hatred: the blindness and the fears of the human heart.

Gateway to Silence:
“My way is all confidence and love.” —St. Thérèse of Lisieux

References:
[1] John Clarke, trans., Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (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: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, age 15 (detail), April 1888.
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