Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A meditation on St Thérèse

Today is the feast day of St Therésè, who died at the age of 24 in 1897 after years of illness and spiritual struggle. She understood the entire Christian life - with all its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows - as a response to God’s love. This was her “little way.”

I have posted twice on St Therese. Go HERE for my article arising out of her advice to Maurice Bellière, a stumbling young man preparing to be a missionary priest. Go HERE for an outline of her life, and also a short appreciation of her understanding of justification.  

The following meditation is by Deborah Buckham. It is (slightly edited) from the Zambian blog: http://www.saintannes.co.za

Today’s Gospel, Matthew 18:1-5 poses the question, “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” to which Jesus replies, “the one who becomes like a little child.”

God, it seems delights in paradoxes, in confounding our human way of thinking; and certainly St Therésè is one of God’s paradoxes. St Therésè is co-patroness of the missions with St Francis Xavier and yet she never left her monastery. But she was united with all those in the missions through her love, prayer and sacrifice. Therésè had very little formal education, yet in 1997 she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church! The Lord himself says “the mysteries of the kingdom are hidden from the wise and the learned and revealed to mere children.” At her death many in the community wondered what they would find to say about her, her life was so ordinary, nothing exceptional, and yet she has been called the greatest saint of modern times!

Therésè as a child was over-sensitive and scrupulous. In her autobiography she describes the moment when God healed her of this, she says: “Jesus did in me in an instant what I Therésè had not been able to do after many years of struggle. I felt Charity enter my soul, and the need to forget myself, and since then I have been happy.” These few lines summarize for me the spirituality of St Therésè, her Little Way – the Way of Confidence and Love. “Who is the greatest?” is not a question Therésè would ask, yet it may well be one that we ask, as we so often tend to compare ourselves with others, or vie for positions or status,(even if we don’t like to admit it), she simply says, “I felt the need to forget myself and  think of others and since then I have been happy.” Jesus invites us to become like little children, and perhaps the key to becoming child-like is this self-forgetfulness. 

The values and attitudes of children, at least very small children, are still in formation, they are willing to take risks, they are open and honest and yet intensely vulnerable, needy and dependant on others. The invitation to become like a little child, is an invitation to let go of all out props, the things that make us feel so important, so self-sufficient, so capable, and to come to God, as St Therésè says “with empty hands.” Why do we find it so difficult to lay aside our knowledge, our actions, our positions, our control, and stand empty before God? Perhaps it is because we are afraid, we don’t want to be needy, vulnerable and dependant. St John in his first letter tells us “that perfect love drives out fear.” St. Therésè said that she felt Charity, love enter her soul” and that led to her forgetfulness of her self. She knew deeply that God is Love, and she trusted in that Love. We are also invited to trust in God’s Love for each one of us. To trust that His love, will heal all our inner wounds, and fears.

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 66:10-14) reminds us that “the Lord will reveal his hand to his servant” and we know that, that revelation was primarily a revelation of God’s deep love for us. Looking for her role, her work in the Church, Therésè eventually cried out “In the heart of my mother the Church, I will be love, because without love the Doctors would not teach and the martyrs would not lay down their lives.” Therésè does not say I will be loving, but “I will be love.” 

Christianity is not something we do, but something we are. Therésè desired God to so transform her that her very identity would be love, that she would reflect the love of God to others. That is the point of all our prayer, all our sacrifices, all our work – not only to become more loving, compassionate and kind, but to BE love, to BE compassion, to BE kindness. St Therésè could admit her own failure in love: “I understood how imperfect was my love for my sisters. I saw that I didn’t love them as God loves them.” 

We run away from our failure to love, from the feeling of being helpless, unable to get it right as it were, and yet St Therésè teaches us to throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus with complete trust. “Jesus teaches me to do everything with love and it is not me that is loving, but Jesus who is loving in me.” She had learnt that “Jesus would do in her in an instant what she could not do herself after many years of struggling.” She knew that she was helpless, and she surrendered that to God. Through the experience of her own helplessness, she learnt to be compassionate towards others who were also struggling, “Charity” she says, “consists in bearing the faults of others, in not being surprised at their weakness, in being edified by the smallest act of virtue we them practice.” She chose to focus on the positive and not on the negative, and with the wonder of a child to marvel at what God was doing in others. Charity entered her soul, it drove out the fear in her and she could forget herself and think of others, and in that she found her happiness.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven – the one who becomes like a little child. St Therésè teaches us that it is not doing, or knowing or even success that is important, but that we simply be, open and available, vulnerable and helpless, coming to God with empty hands that He may fill them. Each day we struggle, we try to be more loving, and we fail, but we trust that one day Jesus will do in us in an instant what we ourselves have not been able to do after many years of struggle.

The mysteries of the kingdom are hidden from the wise and the learned and revealed to mere children.


Post a Comment