Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: The Way of TRUST and LOVE

I never could understand how St. Therese of Lisieux could be declared a saint, much less a doctor of the Church.  A doctor of the Church is a designation given to those recognized as the greatest defenders and teachers of the faith.  A little girl who died at age twenty-four in a small, out-of-the-way convent, one of the greatest teachers of the faith --- ever?  Now St. Augustine, who wrote hundreds of books, sermons, and defended the faith against hugely popular heresies --- that’s who I think of when I think of doctors of the Church.  He was a teacher who I am still learning from, 1600 years later.  But how could this little unknown girl be considered a great teacher of the faith?  I think better than I have ever appreciated before, Father Jacques Philippe teaches me about her “little way”, and why it is a great teaching, for us all.
His introduction succinctly explains why St. Therese is a teacher:  “The message of the young Carmelite from Lisieux, is, in my opinion, essential for the Church and society today.  In a vulnerable, wounded world like ours, where nevertheless the Holy Spirit is addressing all Christians with a ringing call to holiness and inspiring them with a desire to live out the Gospel message in all its depth, I think there is no better path than the one St. Therese of Lisieux offers us:  her little way of trust and love.” 
Trying to understand how she could become a saint, Therese read this in Proverbs 9:4:  “Whoever is VERY LITTLE let him come to me.”  “To reach perfection,” she wrote, “I do not need to grow up.  On the contrary, I need to stay little, to become more and more little.”  And for young Therese, this was a challenge.  For one wanting to become little, she knew she had an innate desire to become great.  She wished to be recognized and thanked for any little thing she did, even watering the flowers.  And if “no one thanked her, it was a full-scale drama for her.  She cried about it, and then … she cried for having cried.”  “I was so oversensitive that I was unbearable,” she says.  But she was able to overcome her selfishness and need for attention, and become very happy with no attention.
Fr. Philippe gives us many examples of how she bore up with irritating relatives, co-workers, or tasks.  She became as a little child, accepting everything as a gift from someone who loves her.  “When she didn’t manage as perfectly as she would have wished, she didn’t get depressed about it.  ‘Being little means not being discouraged by our faults, because children often fall over, but they are so little they don’t hurt themselves badly.’”   Fr. Philippe describes five fundamental inner attitudes which unfailingly attract God’s grace:  humility, trust, living in the present moment, love, and gratitude, of which humility and trust are the most important, for “they make us pleasing to God.”
The book contains much about developing those key points of humility and trust, but I found peace in some of his other explanations:  “Another important aspect of the spirituality of the little way is to live in the present moment.  Not to go endlessly over the past, but leave it entirely to God and his mercy.  Worrying has never solved any problem.  What solves problems are trust and faith.  Living in the present moment means accepting the poverty in us: not insisting on going over and over the past or taking control of the future, but contenting ourselves with today.  God does not dole out grace by a sort of profit-and-loss accounting of my past based on my good and bad actions.  He gives me grace according to my faith today.  The past doesn’t matter.”
I also enjoyed greatly Fr. Philippe’s words about thanksgiving:  “The question is how we choose to live our lives.  Today people have a strong tendency to shut themselves up in anxiety and fear.  People are never satisfied with life, with government, with each other; they always demand more, claim more rights, and accuse one another instead of living in trust and responsibility.  This really is one of the basic laws of life.  The more trust we have, the more we thank God for the way our lives are going, the more we will advance.  If we give thanks for what we have received, we will receive a lot more.”
“Today, people often adopt a victim mentality.  When we accept life as it is, with trust, it becomes good and beautiful, even in its difficult aspects.  But if we’re quick to complain and demand more rights, life becomes unlivable.  It isn’t God’s fault or the fault of our lives; our inner attitude is destructive.  Conversely, faith, hope, love and thanksgiving are remedies, counterweights, to the victim complex in which we sometimes are at risk of becoming entangled.  ‘She (Therese) wrote to her sister Leonie:  The only happiness on this earth is to be determined always to find that what Jesus gives us is delightful.’”
There weren’t many pages in this book where I didn’t have at least one sentence underlined, which as you know, is my criteria for a good book --- one which says something new to me, or says something in a new, memorable way.    Fr. Philippe has only written a few small books, like this one, but they are all gems.  You can bet that this one will be on my Christmas gift list for friends.

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