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from ‘Mystic, Comic, Everything’ — Chapter 1 of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message

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 We are still at the dawn of the third great crisis of our civilization: it is no longer merely man confronted with his weakness (with the Greeks); no longer merely man confronted with his guilt (with Luther, at that tragic time for Europe, after the black plagues at the end of the Middle Ages); man today finds himself confronted with his solitude and with the desperate quest for a meaning to his life, confronted with the need to search for what would be an “authentic existence”, “true life”, which he fears never being able to enjoy. Among the innumerable witnesses that could be called to the stand in this interrogation, such as Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, or Kundera, I have intentionally kept two cries, because they seem to express the question that was Thérèse’s own: “Here is my old anguish, right there in the hollow of my body, like a bad wound that every movement irritates; I know its name, it is the fear of eternal solitude. And I have the fear that there may not be any answer” (Camus).

I implored, I begged for a sign, I sent messages to the heavens: no response. The heavens do not even know my name. I wondered at every moment what I might be in the eyes of God. Now I knew the answer: Nothing. God does not see me, God does not know me, God does not hear me. You see this void over our heads? That is God. You see this hole in the earth? That is God. You see this opening in the door? That is God again. The silence is God. Absence is God. God is the solitude of men. [(Jean Paul Sartre, Le Diable et le bon Dieu, tableau 10, scene 4.)]

Thérèse was familiar with this anguish:

When I want to rest my heart fatigued by the darkness which surrounds it by the memory of the luminous country after which I aspire, my torment redoubles; it seems to me that the darkness, borrowing the voice of sinners, says mockingly to me: “You are dreaming about the light, about a fatherland embalmed in the sweetest perfumes; you are dreaming about the eternal possession of the Creator of all these marvels; you believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness.” (SS 213)

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I have experienced it; when I am feeling nothing, when I am INCAPABLE of praying, of practicing virtue, then is the moment for seeking opportunities, nothings, which please Jesus more than mastery of the world or even martyrdom suffered with generosity. For example, a smile, a friendly word, when I would want to say nothing, or put on a look of annoyance. (LT 143, GC 2:801)

To understand her secret as a warrior, we might go back to Nehru’s admission to Malraux: “I have three enemies: the Chinese, famine, and myself. But, of the three, the most difficult is myself.” Very quickly she learned that nothing can be done on the path of what for her was the true life without fighting against herself, against illusion. She, who, up to the end, had the childish fears of a little girl, would never fear the truth, never fear to “do the truth”, as Saint John says: whether about herself, her faults, her own limits, about her family, her community, her sisters, or one day about death itself. She did not fear that the truth would diminish her. Quite the contrary. It was never a malicious truth. For she found here the true way to be victorious: by disarming, by never resisting. Instead of sidestepping an issue, cheating, trying to justify herself, telling herself stories, she disarmed, and she disarmed from the very moment when the truth was at issue. Then she found something greater: a confidence that opened up freedom to her.

Her sister Céline, older than she, who entered Carmel six years after she did, reported that one day, in watching Thérèse live, she experienced a moment of discouragement and said to her: “Oh, when I think of all I have to acquire.” And Thérèse answered her at once: “Rather, how much you have to lose” (CSG 23).

— excerpted from ‘Mystic, Comic, Everything’, Chapter 1 of  Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message by Fr Bernard Bro, OP; posted on Ignatius Press’ Insight Scoop; link via Amy Welborn.

Birmingham Revealed

Join us after-hours on the third Thursday of February, March and April and unwind with Vulcan as we reveal the people, places and events that have helped shape our dynamic city! Admission is charged and includes light refreshments, a one-hour program and entrance to Vulcan Center Museum and Observation Balcony. Purchase your tickets in advance online to receive a discount.

Event Details:
5:30 p.m. Cash Bar Opens
6 – 7 p.m. A Story is Revealed…

Tickets:
General: $10 in advance online; $15 at the door
Vulcan Members: $7.50 online/door

March 15

Love in the Ruins: The Mind of Walker Percy
A play written and performed by Lee Eric Shackleford

According to biographer Patrick Samway, novelist Walker Percy’s family rose to prominence as Birmingham began to capitalize on its valuable mineral resources. His grandfather’s marriage to the daughter of iron magnate Henry DeBardeleben connected him to one of the city’s most important industrialists. The association helped ensure that Percy’s time in Birmingham was comfortable. But Percy’s young life was shaken by the loss of his parents, tragedies that would influence his novels.

Join Vulcan Park and Museum and Lee Eric Shackleford for the premiere performance of Love in the Ruins: The Mind of Walker Percy, a one-act, one-man play inspired by the author’s writings. Love in the Ruins recounts Percy’s ideas about relationships, science, technology, religion and especially how Birmingham shaped Percy into one of the 20th century’s most original authors.

Representatives from The Altamont School will be present to sell copies of Walker Percy in Birmingham, a limited edition book published in 1997 by the Altamont Alumni Association. Walker Percy in Birmingham is based in part on Patrick Samway’s biography of Walker Percy, Walker Percy: A Life. In his Birmingham book, Samway explores and analyzes Percy’s family, his Birmingham roots, and how the years he spent in the city, and especially at Birmingham University School (now known as The Altamont School), shaped and influenced his writing and life. The proceeds of the sale of Walker Percy in Birmingham will go to the Altamont Alumni Association, which generously and directly supports the needs of The Altamont School.