These days it’s easy to be discouraged reading the news about never-ending scandals popping up here and there, or about the shortcomings of various role models, or the interviews of well-known people criticizing one another, and so on. I’m sure that we all can think of examples and that we all recognize an overwhelming flow of negativism, criticism, egoism, a flow that at times becomes so strong that it’s easy to be carried away by it and to simply surrender without looking beyond the negativity, coming to the conclusion – and this is very subtle – that, at the end of the day, this is all normal.
A week or so ago, I decided to read something about Thérèse de Lisieux, I knew that she had died at a young age, that she is a great saint, that she is a doctor of the Church and an inspiration for many with her ‘little way’. I was impressed with what I read because I recognized a similarity between her personal struggle at the end of her life and this dark period that we seem to be going through.
I just want to highlight what struck me most, because it helped me to see things from another perspective, and it might help you too.
In the introduction to the book I found a quote of Joseph Ratzinger who said about Thérèse: “She was very kind and, apparently, of unassuming simplicity. Unexpectedly she finds herself immersed in the torments of doubt, a symbol of contemporary men and women, who unexpectedly catch sight of an abyss that opens beneath what seemed to be the solid ground of conventional truth, and the question becomes all or nothing: there are no other options.”
So Thérèse, from one moment to the next, finds herself in a situation of doubt. She cannot be sure whether all that she believes and all that she lived for is actually true. Her deepest convictions and, therefore, her relationship with God are put to the test. She describes her inner state as being in darkness without feeling the presence of God. And what is her reaction to this situation? She abandons herself immediately and totally to the will of God because she believes (even without seeing or feeling it in her soul) that everything is love from God.
This attitude of ‘transforming’ reality and seeing things from the perspective of the love of God – without ignoring or denying the events, which are very real – is what touched me deeply. Isn’t this an invitation to do the same, even today?
When Thérèse discovered her illness by coughing up blood (she died from tuberculosis), her reaction wasn’t: “I’m sick, I coughed up blood”, but “My Spouse (Jesus) has arrived”.
I think Thérèse here teaches us that each event carries with it two realities, a human reality and a divine reality. Personally I try to focus on God’s love first of all, and I realize that this gives me great inner peace and a feeling of optimism; it helps me to see the ‘bigger picture’, without getting trapped in a narrow and sometimes self-centered way of thinking. It actually helps me to discover the needs of others, to reach out to them and, if it’s the case, to reverse their tendency to think negatively.
The more I manage to recognize the love of God in both positive and negative events, the more I feel that the relationship between Him and me grows. And as this relationship grows, it becomes easier to recognize God’s love in everything that happens. And then it becomes possible to bear witness to God who is Love in daily life.
I’m very grateful to Thérèse. I’m sure she’s giving us a hand from above!
This post was originally published in 2010