01 December, 2004

St. Thérèse of Lisieux is a genius

I seem to be starting a new sequence of posts here: St. So-and-so is a genius. I quote some passage of the Saint that I think "proves" s/he is a genius, a quote I've never seen before. To this point, I've asserted first that St. Thomas Aquinas is a genius, then St. Catherine of Siena. Now it comes to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and suddenly the women outnumber the men 2-1. The following two quotes come from Story of a Soul.

I'd heard before these two of St. Thérèse's allegories for our relationship with God:

  • the child who repeatedly breaks her toys, then brings them back to her father with tears in her eyes, with the confidence that he will fix them;

  • the garden filled with different flowers, and God's delight in having different flowers.
I've never heard of a third allegory, that of the little bird. I have only quoted a small part of it. In my not-so-humble opinion, it's far more profound than that of the child, or of the garden. Perhaps that is due to ways in which my particular history of faith is different from most people's.
When the human heart gives itself to God, it loses nothing of its innate tenderness; in fact, this tenderness grows when it becomes more pure and more divine.
from chapter 10
I look upon myself as a weak little bird, with only a light down as covering. I am not an eagle, but I have only an eagle's EYES AND HEART. In spite of my extreme littleness I still dare to gaze upon the Divine Sun, the Sun of Love, and my heart feels within it all the aspirations of an Eagle.

The little bird wills to fly towards the bright Sun which attracts its eye, imitating its brothers, the eagles, whom it sees climbing up towards the Divine Furnace of the Holy Trinity. But alas! the only thing it can do is raise its little wings; to fly is not within its little power!

What then will become of it? Will it die of sorrow at seeing itself so weak? Oh no! the little bird will not even be troubled. With bold surrender, it wishes to remain gazing upon its Divine Sun. Nothing will frighten it, neither wind nor rain, and if dark clouds come and hide the Star of Love, the little bird will not change its place because it knows that beyond the clouds its bright Sun still shines on and that its brightness is not eclipsed for a single instant.

At times the little bird's heart is assailed by the storm, and it seems it should believe in the existence of no other thing except the clouds surrounding it; this is the moment of perfect joy for the poor weak little creature. And what joy it experiences when remaining there just the same! and gazing at the Invisible Light which remains hidden from its faith! ...

Yes, this is still one of the weaknesses of the little bird: when it wants to fix its gaze upon the Divine Sun, and when the clouds prevent it from seeing a single ray of that Sun, in spite of itself, its little eyes close, its little head is hidden beneath its wing, and the poor little thing falls asleep, believing all the time that it is fixing its gaze upon the Divine Star. ...

O Divine Word! You are the Adored Eagle whom I love and who alone attracts me! Coming into this land of exile, You willed to suffer and to die in order to draw souls to the bosom of the Eternal Fire of the Blessed Trinity. Ascending once again to the Inaccessible Light, henceforth Your abode, You remain still in this "valley of tears," hidden beneath the appearance of a white host. Eternal Eagle, You desire to nourish me with Your divine substance and yet I am but a poor little thing who would return to nothingness if Your divine glance did not give me life from one moment to the next. ...

As long as You desire it, O my Beloved, Your little bird will remain without strength and without wings and will always stay with its gaze fixed on You. It was to be fascinated by Your divine glance. It wants to become the prey of Your Love. One day I hope that You, the Adorable Eagle, will come to fetch me, Your little bird; and ascending with it to the Furnace of Love, You will plunge it for all eternity into the burning Abyss of this Love to which it has offered itself as victim.
from chapter 9
My first suggestion to anyone who wants to read this book, is to skip the first few chapters. I didn't find them terribly edifying, rather tedious in their excessive sentimentality (Steven also commented on this some time ago).

I suppose one could start with chapter 6, but Thérèse is definitely in fine form once we get around to chapters 9 and 10. They are filled with reflections that represent an inner struggle to keep faith, and to reach for holiness.

If I know anything at all with certainty, I know that I struggle with faith and with holiness. I am nowhere close to perfection in either.

1 comment:

The Literary Idealist said...

I, too, am far from holiness. I struggle with faith--saying one thing and doing another. I SAY I am submitted to God, but am constantly taking back my dominion over myself, so to speak. I think, that what God wants is not perfection, which cannot be attained until we unite with Him in heaven, but our strivings for it. As long as we "run with endurance the race" and don't give up we are passing the test.

As our young priest recently said to me--the closer we get to holiness, the more we see our unworthiness. He was talking about the saints and how they viewed themselves. I guess it makes sense--we are seeing more and more with spiritual, rather than temporal, eyes.