Happy feast of the Little Flower! I thought for today I would share three favorite quotes from St. Thérèse, with some commentary on each.
“I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects–not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.”
There’s a woman I know who’s been married for 15 or so years. She’s terribly realistic about things, the brutally honest sort, and once said to me: “My husband is my path to heaven. I often ask God to help me look on him the way He looks at me. I really want to appreciate the good that’s in him, but then there’s always the other stuff, the stuff that bugs me. So I asked Jesus once to fix my head on this. And once during my hour of Adoration, this thought came to me clear as day, and I just knew it was Jesus because it didn’t agree with me at all: he’s your chance to love better than you would have if he didn’t bug you in the first place. The funny part is once I let myself see things this way, it’s like I suddenly started seeing through the parts of him I don’t like so much into good things in him I’d never noticed before. But let’s be straight, my bigger prayer is totally that God help MY HUSBAND see ME that way!”
“It’s true, I suffer a great deal–but do I suffer well? That is the question. What ineffable joy to carry our cross feebly.”
I knew a man who developed spinal meningitis and lived. Afterward he said to me: “I failed the test of faith, Tom. I complained and doubted and didn’t do a good job being strong for my wife and kids. I was too afraid for myself.” I thought long about that, and wrote him an email after sharing my thoughts on what it means for a Christian to “suffer well.” My focus was on how misconceptions about this topic can leave many people worse off in their suffering because of their faith, and not better. Here’s part of what I wrote: Suffering well doesn’t simply mean being strong, stoic or serene in the face of pain, nor does it require withholding from others any sign of struggle or fear or anger — or even brushes with despair — in the midst of suffering. Read Psalm 88. It’s a dark lament that ends with the words: “My one companion is darkness.” Suffering, especially intense suffering, is unruly and un-ideal. It can’t be romanticized while you’re in it. And our instinctual psycho-somatic responses are always unpredictable. For a Christian, suffering well in its deepest sense means uniting our hardships to the Cross of Jesus by an act of the will, a raw choice of consent against our inner ragings. “Take it, Lord, it’s yours. Do with it as you wish.” It means offering up to God on unsteady hands the inglorious sacrifice of life’s unpredictability that tears from our grip the power to control. It means turning our pain and desperation into a cry to God: “God, come to my assitance; Lord, come quickly to my aid!” It means inviting the fiat, the “yes” of Jesus in Gethsemane into our fretting trials, remembering that there He suffered an inner storm of agony. It means coming to terms with our helplessness, our need to be cared for by others; and this not simply as an unfortunate concession to regrettable weakness, but as a vocation, a summons to radically receive Christ’s power in a way only to be had in powerlessness (2 Cor. 12). It means never banishing God from the darkness, but seeking for Him there all the more ardently…knowing He descended into hell precisely to fill the night with His Presence.It means learning that perfect faith travels from clean and bright ideas about God into the darkness of deep mystery, which exacts from us not mere assent but unconditional surrender.It means discovering that the joy faith brings into suffering is not simply a naive optimism that “everything’s gonna be alright,” but rather a hope in an imperishable dawn beyond the valley of death. But sometimes — and this is a great mystery — suffering well means no more than consenting to being carried by others when we have nothing left to offer. These know the meaning of Luke 5:18-20.
“O Jesus, I know You command nothing that is impossible. You know how weak and imperfect I am, and You know only too well that I could never love the other nuns as You love them if You Yourself did not love them within me.”
I have no comment to make here. Just praying it with you. May He do this for us. Amen.