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Saturday, October 01, 2011

She liked Joan of Arc

UPDATE: you can also visit Dina's interesting past post about Thérèse - St. Thérèse's relics on pilgrimage in Israel

Today is the Memorial of Thérèse of Lisieux. I've never especially liked her but I was reading today that she was a fan of Joan of Arc, something we have in common, and she wrote two plays in honour of her (see above). I'm not sure what bothers me about her - maybe it's her vulnerability, which seems too evident for comfort.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from a homily by Philip Endean SJ which sort of touches on this ....

Homily For The 27th Sunday, Year B - October 4th 2009, Fr. Philip Endean SJ

[...] Thérèse, for me as an academic interested in spirituality, is a quite fascinating figure. I don’t think we can just ignore the critical, even cynical, comments that have been made about her cult. But one cannot deny its power. Her autobiographical manuscripts—suitably or unsuitably sanitised by her bossy big sister—appeared in the first decade of the last century. If you go to her sanctuary at Lisieux, what is just obvious from the votive stones is how this story of a psychologically damaged child facing an early painful death, and undergoing powerful experiences of abandonment and loss of faith—this story somehow helped French soldiers who had to struggle with the horror of World War I; more generally, she seems to have touched into the experiences of poor Catholics in the workforce of an industrial society of Northern Europe that could often be brutal and insecure. Thérèse’s centenary in 1997 came a month after the death of Princess Diana; and maybe the Diana phenomenon helps us understand Thérèse. Both are vulnerable young women, making lots of mistakes, dying young and tragically—both tap into realities normally hidden within our collective psyche, and provoke it into expression. This expression takes forms that are sometimes disconcerting, sometimes conflicting—the symbols of Thérèse and Diana are used by different people promoting different sets of agenda. In both cults, flowers figure large; there are elements of kitsch, vulgarity, tastelessness. But something important is happening when Thérèse and Diana are evoked. Realities often buried and overlooked, and which because they are unacknowledged are often doing us damage—these come to the surface, in however distorted a form. And we are better off because we have been allowed, however temporarily, however incompletely, to access them.

I can never make up my mind whether Thérèse is a genuine theologian or the fabrication of a successful piety industry, but I am prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt—after all, she has been proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. The problem with her writing is that its doctrinal ideas have been so successful and influential within twentieth-century Christianity that we no longer recognise that they were once new and surprising. In the middle of the century, our mainstream church understanding of grace changed, so that what Thérèse was on about no longer seems a big deal. My current research on Gerard Manley Hopkins has led me to think about what Catholic spiritual life was like in the nineteenth century. The dangers of caricature are considerable; but you cannot avoid the impression that at very deep levels the religious enterprise was set up so that you could only fail at it; and the religious apparatus available to the average Catholic was largely concerned with the negotiation of guilt. In this world, Thérèse saw something new. You can leave all the concerns with rules aside. You can just let God be with you in your weakness and failure, and love you; you can just let that love supply for all your needs. She advocates the so-called Little Way. There are paths to heaven that involve steep climbs; but then there’s this new route which just gets you there in a flash—like these strange new machines called elevators that they have in New York and about which we’ve read newspaper articles even here in dozy Lisieux. The way of love: love at the heart of the Church; love available to all, no matter what the failures they are having to live with, no matter what the burdens they are carrying ........


Blogger Dina said...

I like these words of the Jesuit.

I'm glad you found something in common with Therese.

Her relics came to Israel in March.

If you want to see the Christian holidays as celebrated in Israel, see the nice PDF version of the Holy Land calendar:

10:33 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the links :) I'm so impressed always with your interest and knowledge about Christian sruff. I'm woefully ignorant about much of it, having not been a Christian all that long, and I'm soory to say I know even less about Judaism. I'm learning a lot from your blog, though.

11:51 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

PS - great post of yours about her. I've added a link to it.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Dina said...

Thanks, Crystal.
There is an old saying, "Let Jerusalem teach you." She is a good teacher.
And so are you.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I don't know why I was so drawn to Therese when I was 10 years old, but I was. I'm sure it had something to do with my sense of isolation--being a newly-motherless child and a Protestant living in a Catholic convent school all at the same time. Therese was hardly a mother figure, but she filled some need for me at the time.

And she performed the Miracle of the Candy Bar, causing a vending machine to cough up a Snickers as I passed by after a late choir practice one day. It's no wonder I prayed to her on a regular basis.

8:44 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Susan,

It's strange - I never even heard of her until some time after I became Catholic. In a lot of ways, you're more Catholic than me :) I would have prayed to her too if I'd known she was good for candy bars!

10:26 PM  

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