Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thoughts on Story of a Soul: Chapter III

I'm reserving the right to be completely random and start a series of posts in the middle of a book.

I've been through Story of a Soul several times now both before and during Carmelite formation, but this time I am actually able to glean something from it. Follow this link for my many comments previously regarding my relationship with this particular Doctor of the Church.

I think what I am learning now is to enter spiritually and theologically into the experiences she reports. I am intuiting that she chose to report the details she reports not simply because she is reminiscing, but because she understands very well the meaning of her life. She is opening the book of her life for us to read God's writing there. Never before was I able to see what I feel I can see now. It has taken me some time for my vision to adjust.

What strikes me in this chapter in overview is how she is struggling to appropriate for herself this parrhesia, the humble boldness, this confidence of being loved as herself by God. She does not know how to bear herself at school with the jealous girl (of whom she said, "She made me pay in a thousand ways for my little successes."), and she does not have the mature detachment to not become overly sad at Pauline's entrance into Carmel. The help and healing comes from the Blessed Virgin Mary when she has exhausted all of the love from her family, realizing that even though it never failed her, it is not enough and she needs divine help to satisfy her soul. And yet, she doesn't know how to handle that grace either. She wants to, or at least she does, share it with Marie and the Carmelites,  (whether she really wanted to or not) but neither comprehend it exactly as she has experienced it. (They can't. It was for her.) She has the disappointment of not finding the union of wills on earth, in the way she talks about having had with her cousin. Her will is meant for union with heaven. This seems to stress her love for her most beloved ones.

Her discussion of her fragility at school was very enlightening to me. She silently suffers the jealousy of the girl who "made her pay" for being first in the class, because, she says, she didn't know how to defend herself. She didn't "have enough virtue" to "rise above" these miseries, but -- and there is a helpful word here -- when she returned home at night her "heart expanded." I can identify strongly with young Therese, her heart shrinking in some situations and expanding in others. I thought to myself, if she lacked virtue, what virtue might that be? I thought of 1 John 2 where we read "remain in Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of confidence and not shrink back from him in shame." It seemed that the opposite of an expanding heart is a shrinking heart, and that in turn is contrasted with confidence. That was when I came upon this paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2778 This power of the Spirit who introduces us to the Lord's Prayer is expressed in the liturgies of East and of West by the beautiful, characteristically Christian expression: parrhesia, straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness, the certainty of being loved.

This seems to summarize St. Therese's life, the Carmelite vocation, and my life, too. This is what she was made for. But at this point in her life, it was what she struggled with. She had to learn to own her own honor and glory, and to fully accept them as hers from God.

She goes on to say that she needed assurances in her family life that she was loved, or her life would have been too hard. Again, I can relate to Therese. And it is somewhat amazing that I can. That is, now I realize that I need assurances of love. I do. And I did in the past, too, without having them, and life was essentially too hard, and I became that way too. But the beautiful thing is to be able to say "I need." Sometimes for me the only way that I become able to say "I need" is to feel my lack, to feel ignored or unloved. Perhaps I need, as an exercise, to practice saying "I need" before I get to the point of feeling ignored. Perhaps it will change how I respond to other's needs.

I continue to relate when she says she didn't know how to play with other children, and she was bored by their games and dancing. She was pleased by being alone with one friend, by playing hermit, by practicing surrender of will (until she knocked over the shopkeeper's display by walking with her eyes closed).

She has a real union of love with her sister and experiences Celine's First Communion with as much joy as if it were her own. She shows zero jealousy. This is a delightful expression of selfless love.

Then there is this moment:

"In one instant, I understood what life was; until then, I had never seen it so sad; but it appeared to me in all its reality, and I saw it was nothing but a continual suffering and separation. I shed bitter tears because I did not yet understand the joy of sacrifice."
This is why she needed all of those assurances of love. It is also interesting to know that she shed tears when Pauline announced her leaving, but she shed no tears when her mother died. But this is also the moment of her realizing her personal vocation to Carmel. And this is why she says she should have not despaired so, because as of this time, she knew she too was meant for Carmel (no slow processing for her!).

And yet, after this, she falls ill. She goes to visit Pauline at Carmel with her cousins and aunt, and out of consideration for them, Pauline does not direct many words to Therese, and Therese feels herself abandoned by her. It is too much for her, and she collapses under a mysterious sickness. The assurances of love are missing, even her father's desire to distract and entertain her don't cut it. She fears she is faking her sickness. It does seem that there is something morbid going on psychologically. Therese herself at the time of writing is certain it was demonic. But somehow when she calls to Mary, instead of her sister, she is healed. It seems to me that the assurances of love that she needed and thought she could not live without had to fail her.

The bit about not wanting to talk about the grace that happened to her shows me there was a disconnect between these who were closest to her and she struggled to make the grace her own, to fully accept it as hers from God. This is the same kind of disconnect that she experienced with the kids at school. Except now it detached her from those she loved the most. Fascinating.

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