Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fr. John Hardon on St. Therese

I found this piece by Fr. Hardon on St. Therese quite interesting.  I'm going to copy parts of it here and add some thoughts.  This comes with thanks to the Real Presence site which houses many of Fr. Hardon's writings and talks.

When I comment within a text, I'll put it in brackets and in red.

First, he speaks on the importance of St. Therese:

As we reread the papal documents on Therese's virtues, certain features stand out. They may correctly be called the distinctive qualities of spiritual childhood, which the faithful are recommended to imitate. Thus spiritual childhood
  • Knows nothing of spiritual pride. It never glories in whatever graces it receives from God, but acknowledges them as sheer gift of His love. 
  • Realizes that natural means cannot achieve sanctity. Without prayer, the sacraments, and cooperation with graces received, holiness is a mirage. [It is easy to believe our spiritual progress is an achievement we ourselves make, when in reality, it happens only by the grace of God.]
  • Has no illusions of self-reliance in danger and temptation. Immediate petition for divine help is the only guarantee of being able to overcome the surges of passion or the instigations of the evil one. 
  • Presupposes a lively faith in God's existence. In fact, as a person grows in spiritual childhood, there is a keen awareness of God's presence in everything that touches one's life. [At the bottom of this post, I'll add a link to a great explanation of childlikeness by Fr. Hardon]
  • Has a practical confidence in God's power and mercy. Thus the virtue of hope becomes so strong that no matter how humanly impossible the future way seem, there is peaceful trust that God will provide loving care. [We need to ask God for this grace of hope, especially during this period in which it seems so many Catholics are becoming unglued for this reason or that. Our times are not the worst of times; our times are not the only times when Catholics have been persecuted; we are not the only Catholics in history to see members of the clergy and hierarchy engaged in dissent and scandal.]
  • Has confident recourse to Divine providence. It sees the hand of God behind every so-called happening, and believes there is no such thing as chance. [What God doesn't will, He permits, often for reasons known only to Him. One only needs to read the Book of Job and it is in Job 2:10 that we see his response to the horrible illness he suffered. Everyone around him insisted he must have offended God and deserved the boils with which he was covered.  But, he was innocent.  His response to this temptation to despair was to say, "We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?"]

Fr. Hardon concludes this section (emphasis mine in bold):
If we look still closer at St.Therese's importance for our times, it becomes even more clear as we see the virus of pride infecting so many people in our day. As the popes are at pains to explain, whatever else the modern world needs, it is a rediscovery of the meaning of Christ's teaching about becoming like little children. He could not have been more solemn than when He warned us, "Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). This injunction was always necessary but it is crucial today when human achievements in the material world have intoxicated millions with self-conceit and widespread oblivion of God.

And that was written in 1997. How much more does that hold true today.  I wonder what Fr. Hardon would think today, of this "age of sarcasm and snark" that has become the norm.  Rudeness is almost a "virtue" and people seem to keep score on just how well they tell someone else off.  TV and radio are filled with shock-jocks.  The Catholic cyber-sphere is no different.  I've lost interest in so many sites I once followed because people have adapted to the sarcastic language habits of our times.  We have really reduced ourselves to a terrible form of factionalism because we have gone beyond responding to other people's positions with charity, to outright attacks on their persons.

Getting back to Fr. Hardon, The next section is on the historical setting of her autobiography.  He writes:

Unlike the great Catholic books of history, the Autobiography of St.Therese of Lisieux hardly has a historical setting that occasioned its publication or shaped its composition. Its author lived only twenty-four years, and nine of those were spent in the obscurity of a Carmelite cloister. [Just think, Therese became a saint, and probably saved more souls without following every word, action, and move of the hierarchy in various parts of the world. Therese shows us that our salvation doesn't come from a steady diet of spiritual junk food found in the Catholic cyber-sphere; but from putting our hand to the plow in the basics of our faith: Sacraments, work, prayer, spiritual reading, and tending to others in our lives.]

Yet there is a deep sense in which we can speak of the historical circumstances in which the book was written. Two French writers, who were contemporaries of St.Therese, give us some insight into the devastating ideas that began to plague Christianity in her day. Ernest Renan, the ex-seminarian of Brittany, repudiated the divinity of Christ, portrayed Him as a charming Galilean preacher, and denied that He had ever worked any miracles. Alfred Loisy, a priest from Lorraine, denied that Christ ever founded a Church or instituted any of the sacraments.

No contrast could be more startling than to compare, for example, Renan's Life of Jesus or Loisy's Gospel and the Church, with the Autobiography of St. Therese. She is writing in a spirit of deep faith, especially faith in the Divinity of Christ, Time and again she speaks to Jesus, as "My God"; whereas Renan and Loisy abandoned the faith they once had, and then studiously contradicted what they had formerly believed. [So, if you think what we see of dissenters is something new, think again.  You can find them in every era of the Church, but you will find that the approach Therese took was to pray and make sacrifices for them, and their followers.  She didn't go out on a street corner and complain any more than she would kvetch online if she lived today].

What should be emphasized, however, is that St.Therese's faith was severely tested. An essential part of her sanctity, therefore, was her courageous profession of faith in spite of the serious temptations against the faith that God allowed her to experience. [This goes back to the book of Job.  God can permit us to experience trials, or send them to us directly, if he is trying to correct the course we choose to be on; or, if he wants us to grow in deeper holiness.]

The latest publication of Therese's sayings reveals this side of her life which many commentators have overlooked. She was not only plagued with trials about the faith, but she saw the sufferings that God sent her as a providential means of obtaining or restoring faith for unbelievers. "I offer up," she confided to her superior, "these very great pains to obtain the light of faith for poor unbelievers, for all those who separate themselves from the Church's beliefs." [Colossians 1:24. This is definitely something we miss today and it is something we need our priests and bishops to teach us - how to pray and sacrifice for others.  If we have no need of the graces that come, our prayers and sacrifices will benefit others, if we hand them over to God.  In fact, we can especially hand  these things to Mary and simply let her direct the graces where needed most. Complaining about problems in the Church, or about certain bishops, has far less effect than praying for them, but this requires an act of faith.]

Keeping this in mind will give an entirely new dimension to St.Therese's practice of spiritual childhood. She was an extraordinarily gifted person, with a penetrating intellect. Yet she believed and grew in the faith almost because her faith was so sorely tried by the Lord.
What Fr. Hardon gives next on this piece about St. Therese is a list of five things that he says makes up the core of the spirituality of the Little Flower.  Go read them here:  St. Therese of Lisieux by John A. Hardon, S.J. 

More from Fr. Hardon on St. Therese

I also mentioned that Fr. Hardon wrote a great explanation on Childlikeness.  For those who think this is soft stuff and only for some people, Our Lord didn't direct his words to be like children to just some of the disciples.


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