Thérèse and Her Little Way

“Holiness does not consist in this or that practice;
it consists in a disposition of the heart, which makes us always little in the arms of God, but boldly confident in the Father’s goodness.”           Thérèse , 1897

Born into a family utterly devoted to God and Christian holiness, Thérèse Martin was early shown her destiny. Walking one evening with her father, she looked up at the sky where she saw stars in a T-formation. “Look, Papa! My name is written in heaven!”

Her short life of 24 years was one continuously in communion with God. She realized that she could never aspire to a “great” vocation, such as being a priest or a missionary, so she contented herself with what was available to her. She was gifted with a total commitment to divine love that led her to seek constantly little ways of showing God how much she loved Him, and by total abandonment to God’s loving will. She chose to live this life of commitment in the Carmelite monastery in the town of Lisieux, France.

Here she taught herself to accept with joy the many little opportunities to show her love. Here are a few that have always struck me for their unimportance.

During quiet prayer in community, one of the nuns would rattle her rosary beads. At first, Thérèse found this annoying and distracting, but she applied herself to not only accepting this nuisance but even anticipating it with joy. And again, while doing laundry it was not unusual to feel a splash of soapy water on her face. She would refrain from wiping it off!

The Saint, second from left, 1894

These were the kinds of sacrifices that had the added benefit of being totally unnoticed. There was no way that anyone would realize she was doing anything that could be called good, much less holy.. So hidden were her practices of self-denial that one of the sisters remarked, as Thérèse lay dying, “What ever will we say about Sister Thérèse in her obituary? She hasn’t done anything!”

In this way, Thérèse  was able to maintain a humility that was her  “little” way of spiritual childhood as Christ taught: Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Pope Saint John Paul validated  Thérèse’s little way to holiness by naming her a Doctor of the Church in 1997. Thérèse’s  Memorial Mass is celebrated October 1.

I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.


Audio: Chansons des Roses. Words by Rainer Maria Rilke;
Music by Morten Lauridsen

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The Assumption of Mary

An Ancient Tradition

Crypt in Church of the Dormition, Jerusalem
Crypt in Church of the Dormition, Jerusalem

The Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Churches) celebrate the “Dormitio” or Dormition. When time had come for the Theotokos to pass from this life to the next, the Apostles including St. Paul traveled, gathered, and briefly spent time with her. Thomas arrived three days after Mary had fallen asleep (a term we use when someone passes into death) and wanted to see her. When they went to the tomb where she was placed, they found that it was was empty. An angel of the Lord appeared to them saying that the Theotokos was assumed into Heaven.*

“It was fitting that the most holy body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinized, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full of glory, should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God.” (Bishop Theoteknos of Livias Sermon, 600) 

Continue reading “The Assumption of Mary”

The Transfiguration

Jesus prefigures our transformation.

transfigurationFor me, the narrative of the Transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most mysterious in the Gospels. What was the message? and why wasn’t this vision offered to the other disciples?

Yes, Jesus certainly had established a hierarchy among his apostles. Peter, James and John were taken into confidence on more than this one occasion. Most notably, they were the three whom Jesus asked to follow him into a more hidden recess of the Mount of Olives where he prayed prior to his arrest.

At the top of Mount Tabor, Peter, James and John are allowed a vision of Jesus, along with major prophets of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah. For Jesus to be in the company of these two prominent figures was to make him at least their equal, for he was not bowed down in front of them but was in their very center. Furthermore,  the center position proclaimed his authority, as one was on his right and the other on his left. This amounted to a bold and brave declaration of the supreme holiness of Jesus. No wonder the apostles were astonished.

They had already, through Peter, announced their belief that Jesus was the promised one of God: the Messiah, Emmanuel. The Transfiguration vision cemented that belief.

Nonetheless, no sooner had they come down to earth (literally) than Jesus plunged them into the horror story of his arrest, disgrace and execution. Even though he also added the positive and glorious ending, it was upsetting enough for Peter (having been emboldened by providing the right answer just a short while ago) to declare, “Heaven forbid that any such thing should happen to you!”

Clearly, the apostles themselves experienced no miraculous change.

So what is the lesson in this for me? The evident one is that there is no glory without pain. The reverse is true: there is no pain without glory. They must go together. Pain and death are not the end of the world. These truths are so obvious as to be commonplace. That is, until they actually occur and we experience the pain we thought we had eliminated from our life.

But there may be another aspect.

Jesus, fully human and fully divine, allowed his apostles to observe his divinity. What they were also observing was their own future transformation into beings that were to become the very image of the divine.

Why did Jesus counsel them to tell no one of this event, until after the Resurrection?

I think that this was because to hear of the process of divinization would have been too much for pre-Resurrection, pre-Pentecostal people to understand or accept. We, ordinary mortals, are to be transformed into beings who truly resemble God? Who can accept that!

And yet, “[t]he Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he will not exist at all.” So said the late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (in Theological Investigations XX, 149). Mysticism, he wrote, is “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.”

We aren’t meant to spend our living years with our eyes shut, stumbling through an often hopeless world. There’s too much that we’re missing if we do not open our hearts to the everyday experience of God of which Rahner speaks.

In her book, Days of Deepening Friendship, Vinita Wright  lists 15 common experiences of the divine such as “becoming acutely aware of God’s presence through an overwhelming sense of peace, gratitude, love, awe, or joy.”

A constant and growing awareness, produced by a constant and growing search on our part, is what will bring about our transformation into the divine, into the union Christ prayed for and showed to his disciples at the Transfiguration.