Thursday, January 25, 2007
Thérèse of Lisieux
Therese of Lisieux is not well known, but the impact of her sincere struggle with her faith has shaped the way both Catholics and Protestants approach the topic of faith and gratitude.
Therese became a nun at a very young age, with the sole motivation of becoming holy. She did not only want to be holy, she wanted to be the most holy. She thought that the convent would provide a sanctuary where this distinct gift would find fulfillment. Very soon she realized that spiritual growth is dependent on grace. The more she tried to become holy, the further away she moved from holiness. The picture she drew of spiritual growth in the convent was that of a person climbing a staircase. It demanded effort, hard work and discipline.
She simply felt too weak for such a journey. If holiness depended on the amount of effort she put in, she would certainly not achieve it. Then they invented the elevator, and this discovery helped Therese in understanding grace. An elevator fetches people. The strong and the weak are all carried to their destination. So, God's grace also acts in a way that demands less of the individual, meaning that even the weakest in faith can experience the uplifting power of God's love. God's grace to all is therefore the "mechanism" that promotes spiritual growth.
Theresa continued on her spiritual journey, surrendering more and more of her life to the grace of God. She wrote an autobiography, translated into English as "Story of a Soul", which became her profound contribution to written theology. She died at the age of 24 from Tuberculosis.
Thanks to those at the Theological Society of South Africa for their insights and Dr Willem Nicol for his presentation.