Selections from Father Michael's Index of Forbidden Books ... Which You Should Read.
Lessons from the Proper, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
Isaiah 66: 10-14.
Psalm 131: 1-3.
Matthew 18: 1-4.
The Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Virgin & Doctor of the Church.
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1:24 PM 10/1/2014 — You'll probably be surprised to learn that one of the books that had an enormous influence over me in my youth was the Tao Te Ching, reputedly written around the 6th century BC by the Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tsu, who is traditionally regarded as the founder of the philosophical and religious movement known as Taoism. At the time, I was giving serious consideration to the contemplative vocation, and was drawn to read the work because of another book I had read by Thomas Merton, in which he did a comparison between the basic tenants of Taoism and the “Little Way” of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, whose feast we celebrate today.
Of course, there are a lot of differences between the two, not the least of which being that historians now contend that Lao-Tsu never really existed, and that the Tao Te Ching is a compilation of sayings compiled during the 5th and 4th centuries BC by many individuals, particularly a man named Chang-Tsu, from whose writings we know pretty much everything we know about Taoist philosophy. Another important difference is that the way of complete abandonment and making oneself invisible in a spirit of complete humility that was the cornerstone of both spiritual approaches had very different focal points: Taoism's goal is to enable one to achieve complete inner peace and harmony with everyone and everything, and the Little Flower would agree with that; but, for her, inner peace and balance of life are not goals in themselves, but a way of more perfectly living the Gospel of Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ. In other words, one is focused on oneself, while the other is focused entirely on God, which the Taoist wouldn't necessarily disagree with except that, for him, god is not a person; he's just a state of being. That being said, you could take some sayings from the Tao Te Ching and some isolated statements from the spiritual notebooks of Saint Thérèse and jumble them together on a piece of paper and you wouldn't be able to determine which was which; and yet, it is absolutely clear that Saint Thérèse never read the Tao Te Ching. She was a very transparent individual; her spiritual notebooks are very candid, and she tells us pretty much everything else she read; so, if she had read the Tao Te Ching she would have said so.
I don't know how much you know about Thomas Merton, but he kind of went off the deep end toward the end of his life. He had left the Abbey of Gethsemane, presumably with the permission of his abbot, to attend a pan-religious monastic conference in Thailand which was to be a meeting of monks and mystics from every religious tradition that had a monastic element to it, and it was there that he died. If you read only his essays and letters from that period, you'd be hard pressed to identify him as a Christian; he had clearly lost his own focus on Jesus Christ as the source and goal of authentic spirituality, and this, of course, betrays the extent to which he had actually failed to appreciate the spirituality of the Little Flower which he had so admired in the past.
As to Saint Thérèse herself, you know the particulars of her life as well as I: born in Alençon in France; lost her mother at the age of five; was sent to the Benedictine nuns in Lisieux at the age of nine for her education; suffered from a mysterious illness from which she claimed to be cured through the intercession of Our Lady of Victory; aspired to enter the Order of Discalced Carmelites in Lisieux but was rejected because of her age, but persevered until they finally accepted her at the age of fifteen; there she began to develop what became known as her “Little Way” of complete abandonment to Christ and, although never served as novice mistress, was pressed upon to give conferences to the novices on this subject; and died of tuberculosis on September 30th, 1897, at the age of twenty-four. Pope Pius XI both beatified and canonized her, and Pope Saint John Paul II made her a Doctor of the Church.
What I find remarkable about her—and it comes out very clearly in her autobiography, Story of a Soul—is what a mature and calm individual she was, which she would have to have been to embrace the approach to the Gospel that she took, and which probably caused Thomas Merton, in his mental confusions, to misinterpret her so profoundly: she was one of these people that you could light firecrackers under her chair and she wouldn't blink. And while there's a pile of stuff that one could say about her on her feast day, there's a quality about her that may be more prescient than others that could be of benefit for us today: we watch the news, we see moral depravity all around us, we see the threat of terrorism all over the world, we see the breakdown of religion and even have doubts sometimes about the future of the Church; had Saint Thérèse lived today, she wouldn't let any of this bother her; she never let anything bother her. She knew what she was about, and she had such a profound immersion in the Virtue of Hope that she couldn't doubt the future of anything. That's one of the reasons why she's a saint, and is the perfect patron to pray to for those of us who tend to get excited and upset and despondent about things that we really can't do anything about.
Lao-Tsu, had he existed, would've said the same thing, of course, but he wouldn't have known the reason; she knew the reason, and so do we:
And now the eleven disciples took their journey into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had bidden them meet him. When they saw him there, they fell down to worship; though some were still doubtful. But Jesus came near and spoke to them; All authority in heaven and on earth, he said, has been given to me; you, therefore, must go out, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all the commandments which I have given you. And behold I am with you all through the days that are coming, until the consummation of the world (Matt. 28: 16-20 Knox).