(Vatican Radio) The roar of over 100 thousand Harley Davidsons have enveloped the Vatican Saturday, as bikers marked the 110th anniversary of the US motors founding. 1,400 bikes with their riders wi...Read more
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso in private audience at the Vatican on Saturday, with EU integration, the current economic cri...Read more
|The Vocation of Christian Innocence|
|Part One: The Figure of a Spirituality|
|Types of Perfection|
|Part Two: Theresian Spirituality in the Figure of the Curé|
|Conclusion: Love is Indifference|
The Vocation of Christian Innocence
Theresian Spirituality and the Figure of the Saint in Georges Bernanos
“As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” - Romans 8:17
There are longings, in the experience of the human person, that are as timeless as the sea and as enduring as mountains. They reappear, time and time again, in the spirituality, poetry, and theology of man. Rare is the human person who does not admit his own yearning, at least on certain occasions, to transcend the burdens and limitations of this earthly life, and discover a new country, where all is fulfilled. Man's existential restlessness is a fundamental condition which, try as he might, he cannot change nor escape from. But it is also a compass. It ceaselessly guides him towards an end, a destination, a final consummation. And while all creation groans, it is the Christian who has been granted the great discovery. The Christian, who has encountered Christ, knows that within the temporality of this life there exists the possibility of a profound existential peace, a boundless security that only lovers know, for in the possession of the love of God, the human heart finds its rest.
Christian conversion is not a simple matter, however, and nor is it possible, at least in this life, to have perfect possession of the love of God. Despite being redeemed by the Cross, the world remains tied to the effects of its original sin. Man does not always like the demands that love might make upon him. His deepest longings, therefore, are always in conflict with other tendencies. He desires love, but he frequently confuses authentic love with self-love. Modern man, especially, seems awash in a flood of existential philosophies that can do without God, or simply resigned to the obliqueness of a vague relativism. Where then, does man find the roadmap to the true love of God? How does the Christian, who has been touched by the love of God, respond to Him? What form can he give his spirituality, on which to base and to sustain a relationship to Christ?
The Church preserves a legacy that is richer than the annals of mere human history or compendiums of philosophy. She carries within her womb the sacred deposit of Divine Revelation, of God's plan for man, and the proper modes of man's response to God. She adjudicates and displays the witness of the saints. As history has woven its path through time, it is possible to observe a variety of spiritualities within the Catholic tradition, to see a pneumatic fluctuation within revelation, to discover that, although in the end, God and man are to be united in a covenant of love, the means, forms, and vocabularies can vary. God, the great lover, bends himself to accommodate man, and reveals himself ever anew to his creatures, and the universal Church carrying within herself all that is truly from God, displays, like lights, all the true paths that might lead to Him.
In the firmament of the saints, one such path has shone brilliantly, and this in the context of modern times. At the end of the 19th Century, the Church discovered that in the short life of a hidden French Carmelite, God may have had something important to say to his creatures. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, in obedience to her superior, wrote before her death a spiritual autobiography which she called “The Story of a Soul”, outlining what she called her “little way” to God. This teaching illumined the Catholic world; she was canonized a saint in 1925 and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
Not long after Therese's life, in the first turbulent half of the 20th century, Catholic literature underwent a modest revival, particularly in the English and French-speaking world. A major light of this movement was French writer Georges Bernanos. His novels, essays and letters expressed a keen sense of man's need for God, and, if one looks closely, certain means of reaching Him. One can detect within the form of his works, a remarkable similarity to the spirit of Thérèse. To what extent he was conscious of this kinship is a mystery, although he was certainly familiar with the saint. We have, however, the opportunity of comparing the spiritual writings of the Carmelite with the inspired creations of a literary giant. Taken together, it may be possible to discern better the outline of a disposition for the Christian soul, the gestalt of a spirituality. The poet, gifted with the expression of words, may be to better able to render what the saint was primarily called to live out.
What is needed, then, is the assistance of theology, to guide a reading of both. It is thus providential that one of the 20th century's great theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was “intimately familiar with the whole of Christian theological and cultural tradition,” should have recognized the importance of both Thérèse and Bernanos, writing masterful theological biographies on both.
Thus, in the following analysis, spirituality, literature and theology will come together to interpenetrate and illumine our question concerning the nature of man before God, of creature before Creator. Where exactly does the believer, who seeks to live in the love of Christ, begin and where might he end? The question, more pointedly, remains open: what fundamental attitude does Theresian spirituality ultimately ask of the believer? Using the spiritual writings of the consecrated sister, the narratives of a lay author, and the reflections of a theologian-priest, we shall attempt a modest answer.