Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I was violently attacked by tumbleweeds Monday driving through Arizona

This is the third in a series of notes re a recent retreat, with Br. Joseph F. Schmidt, a devotee and student of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.


Thérèse's spirituality has come to be known as the "Little Way."

The first thing to note is that the "Little Way" does not refer, or does not refer exclusively, to the habit of doing "little" things for God. It refers instead to her realization that she was not strong enough, noble enough, or spiritually advanced enough to lift herself up to God. Using the metaphor of a "Divine Elevator," God would lift Him up to her.

Her genius lies in integrating the psychological and the spiritual. Because continuing the theme that the chief characteristic of God is non-violence, she realized that to try, to strain, to generate love for people, many of whom we don't remotely like, is a form of violence.

She began to realize that our love for God isn't something we manufacture on our own and "give" to God. She realized God first loves us, then we love Him. We love God by letting Him love us, not by "working" at love.

Thérèse died at the age of 24, with no pain medication, of complications from TB that included gangrene of the intestines. On her deathbed, she said, in so many words, "I'm not working at all: I'm just receiving God's love. "


1. Inner freedom: this freedom is unique to each individual. Co-dependency is a good thing taken too far. Pleasing people is a virtue; sensitivity is a virtue. The problem comes when we exercise these virtues out of compulsion. With inner freedom, we're no longer pushed around by our feelings, even our feelings of guilt and shame.

2. Creativity: for love to be authentic love, it has to be creative. We each get to show forth our love in a new way, unique to us. We get to be open and flexible.

3. Compassion: the emphasis is on empathy, i.e. doing things on other people's terms. It's not empathy to "dump" your love on people, to over-emote. Compassion is giving other people what they need, not what you need. We're able to do this because we've developed healthy boundaries.

4. Willingness: as opposed to willfulness. Will is vitality, desire, determination, energy, power. In the use of our will, we've been enormously influenced by the culture. The culture promotes PREdetermination, OVERpowering, DOMINATING energy. The culture equates will power with willfulness; i.e. if you're not willful, forceful, and/or violent, you're a chump; you're a doormat.

Thérèse tried using her willfulness, her will power, to correct herself for years. She found that it didn't work. She discovered that we have to respect our own weaknesses and limitations. She finally realized that all Jesus requires is good will, i.e. willingness, not willfulness.

5. Surrender: ego couches violence in such a way that the violence tells us it's for our own good. "Who am I going to be," we ask ourselves, "if I'm not successful, loved, admired, good?" Again, we have to be willing to be the saint God wants us to be, not necessarily the one we want to be.

6. Gratitude. Major. Always.

These characteristics are universally available. They do not require great intellect, money, worldly or spiritual achievement. They all point to self-acceptance: surrendering to the reality of who we are. And THEY CONSTITUTE THE SPIRIT OF THE GOSPELS.

The Little Way begins by freeing us from all lingering thoughts and excessive feelings of fear; and invites us to love God by being available to receive God's love and to love all God loves;

Then we walk away from all arithmetic and ledger-keeping in our spiritual life and abandon any tendency toward perfectionism or willfulness;...

Then we find it no longer necessary to be rude or self-seeking;

Then we stop brooding over injuries and end rejoicing in the wrongs of others;

Then we no longer put a time limit on our forbearance, trust or hope;

Then we cease doing violence to others or to any creature in our thoughts, feelings or behavior;

The the Little Way frees us from the need to delight in anything but truth and goodness and beauty.

From Br. Joseph Schmidt's conception of THE MOVEMENT FROM PERFECTION TO COMPASSION:

To be in a spirit of surrender, gratefulness and willingness is not a "project," an achievement, or an acquisition. It is not the result of our willfulness.
To be in a spirit of surrender and willingness is rather the result of our awareness of God's love and the awareness of our weakness...We die to "ourselves;", our willfulness, our agenda, our acquiring, our ambitions, even our spiritual ambitions. 

We are not "achievers," who give our love to ourselves, to the world, to God.
We are mediators, allowing God's love and mercy to flow in us ("our" love for ourself), through us to the world ("our" love for the world), and return to God ("our" love for God).

We do not strive to love God and so have "love of God."
We allow God's love to find a home in us, and this is "our" love of God.

From St. Thérèse:

"Perfections seems simple to me; I see it is sufficient to recognize one's nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child into God's arms."

"Merit does not consist in doing or giving much, but rather in receiving, in loving much...When Jesus wills to take for Himself the sweetness of giving, it would not be gracious to refuse."

"What offends Jesus, what wounds him to the heart, is our lack of confidence. You can never have too much confidence in God, who is so powerful and so merciful. You receive from God as much as you hope for."

The Cajon Pass from the San Bernadino to the San Gabriel Mountains in 1954
This is now Interstate 15 and if you have made a LONG trip
and live in L.A.
coming through you know you're almost home


  1. Scorched Cerebellum... heh heh heh.... might just have to use that...

  2. "[We] receive from God as much as [we] hope for." That is what I needed to hear today! Suddenly my universe is a bit less askew.

    And it might be just me, but I think that the Flaming Celibate Sinners would be a great name for an alternative band. FCS for short.

    And I pre-ordered SHIRT OF FLAME today, through my wonderful small independent bookseller here in Arlington Center! They rock!

    And so do you!

  3. "Scorched cerebellum" is to be wished for -- would that I might burn these words, this Little Way of St. Thérèse, into my mind, or, better, into my heart. In your post, Heather, you present Br. Schmidt's distillation of the fundamental features of St. Thérèse's doctrine of spiritual childhood, which, as with all things childlike, has a depth and profundity belied by its utter simplicity. This is her genius, I think, that this impossibly simple way of life is accessible to all, livable by all, and will ultimately affect all.

    It is a truly incarnational theology -- the Word taking flesh in the hearts of the anawim, the little ones of God, the poor (and we all experience poverty in one form or another). It is a spiritual reality that walks, talks, lives and breathes. It is real -- the REAL.

    I contend that any theological tenet, any spiritual principle, any proposed truth that does not walk, talk, live and breathe, that cannot be enfleshed in the lives and hearts of the faithful, that does not "scorch one's cerebellum" is of no real use to any one.

    This may seem to some a bit extreme, a bit utilitarian, perhaps harshly pragmatic, but I don't think so... No, rather it is the word made flesh, the Gospel in the marketplace, the transformation and conversion of hearts, minds, lives... It is what matters! What really matters. It is what is authentically human. "The Word became flesh, and lived among us," one with us, one of us, amid the moil, toil, the sweat and soil of human ambition and industry, human struggle and misery, and shone out the truth of us in Him. In embracing the Little Way, this simple enfleshment of the Gospel, I too become the word made flesh - a word spoken by the Word - conformed to Him, one with Him, a member of His body. "Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine!"

    I think Catherine Doherty captures this so beautifully in her life and teaching -- she walks the Little Way with a heart aflame. Catherine and the members of her community, Madonna House, give us a very contemporary--and for me, Canadian--model of the Little Way lived out. I have described her to my students as "St. Thérèse with work boots on!"

    And Catherine says: "Real zeal is standing still and letting God be a bonfire within you."

    So, Scorched Cerebellum? Absolutely! That which is complicated, sophisticated, arrogant and puffed-up, obtuse, contorted, conflicted, great and grand--burn it away as so much dross! Let the gold of simplicity be purified in my heart, in my mind. Let the fire fall! For such is the desire of our Lord, is it not? "I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it was already kindled..." (Luke 12:49).

    Thank you for your thoughtful posts, Heather. As always, edifying and inspiring.

  4. I don't know how you remain so
    spiritual and so focused.

    I don't have the personality or
    the inner resources to meditate,
    pray every day: although I usually
    remember every night to Thank God
    for my pup. I still make amends to him.

    That may sound silly but it's my life.

    Depression and anxiety often run
    rampant. Controlled by medical science but still, there. Not to mention financial stress!

    So. W.Wordsworth.

    THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune:
    It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

    Thanks Heather.

  5. Thanks, Heather, for re-introducing me to St. Therese. I read her Story some years ago and thought that I could never apply her so good and sweet Little Way to my spiritual struggles.
    I just bought Bro. Schmidt's Everything is Grace and, after reading just a few chapters, I have been high all day and blown away. O, the benefits of good teachers like Bro.Schmidt and you! I wish everyone could see your beautiful posts.
    God bless you,


  6. Oh Barbara, I'm sure I'm not one bit more "spiritual" than you--to be willing to be open to God's love and to be thankful is all that's "required" of any of us and really, all we are capable of anyway. I sympathize with your struggles and thank you for your readership, comments, and the so apropos Wordsworth...

    Maire--is not Everything is Grace brilliant!? Next week I'm gonna wrap up Br. Schmidt's remarks on "the development of doctrine" and his take on why Therese is so VITALLY important--to the Church, to women, to humankind...

    So glad "scorched cerebellum" strikes a chord, Jason, and FCS rocks! I'll sing backup...Thanks, too, for pre-ordering SOF. Am loving I Live On an Island...which Dylan very kindly sent me for my birthday and as you may know, Jim, is by Catherine Doherty who I totally agree "got" St. Therese. Catherine is one spiritual writer I come back to again and again--simple yet profound, mystical yet intensely down to earth, fully aware of beauty and joy and also fully aware of sorrow and pain. And as you say, part of the genius of incarnational spirituality is that it IS pragmatic and utilitarian: absolutely able to be fully lived and and in fact ONLY fully lived through our entire lives: every facet of our lives and of the life of the whole human family.

    More on this tomorrow...but for now thanks for your beautifully written response. Maybe I will make it up there to you all someday!!...

  7. Heather and everyone else think you might enjoy this:

    Nice little article about a successful pro baseball manager who attends daily mass wherever his team goes and prays to St. Therese.


I WELCOME your comments!!!