FINDING STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS
The Spirituality of
Saint Therese de Lisieux
FIRST PUBLISHED IN SPIRITUAL LIFE IN WINTER 1998
my source: Showcase
Two contrasting images of Thérèse situate what I call her "Spirituality of Imperfection." After her death, those who knew Thérèse recast her into expected images of sanctity. In the testimony from the process of beatification, her sister Pauline says of Thérèse "As long as I knew her, the only part of her that touched the ground was the soles of her feet". Thérèse however offers us a truer image of herself. In the Story of a Soul she tells the following incident from her childhood:
I wanted an inkstand which was on the shelf of the fireplace in the kitchen; being too little to take it down, I very nicely asked Victoire (the maid) to give it to me, but she refused telling me to get up on a chair. I took a chair without saying a work but thinking she wasn't too nice; wanting to make her feel it, I searched out in my little head what offended me the most. She often called me a "a little brat" when she was annoyed at me. So before jumping off my chair, I turned around with dignity and said: "Victoire, you are a brat!'. Then I made my escape, leaving her to meditate on the profound statement I had just made. (A, p.391)1
Despite stories of her "angelic eyes" and otherworldly holiness, Thérèse best exemplifies the presence of God to human life in its seemingly unholy details.
Jerome Dollard claims:
spirituality is a lot like health. We all have health; we may have good health or poor health, but it's something we can't avoid having. The same is true of spirituality; every human being is a spiritual being. The questions not whether we 'have spirituality' but whether the spirituality we have is a negative one that leads to isolation and self-destruction or one that is more positive and life-giving.2
A positive spirituality leads us to the fullness of ourselves as God-related-human beings.
When we think of Thérèse we think of a specific kind of spirituality - her Little Way. It is a way of trust and absolute surrender to God's intimate presence. Scripture is her source and inspiration. Three texts in particular bring into focus the heart of Thérèse's doctrine: "Whoever is a little one, let them come to me." Proverbs, 9:4 "For to the one that is little, mercy will be shown." Wisdom 6:7 "As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall fondle you." Isaiah 66:12-13
In a prayer to Christ, Thérèse sums up her spirituality for us:
"O Jesus! Why can't I tell all little souls how unspeakable is Your condescension? I feel that if You found a soul weaker and littler than mine, You would be pleased to grant it still greater favors, provided it abandoned itself with total confidence to Your infinite Mercy. I beg You to cast Your Divine Glance upon a great number of little souls. I beg You to choose a legion of little Victims worthy of Your LOVE!" (B, p.200)
Thérèse speaks a language of littleness. Would anyone today use such diminutive language to describe their aspirations in life? What, if anything, can littleness mean for us today in a culture where little children are often not valued and where power is prized above integrity? What particular meaning has Thérèse's Little Way for us whose lives are so different from hers?
The use of diminutives was part of Thérèse's world and is an echo of the family circle in which Thérèse remains the "little sister." Her language of littleness discloses profound theological meaning for human life. In her Story of a Soul, Thérèse reveals the transformation in herself which leads to her Little Way and to the meaning sustained littleness begins to have as she matures in the spiritual life.
Spirituality is actualized in our relationship with God and this relationship develops and deepens right within the human context. Thérèse's person is formed in a family environment, where she receives tenderness without being spoiled, and where she knows that she is loved. Her father calls her "his little queen" and her uncle, "his little ray of sunshine". Thérèse receives an abundance of what psychologist today call "good enough mothering".3
Along with human affirmation, spiritual realities were woven into the everyday life of the Martin family. Integral to love for one another was love for God. Thérèse absorbs this to such an extent that she sees herself and everything that happens to her in relation to her life with God. She is a little flower gathered by Jesus. Her life story is the story of a call by God. Her life history is the work of God. God opens her intelligence at an early age, God also imprints childhood recollections deeply in memory, etc. At age two, in imitation of Pauline, her ideal, Thérèse gives herself to the spouse of virgins. (A, pp.13-20).
At the same time, from early childhood, Thérèse experiences her fragility before the mysteries of life and especially in the experiences of separation and death. Loss looms large from childhood to her own early death. Its effects are evident in painful struggles with tears and scruples.4 Continually she experiences her need to be forgiven. As she deals with her limitations, Thérèse comes to the profound realization that nothing in herself is capable of attracting the divine glance. God's mercy does it all.
Mrs. Martin writes to Pauline, who is away at boarding school, about Thérèse: "...this poor baby gets into frightful tantrums; when things don't go just right according to her way of thinking, she rolls on the floor in desperation like one without hope." She is strong-willed, sensitive, stubborn and proud. "She wouldn't kiss the floor for a sou" (A, pp. 23-24). Thérèse has a strong sense of justice. In the incident already cited with Victoire the maid, although made to apologize, Thérèse feels no self-recrimination since she feels justified in her position. Marie still combs and curls Thérèse's hair even when Thérèse is already eleven years old. Thérèse admits that she is not always nice when Marie accidentally pulls her hair. During the retreat before her first communion, Thérèse is embarrassed to have to ask the mistress at boarding school to do her hair for her. Thérèse is always "the baby". (A, pp.39-41)5
The trauma of her mother's death effects a serious personality change in Thérèse. Once full of life, she becomes timid, retiring and sensitive to an excessive degree. "One look reduced me to tears". She is content to be left completely alone and she can not bear the company of strangers. It is not until the trip to Rome that Thérèse overcomes her shyness. As her story unfolds, we see Thérèse being both formed and deformed by her isolated world, her family life and religious up-bringing. She assures us however, that God wills that all turn out for her good, even her faults. (A, p. 24).
Everything in Thérèse's life, including her psychic limitations, become a context for relationship with God and thus integral to her Little Way. She could have easily slid into a path of spiritual illusion. Thérèse's precocious grasp of spiritual realities, her idealism, her readiness to obey as an effort to balance to her willful spirit, her many recorded acts of virtue-- all of these could have seduced Thérèse into seeing herself within a projected image of holiness. Easily could she have become self-complacent in an environment where any sign of piety was labeled saintly. Without her manifest human limitations, Thérèse could have fallen into self deception or self-complacency.
Fortunately, she discovered early in life that neither her recorded acts of virtue, nor her burning zeal in practicing spiritual exercises, nor her profound experiences and reverential tears after communions-- not even the smile of the Virgin-- none of these help her in overcoming even the least of her faults. The more she tries, the greater and more depressing are her failures and her entanglement in scruples. During the time of her scruples, every thought and even her most commonplace actions became a source of worry and anxiety. Her extreme helplessness meant either despair or finding a new way in the struggle to balance her own weakness before the justice of God.
Before her first communion Marie spoke to Thérèse about life's struggles and of the palm given to the victors, to those who overcome, and about the riches one could amass each day. Thérèse struggles, but instead of victory, she knows only defeat. What a difficult time this is for Thérèse contends with fear of sin, constant defeat and increasing anxiety. Furthermore, her inner suffering is exacerbated by her over-sensitivity, her self-consciousness and her potential for self-absorption. In light of this, it seems remarkable that during the time of her scruples, Thérèse continues to be conscientious. She does well in her studies, and she receives excellent marks which give her the first prizes at school. At the same time, as one of her teachers observes; "often her expression would be most sad and she seemed more ready to shed tears, in spite of the tenderness and advice we gave her"6
Today we recognize that excessive fear of sin can be lack of acceptance of one's fragile humanity; a form of disguised narcissism. Even the smallest sin is unbearable when the self needs to be perfect and the goal is self-sanctification. Through years of struggle with her own fragility, Thérèse finally comes to the graced conclusion--extraordinary for her time--that her daily faults are not important in her life with God.7 Such an attitude was virtually unheard of in devout French circles. Her lack of illusions in regard to what it is to be human, allows her to come to such freedom that she can assign her imperfections no more importance than they deserve. She awakens to the truth that God is not concerned about the limitations of being human, but about love. (A, p. 174).
Thérèse's teachers report that she was intrigued by the apparent contradiction between God's infinite mercy and human freedom. Even at age nine she could not accept the idea that unbaptized children should be barred from the face of God. In her search for inner security, she prays at her first communion that God would take away her freedom of will because her liberty frightens her: "She felt so feeble and fragile that she wanted to be united forever to the divine Strength!" At the time of her first communion: She felt the joy of heaven enter her exiled heart. (A, p.77) These are key texts for understanding Thérèse and her Little Way.
Coming to Strength
How does she come to such inner strength and freedom of spirit in the midst of her feebleness and fragility? Ever since Thérèse had been able to think, promises of bliss in the hereafter as the reward of virtue play a great part in her young mind. Zelie Martin was in the habit of managing her children by promises of heavenly rewards. Even while her mother was still alive, Thérèse learned to ask: "Have I been good? Will I go to heaven because I've been good?" In preparing Thérèse for first communion, Marie tells her of the imperishable riches Thérèse could heap up each day.8 Thérèse herself passes this on when at age fourteen she takes charge of children for the first time. "I did not speak of sweets or toys when I wanted these little girls to be kind to each other, but of the eternal reward of the Child Jesus would give to good children". (A, pp. 112-113).
From the fruits of this experience Thérèse sees that Baptism does indeed plant the seeds of the theological virtues deep in the soul. Even from children's earliest days, hope for the joys of Heaven is strong enough to encourage the practice of self-sacrifice. What matures in Thérèse is not a denial of the eternal bliss or of the treasures of heaven, but a deepened spiritual sense of her own unworthiness and of the incomprehensible mercy of God who deals with us according to God's graciousness and not according to our merits. This is the purification of hope which John of the Cross describes so well in his writings.9 Thérèse develops from a childish desire for spiritual rewards to an attitude of profound theological hope. God alone became her reward.
Now, everything she does is done out of love and not for reward. On her death bed she will insist that, "Jesus wants to give us His Heaven out of pure grace." All she comes to know is that she is loved and she wants to love in return. The pearls which others keep adding to their crown interest her not one bit. Thérèse leaves this matter entirely up to God. Persistent experiences of her weakness put her in the position either to despair of holiness or to abandon herself entirely to God. She delights in the Gospel story of the workers in the vineyard who begin at the twelfth hour and yet receive the same reward as the others who have borne the burden of the day's work. Like the good thief and the Holy Innocents, Thérèse would steal Heaven.
During Thérèse last days, Pauline laments: " Alas, I'll have nothing to offer to God when I die; my hands will be empty, and this saddens me very much." Thérèse spirited response was:
"Well, you're not like 'baby" (she calls herself this at times) who finds herself in the same circumstances; nevertheless, even if I had accomplished all the works of St. Paul, I would still believe myself to be a "useless servant." But it is precisely this that makes up my joy, for having nothing, I shall receive everything from God."10
Like a beggar child, Thérèse expects all because she knows of the goodness of God. The image of the child before a loving parent becomes the model of her Little Way. In her family life, Thérèse was always forgiven, always loved and always cared for. In an easy transition, she begins to view herself and others from the eyes of God as a loving parent. As parents suffer with their children, God suffers when Thérèse suffers, so she tries to hide her sufferings even from God so as not to cause God suffering.
Remaining a Child
Childhood in all things becomes for Thérèse a valid prefiguring of life. She is a child of God, so too is she a child of the Church. The church as the Mystical Body of Christ has a heart where love is kept alive. Thérèse who receives only love in her short life, discovers her vocation. In a transport of ecstatic joy, she cries out:
O Jesus my love....my vocation, at last I have found it ... MY VOCATION IS LOVE! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be LOVE. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized. (B, pp. 194-196)
Her childlike heart does not yearn for riches and glory, but for love. Her deeds will not be great undertakings. She will simply scatter the flowers of her life and offer the song of her love before God for others. If she remains small and dependent before God, all will be given her; she gives away only what has been given as gift. Thérèse continues with great zeal to pray, to suffer and to make sacrifices-- not in order to safeguard herself against the last Judgment, not to add to her spiritual treasures-- but to "support" the children who are entrusted to her, the other members of the Body of Christ. Towards the end of her life she said: "My sole desire is to see God loved and I confess, if I were not allowed to labor on that task once I arrive in Heaven, I should prefer the exile to the homeland:" And again, "I do not wish to be freed from sufferings here on earth, for suffering united with love is all that still seems to me desirable in this vale of tears."11
Thérèse suffered great physical and mental anguish during her short span of life but at the heart of her little way is not the quantity of suffering but something quite different. Even lofty desires are not what count, instead, as Thérèse puts it:
If you can bear in peace the trial of being displeasing to yourself, you offer a sweet shelter to Jesus. It is true that it hurts you to find yourself thrust outside the door of your own self, so to speak, but fear not; the poorer you become, the more Jesus will love you.12
To a novice who spoke of her desire for more strength and energy with which "to practice virtue" Thérèse countered:
"And suppose God wishes to have you as feeble and powerless as a child? Do you think that would be less worthy in God's eyes? Consent to stumble, or even to fall at every step, to bear your cross feebly; love your weakness. Your soul will draw more profit from that than if, sustained by grace, you vigorously performed heroic deeds which would fill your soul with self-satisfaction and pride." (Ibid., p 331)
In the service of genuine love, Thérèse was inexorable in hunting down religious and ethical vanity. Above all did she resist the vanity of self-absorption. (C, pp. 239-244).
Along with her strengths, Thérèse had the potential for severe psycological diminishment. Through the repeated loss of the persons who anchored her life, she had to look for security elsewhere. She experienced profoundly her own powerlessness through the many years of free flowing tears and seeming loss of self after her mother's death. What directs her on a path of integration? I think it is her love of truth which enables her to penetrate the reality of the human condition as fragile and finite, yet passionately loved by God. She can now surrender to the wedding of seeming opposites: spirituality and imperfection. She is able to embrace her imperfections as integral to her life with God. Instead of being obstacles, they become for her a meeting place with Christ who has taken her weakness upon Himself. Not only does she sustain a daring hope in the midst of darkness--where all roads for her appear equally dark -- she also comes to a remarkable shift in vision.
Like St. Paul, Thérèse begins to see life through the lens of what is yet to come. A word frequently used by Thérèse is heaven. In the Story of a Soul it occurs 145 times. She always understood that knowing God and living according to Christ meant entering a new order of existence in which God is center and light. This reality penetrates her soul anew and she begins to live life as an anticipation of the glory to come. Her entire concern is to give and receive love. The glory to come is hers now in the life of Christ she already possesses through faith.
The clarity of her faith, even in darkness, allows her to view life through the eyes of God. We see this lived out in her attitude toward those who annoy and misunderstand her or who count her as not worth much. Her response is one of love and compassion to the extent that the nun who tries Thérèse the most wonders what it is about herself that so attracts Thérèse who is so loving toward her. Thérèse sees her through the eyes of God. The gospels become for Thérèse, God's Way, and therefore, her way, with the spirit of the gospel reflecting itself in her daily living. Her father's illness is not just passively endured. Instead, in his humiliation, and hers (for she and her sisters are blamed for the illness) Thérèse discovers the humiliated face of Christ. She lets go of the prevailing obsession with justice and surrenders to God's merciful love. Even if she has every sin on her conscience, she would, like the prodigal son, throw herself into the arms of Jesus with complete trust and abandonment.
Thérèse's struggle with her weakness, with the commonplace of illness, and with the difficulties of community living give us a new view of life--of the greatness of everyday . She gives us a new outlook on defeat, weakness, anguish and distress of whatever kind. Hers is a voice of hope, of trust to the last in spite of darkness. Like her own passion for truth, she establishes us in our own.
We are a complex reality. As imago Dei (image of God), we are an infinite capacity for God, but we are not God. As humans, we are finite, thus limited. Imperfection, weaknesses and sin, a potential for physical and psychic illness, mark us without at the same time defining our person. Ultimately, we are mirrors of the divine, created in the image of God.13
If Thérèse has a message for us today, it is to offer us encouragement in our own dark times when it seems all that we see is the worst in ourselves and in our society. The Harvard psychologist, Charles Verge, speaks of the difference between Cure and Healing. He points out:
Cure seeks change at the level of the problem. Healing is a change of perception which can only happen from the depth of the divine self and it comes as gift, as grace. It is not necessarily a change in the circumstance (the problem) Rather, healing requires a change in focus away from a view that demands changing of the circumstance or that the circumstance be removed. Healing requires a change in perspective that embraces the circumstance from another inner source.14
Thérèse did just that. She could not change the dynamics of life with erratic Mother de Gonzague nor could she do away with what today we might call, her own wounded child. She changes what she can through her instructions to her novices and her letters of encouragement to her blood sisters in community, she befriends what she can not change, including her personal limitations. It all becomes the stuff of her relationship with God grounding her in daring trust.15 Thérèse teaches us not to be overcome by difficult, unchangeable life circumstances, such as the need to care for an aging parent, an ill spouse, or an autistic child.. We too can pray to see life and other people through the eyes of God. Our own limitations and those of others need not have the last word. Something deeper invites us forward.16
Everything in life especially the things we like least about ourselves and our life situation become, from God's perspective, the place of divine transformation and an invitation to intimacy with God who is present to all that is human. Such is the message of Jesus. Incarnation is God present in the human story. In His risen life, Jesus retains the marks of the wounds for the disciples to touch: "Put your fingers here and see my hands." Wounds, now glorified, are integral to Christ's glorified body. Our own psychic wounds, the abuse we may have suffered, and the difficult situations we face daily are the places where glory works itself out in us. Our specific woundedness is integral to the unique image of God that each of us is. Jesus says in effect to the disciples: "Touch my wounds and know that it is I."Christ in glory is forever the wounded Christ.17
Recovering alcoholics in the twelve step program learn to admit: "I am an alcholochic". Not to admit their addiction is the road to self-destruction.. They also learn however, that they are more than their addiction to drink. The value of our imperfections, provided we are prayerful and reflective about our lives, is that they help us to deepen in self-knowledge, and they impel us to change where change is needed. Yet, in the end, in spite of our best efforts, we bear one another's burdens. Imperative toward successful resolution of conflict is naming our share in it. The fault is never "always the other persons".
In the effort toward greater self-knowledge for both women and men, women theologians today name sin differently for women. These theologians believe that sin has been named in the past from the male perspective. Psychologist today acknowledge that men develop differently from women. Men's thrust is toward autonomy and they tend to find meaning and identity in the life task and in achievement. Women seem to get their sense of identity by being in relationship.18
In an article by Sally Ann McReynolds and Ann Graff entitled: Sin: When Women are the Context, the authors give a mid-twentieth century version of the sin of pride, which is a key description of sin in the Christian tradition. They claim that from a male perspective, the sin of pride issues from anxiety:
[It Is] the anxiety that arises from the sense of separateness we experience in terms of each other. In this predicament the theologians name sin as self-assertion while love is recognized as selflessness...In this form of existential theology, sin is visible in the human attempt to overcome anxiety by magnifying one's own power, knowledge or righteousness. It is an effort to make oneself the whole, rather than remaining a part of that whole. It is unjustified concern for one's own power and prestige. It is an aggrandizement of self that treats others as objects or appendages. Moreover, it is not an occasional act but pervades the entirety of human action. Given this condition, love is its opposite. Love is the norm for human existence, and it is defined as completely self-giving, seeking only the good of the other without any self-interest. Love makes no judgments about the other, forgives unconditionally, and as Paul said eloquently, bears all believes all, hopes all, endures all. It is personal, but wholly receptive to the other. In contemporary parlance, it seems to be without boundaries.
Selflessness has always been the ideal held up to women. Today women realize that this cannot be an unqualified ideal.19 Love cannot be simply self-sacrifice. Love is an exchange:
To give unceasingly without regard to self, unceasingly can be deadly. Women's wholeness requires the balance of withdrawal into self and periods of enrichment that meet her individual needs. This qualifies the ideal of selfless love constructed to counter the will to power in theologies driven by the anxieties of male separated selves. The ideal of self-less love has a particular shadow side for women who tend to be relational by nature. It lends itself to things like: triviality, distractibility, and diffuseness, lack of an organizing center or focus, dependence on others for one's own self-definition; tolerance at the expense of standards of excellence, inability to respect the boundaries of privacy; sentimentality, gossipy sociability, and mistrust of reason-- in short, underdevelopment of the self.20
What is important here is not the specific "IMPERFECTIONS" which make up our personality, whether we are man or woman, but our ability to name them accurately and to let them become a place where we invite God for healing and transformation. To again quote Thérèse: "If you can bear in peace the trial of being displeasing to yourself, you offer a sweet shelter to Jesus. It is true that it hurts you to find yourself thrust outside the door of your own self."
I suggest that this is what happens when we are out of touch with and unaccepting of ourselves in our finitude: We are outside the door of our own selves. We need to rejoin the human race. Thérèse continues, "Fear not; the poorer you become, the more Jesus will love you." What I think this means is that the more we can acknowledge our need for God the more we are walking in the truth and thus more receptive of God's love which is the source of true inner strength, divine healing and transformation.21
All Is God
Teresa of Avila helps me to draw these reflection to a close The sixth dwelling place of the Interior Castle describes the phenomenon of God's continued self-communication to Teresa. She experiences God as delighting in her. It seems we humans, in spite of our imperfections, are God's eternal ecstasy. In this dwelling place, a remarkable shift in imagery happens. Until this point, Teresa presents the soul as a castle with many dwelling places, with God in the center room. Now however, deep secrets in God are revealed to her. In a vision she sees God to be like an immense and beautiful dwelling place or palace, and that this palace, is God's Self. She says; that within this palace, that is within God everything for good or for evil takes place.22
God is like a global atmosphere containing all.23 Everything negative in our daily experience-- such as violence, oppression of the weak, the destruction of earth's ecology--mysteriously take place in God. So too do positive actions, such as efforts toward peace, justice, mercy and compassion and all that fosters the common good of humankind. Everything for good or for evil takes place in God, so intimate is God present to our world and to the human experience. God, therefore, is the source for world's transformation. For Teresa God's presence is a purifying fire as she sees the whole of her own life in God. Everything that tries to exist outside of the divine ambiance becomes the stuff of love's purifying fire.
When, we refuse to acknowledge and befriend our limitations and imperfections, we easily enter into the painful isolation of self-pity or self-hate or self aggrandizement. We hide feelings of inadequacy by exercising power and control, or we disintegrate into spineless self-effacement. In the acceptance of our humanity as finite, and imperfect, yet passionately loved by God, we let go of our facades. Like Thérèse we discover an inner well-spring of peace that sustains us in the midst of our daily struggles and which can reveal God's intimate presence calling us to be more ourselves.
A Final Word
We began by saying that we are spiritual beings. We all have spirituality. Our part is to recognize its source and meaning within the mystery of our relationship with God and other persons. We are spiritual beings because of our pre-disposition for God.24 A spirituality of imperfection then is not "anything goes" or "what you see is what you get." Rather, it is the simple admission that in spite of our best efforts, we all fall short. But as long as the heart is intent on loving, our failures are not the issue. God is a consuming fire. We are a spark of God. If we but surrender ourselves, God will consume all, even our imperfections, in the fire of Divine Love. The point is that our heart be free to love.
1The three autobiographial manuscripts of St. Therese are designated A. B. C; as translated by John Clarke, O.C.D. Story of a Soul(Washington D. C.: ICS Publications, 1976).
2From Jerome Dollard, quoted by Thomas Prugh in Alcohol, Spirituality and Recovery.(Alcohol Health and Research World 10:2 Winter 1985-86) p.28-33,53.
3See: Michael St. Clair, Object Relations and Self Psychology(Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1986) pp.70-71
4Thérèse is given to a wet nurse in infancy and only returns home after a year and some months. She looses her mother through death at age four and a half. Her "second mother", Pauline enters Carmel five years later. Four years later, Marie who assumes the mothering role also enters Carmel. Three years later Thérèse "loses" her father to a mental hospital. Five years later her father dies. Two years after that Thérèse loses her health and dies after a year of intense suffering.
5Following a visit from fourteen-year-old Thérèse Marie writes home from Carmel to Thérèse: "Darling of my heart, my very tall baby! Yet always a baby in my eyes…" May 32,1887 General Correspondence, Vol. 1 trans. by John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1988), p.269
6An interesting book by an anonymous author entitled The Little Flower at the Benedictine Convent, gives interesting information about Thérèse's days at the Benedictine Convent. (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Press, 1929).
7Abbe Domin's sermon on mortal sin shattered the twelve year old Thérèse (A, p. 67). At age 16 her growing freedom is evident in a letter to Marie Guerin (May 30, 1889) in response to Marie's struggle with scruples. At age 18, Thérèse's soul is launched into complete freedom by Fr. Alex Pou who assures her that her faults cannot cause God any pain. (A, pp. 173-174). Thérèse's letters in particular document her progressive growth into inner freedom.
8See Thérèse's letter to Marie dated August 14, 1889.
9Dark Night, Book 11, Chap. 21:6-10. The Collected Works of John of the Cross, trans. by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991), pp.447-448.
10Last Conversations, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1977), p. 67.
11Thérèse here reflects Karl Rahner's understanding of indifference. "From this indifference we turn from what we understand to the incomprehensible, from what we are enjoying to what is promised, from the present to the future, from what we can grasp to what we cannot grasp. It is an indifference in which a person declares that he (sic) will really take his stand solely in the unfathomable depths of God"; In The Practice of Faith: A Handbook of Contemporary Spirituality ( New York, NY: Crossroad, 1986), pp.214-217.
12This delightful translation is found in Ida Freiderike Gorre's The Hidden Face (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, Inc.1959) p.330.
13See: Seelaus, Vilma, The Self: Mirror of God (The Way, Heythrop College, London, England, Vol. 32, July 1992), p. 330.
14Verge makes a fine distinction between what he calls the contextual self, which is subject to change and to life's vicissitudes, and the divine self, where spiritual awareness happens. Here problems offer and opportunity for spiritual growth even in the midst of seeming unbearable circumstances. See: Charles Verge, "Foundations for a Spiritually Based Psychotherapy" in L.Burton(ed.) Religion and Family (Hayworth Press,1992), pp.41-59.
15Read Thérèse's letters to Abbé Bellière written only months before her death in July and August 1897. These letters in particular demonstrate the daring trust to which Thérèse invites her spiritual brother: Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Vol. II, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1988).
16See: Vilma Seelaus, O.C.D. "Fragmentation and Divine Transformation: Meditation on the Compost Heap" (The Way, Heythrop College, London, England, Vol.28 October, 1988), pp.301-312.
17See: Lk.24:39-41; Jn.20:24-29.
18See: Ann O'Hara Graff, "The Struggle to Name Women's Experience" In the Embrace of God: A Feminist approaches to Theological Anthropology ( Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books,1995), pp.71-89 (edited by the same author).
19See: Jeffrey D. Imbach, The Recovery of Love (New York, NY: Crossroads, 1992), pp. 82-86.
20Embrace of God,"Sin: When Women are the Context," by Sally Ann McReynolds and Ann O'Hara Graff, pp.162-163.
21Bernard Lonergan, in a chapter entitled "Self-Transcendence" echoes Thérèse's discovery: "As the question of God is implicit in all our questioning, so being in love with God is the basic fulfilment of our conscious intentionality. That fulfilment brings a deep-set joy that can remain despite humilitation, failure, privation, pain, betrayal, desertion, etc. That fulfilment brings a radical peace, the peace that the world cannot give. That fulfilment bears fruit in a love of one's neighbor that strives mightily to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth. On the other hand, the absence of that fulfilment opens the way to the trivialization of human life in the pursuit of fun, to the harshness of human life arising from the ruthless exercise of power, to despair about human welfare springing from the conviction that the universe is absurd." Method in Theology (New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1979) p.105.
22The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. II trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriquez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1980), p.419.
23Jn 15:5-7, Gal. 2:20, and 2 Cor. 13:5 are but a few Scriptural references which bear this out.
24Karl Rahner would say that the experience of self makes possible the experience of God and that the reverse is also true. See "Experience of Self and Experience of God," Theological Investigations, Vol. 13 (New York, NY: Crossroads, 1983), p. 122-133.