|Taos in summer is ALL about hollyhocks|
[Part I is here].
When I converted to Catholicism back in '96, that Christ was utterly non-violent I took to be so completely, self-evidently obvious that it didn't even need discussing. If the Crucifixion was not about love, about life, about subverting the eye-for-an-eye vengeance-based violence that had held sway since the dawn of man, what was it about? That the Church was for life across the board--anti-capital punishment, anti-abortion, anti birth-control, anti-poverty, and especially anti-war--was to me the very proof of its authenticity. So was the fact that Catholicism was not politically correct, that there was something for both the left and the right to struggle with.
To me, it was self-evident that you can't be violent in your personal life, e.g. hopelessly addicted to alcohol, and effectively work for global peace. You can't think every war is a just war as long as AMERICANS are fighting it and also be kind with any real purity of heart to your next-door neighbor.
To be violent in one area and profess to be not violent in another is a contradiction in terms. To be anti-abortion and pro-war is a contradiction in terms. To be anti-war and anti-rich people is a contradiction in terms.
I was also clear that to convert in and of itself is nothing. The question is convert to what? To me, the conversion was from fear to faith, from fear to love. It was only after I converted that I looked around and saw the pews were full of people who apparently believed that their being members of the Church was a gift to the Church, rather than the other way around. It was only after I converted That our tendency is to say not Wouldn't it be great if everyone acted like Christ, but wouldn't it be great if everyone acted like me? That was when I took a look around and realized the pews were full of rabid war-wongers.
Thus, I was happy, relieved, and gratified to find that Br. Joseph Schmidt also takes as a matter of course that the love of God is utterly, completely, resolutely non-violent.
Violence is THE issue of our culture and our day and Br. Joseph's thesis is that Thérèse's contribution is more than a recognition that we should do all things, even little things, for God, more than humility, more than we should be childlike, more even than her famous "My Vocation is Love!"
Her contribution was that love is without violence to either ourselves or others.
She also realized that we need to vastly widen our definition of violence. Gandhi pointed out that one primary form of social violence is poverty. Poverty is violence, sexism is violence, delighting in other people's wrong-doing is violence, gossip is violence. Violence is any attitude, gesture, thought or feeling that diminishes life.
As it is, there are three main kinds of violence.
1. VIOLENCE TO OURSELVES
Violence begins in our feelings and thoughts. The first phase on the spiritual journey is developing love for ourselves.
Thérèse had major, basic, feelings of abandonment. As in infant she was sickly and had to be farmed out to a wet nurse and so was shuttled for a time between home and the farm where the wet nurse lived, then had to say goodbye to the wet nurse. Then, when she was 4, her mother died of breast cancer. One after the other, her two beloved oldest sisters left for the cloistered convent at Carmel (the same convent TThérèse would later enter herself).
So from a very young age, Thérèse had an extreme capacity for love and had tendencies toward "co-dependence." She was constantly trying to "bond" with people not so much or not only because she loved them and wanted to please them but because she wanted to please them in order generate the "good feelings" that compensated for the pain of abandonment. (Co-dependence refers not just to be wanting to be close to people and get their approval, but to the overly "good feelings" we get when we feel we are close or that we do have people's approval). She began to realize that her desire to please people was in some way working against her desire to please God.
After her mother died, Thérèse tried in particular to please her father. She tried to please God but when others didn't notice her efforts, she got upset (if you're anything like me, that latter has you cringing). She genuinely wanted to be loving but she also realized, that with her morbid oversensitivity and clinginess, she was on the wrong path. Though she would die a virgin, she compared herself to Mary Magdaleine, because she realized she was in danger of becoming emotionally promiscuous. She could give her heart in the wrong way to other people, in fact to any number of people.
|arty Ledoux Street, Taos, NM|
Here's a description of the event, taken from a former post:
The custom at the time was for the children of the house to leave their empty shoes by the fire for the parents to fill with Christmas candy. Thérèse, the youngest of five daughters, was the last to keep up the custom. Upon returning from Mass that night, her usually kind and pious father, uncharacteristically cranky, passed the shoes and remarked, "Well, thank heaven, this will be the last year." Thérèse, 13, overheard him. Ordinarily she would have burst into tears and made a scene, devastated at the thought of having displeased her dear Papa. She began running upstairs to her room, choking back sobs. But on the moment, something changed…
From Br. Joseph's Everything is Grace:
Thérèse’s sensitivity had been offended, but what of that? Could she not bear the pain of having inadvertently displeased her father, if enduring that pain was necessary to remain true to herself? Originally, in conformity with the family pattern, she had felt that if she did displease her father, she would not survive as the person she was. Her feelings had made her believe that failing to please her father would mean that she was not the good person on which she had staked her identity. Who would she be if she were not the sensitive, pleasing little Thérèse? She felt that she would surely die; it was as simple as that. Her feelings told her that she would simply no longer exist; that she would dissolve, as it were, into nothingness.
The threat of the feelings of separation and being abandoned attendant on Thérèse’s displeasing her father were so intimidating that they raised the specter of annihilation. The movement from the path Thérèse had been on with its dimension of falseness to the path of deeper truth to which she was called—a movement of profound transformation—felt like death.
But she did not die. She gathered herself, allowed herself to experience but not be overwhelmed by the feelings of hurt, and marched downstairs like an adult to open her presents with gratitude, good cheer, and joy.
Thérèse was pleasing her father, but not because she needed to please him in order to make herself feel connected and good. She was pleasing him now because, from the depths of her true self with a deepened sense of inner freedom, she could act in whatever compassionate, creative, and free way she was called to. And pleasing her father was exactly what, on this Christmas night, she was called to do and wanted to do.
[F]rom the time of her complete conversion she would never walk on the path of accommodating others at the expense of her own true self. That is, she would never please others because in a self-indulgent way she needed to please them for her own sense of security, or closeness, or fear of separation. Now she would accommodate others in a spirit of freedom and creativity, and as an expression of real love. In pleasing others, she would never again act in violence to her own integrity.
By the time Thérèse had entered Carmel, she had become so skilled at pleasing others and accommodating situations that she never insisted on her own way...
She never afterward had to insist on her own way because in a sense she always got her own way, which was to love, and to be loved by, God in total freedom. In an instant, God had done for her what she hadn't been able to do for herself in ten years. She regained the inner strength she had lost when her mother died.
From that moment, "Charity entered my life"...She realized she didn't need to cry and weep anymore. She could bear the pain of being "separated" from her father, of being a failure, of not being pleasing to him. She could allow her father to have his moment of crabbiness without making him feel guilty.
We, too, get to ask ourselves, "Am I going to compromise the integrity of my spirit by pleasing others at my own spiritual expense? Am I going to be mildly depressed all my life because I won't let my childhood griefs, hurts, wounds, harm that was done to me go? Am I going to continue down this path of sentimentality in order to get the love I need?"
She realized that all God requires is our good will. She also realized that no-one knows of this inner transformation but us. We get to quietly, anonymously go about our daily business but with a new orientation of heart marked by freedom, peace, and goodwill.
2. VIOLENCE TO OTHERS
There is no such thing as an objective enemy, a person who is by his or her very nature, an "enemy. Our enemy is someone else's friend or even protector. So if we can see God's image in that person, he or she ceases to be our enemy. Some people we simply have a natural aversion to; we are never going to be friends with them. But we can act "as if." We can treat our enemy like a thunderstorm: we don't take their actions personally, we don't gossip, badmouth, try to retaliate, expend energy. We just close the window...Thérèse got that it's impossible to do this all the time. We're going to fall short. Sometimes the better part of love is to remove ourselves from the situation, to "flee."
So there are some people we can't like, but we don't have to make the person into an enemy. Be willing to bear your inadequacies of failing to appreciate God's gift in that person.
Forgiveness is what happens when we let go of vengeance.
3. SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE
In Thérèse's time, a kind of very unfortunate Jansenism held sway. God was held to be punitive, angry, vengeful, vindictive, justice-bent and the way to gain his love was by mortifications, penance, and a very unhealthy keeping track of good deeds. Thérèse didn't complain or openly resist this way; she simply quietly, hiddenly, with utter focus, determination and love went about finding her own way.
As Br. Joseph observed, this is so apropos to the violence today in the Church. The violence of sexual abuse, the violence of the laity toward the clergy, the violence among putatively Catholic commentators and bloggers. We have to say to ourselves, I don't need to participate in the violence. I need to maintain my integrity. Which can be difficult, as violence attracts violence and therefore, sadly in a violent climate, readership, and is in fact calculated to attract readership. So we have to make love, not attention, not numbers, our goal.
The common spirituality of the day was toward "perfection" as in "Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" [Matthew 5:48]. But notice what comes just before this in the Gospels--"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?--and also what comes just after: "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your father in heaven."
Thérèse saw she could not climb "the rough stairway of perfection." She was saying, "I can't do holiness as a big deal. I can't make it to the top of the ladder." She was not able to make herself perfect in the sense of never making a mistake. In fact, to tell people that perfection consists in eradicating all their fault is a form of violence. Perfection doesn't mean getting rid of all our faults and defects; it means opening ourselves to God's love.
We have to realize that right now the faults compensate for some inadequacy. Greed compensates for the fear that there won't be enough. Lust compensates for feelings of powerlessness. Self-righteousness compensates for the fear of not looking good.
We think we need to be perfect so other people and God will think we're "good"--but that's nonsense in the Christian life.
So how do we do this? Surrender and prayer.
The surrender is not giving up, nor is it denial. It's just not wilfully trying to achieve perfection.
Again, there is nothing milquetoast about this--quite the opposite. Thérèse picked Joan of Arc for her patron saint--not for her violence, but for her courage and integrity, because Joan of Arc followed her own voice. Thérèse walked a solitary line here, and in every other way. She was utterly out of tune with the rigid, fear-based spirituality of her time, which in a sense, is still the spirituality of our time. No-one in the convent understood or was on board. She transformed words like "martyr," "victim," "holocaust," so that they were no longer violent, but were driven by love.
|in a pasture bordering the road in the village of Valdez, NM|
when the owners, Maxine (leads the Monday rosary) and Nick (sings in the choir) saw me mooning about,
they invited me up to their porch for a chat
"If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."
"Yes, it suffices to humble oneself, to bear with one's imperfections. That is real sanctity."
"I entrust to Jesus my failings; I tell Him all about them; and I think, so bold is my trust, that in this way I acquire more power over His heart and draw myself in still greater abundance of the love of Him who came to call sinners, not the righteous."