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St- Thérèse of Lisieux

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Day 37: Love stronger than death

Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of a depth of prayer that can properly be called "death" - not a death to life, but a death to what holds us back from true life and union with God.

How I long often to be the victim of this death that I may escape the snares of death, that I may not feel the deadening blandishments of a sensual life, that I may be steeled against evil desire, against the surge of cupidity, against the goads of anger and impatience, against the anguish of worry and the miseries of care... How good the death that does not take away life but makes it better; good in that the body does not perish but the soul is exalted. - Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard calls this deeper prayer of "death" contemplation.

This kind of ecstasy, in my opinion, is alone or principally called contemplation. Not to be gripped during life by material desires is a mark of human virtue; but to gaze without the use of bodily likenesses is the sign of angelic purity. Each, however, is a divine gift, each is a going out of oneself, each a transcending of self, but in one one goes much farther than in the other.

One of the main ways we open ourselves for this greater love to posses us is through prayer. We need to remember thought that the spiritual life is not primarily about certain practices of piety and techniques of prayer, but about a relationship. It's about responding to the One who has created and redeemed us, and who loves us with a love stronger than death, a love that desires to raise us from the dead. Much that is true of human relationships is also true of our relationship with God. Human relationships of friendship or marriage need time, attention, and care for them to continue and to grow. The same is true of our relationship with God. We have been called to union but we need to respond. As we turn to God in conversion or in a deeper awakening, besides turning away from deliberate sin - which deforms the soul, blocks the relationship and offends the Person who has sacrificed His life for us - we need to positively build the relationship by paying attention to God.

How great is the power of PRAYER!... I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and He always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus. - St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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Day 35: The Beloved loves to be leaned on!

St. Bernard of Clairvaux wants us to know that even in the midst of the struggle - whether it be with mortal sin or venial sin, worldliness or temptation, perseverance in prayer or growth in virtue, loving or forgiving - we profoundly need to "lean on the Beloved". Bernard knows that to "fight against yourself without respite in a continual and hard struggle, and renounce your inveterate habits and inborn inclinations" is very hard, impossible really, without the help of the Lord.

But this is a hard thing. If you attempt it in your own strength, it will be as though you were trying to stop the raging of a torrent, or to make the Jordan run backwards (Ps. 113:3). What can you do then? You must seek the Word... you have need of strength, and not simply strength, but strength drawn from above (Lk. 24:49).

The words from Hebrews come to mind:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:1-2)

The journey up the summit of the mountain of God (or Mount Carmel, as St. John of the Cross calls it) is difficult. And St. John of the Cross, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine, and St. Francis de Sales know that it's impossible to attain the summit - spiritual marriage in this life, beatific vision in the next, without leaning heavily of the Beloved.

As Bernard, in accord with his fellow Doctors, explains:

"Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord?" (Ps. 23:3) If anyone aspires to climb to the summit of that mountain (Ex. 24:17), that is to the perfection of virtue, he will know how hard the climb is, and how the attempt is doomed to failure without the help of of the Word. Happy the soul which causes the angels to look at her with joy and wonder and hears them saying, "Who is this coming up from the wilderness, rich in grace and beauty, leaning upon her beloved?" (Song 8:5). Otherwise, unless it leans on Him, its struggle is in vain. But it will gain force by struggling with itself and, becoming stronger, will impel all things towards reason... bringing every carnal affect into captivity (2 Cor. 10:5), and every sense under the control of reason in accordance with virtue. Surely all things are possible to someone who leans upon Him who can do all things? What confidence there is in the cry, "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me!" (Phil. 4:13)... "Thus if the mind does not rely upon itself, but is strengthened by the Word, it can gain such command over itself that no unrighteousness will have power over it" (Ps. 118:133). - St. Bernard of Clairvaux

The Good News is that the Beloved loves to be leaned on!

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Day 27: St. Thérèse of Lisieux describing her first Communion

Ah! how sweet was that first kiss of Jesus! It was a kiss of love; I felt, that I was loved, and I said: "I love You, and I give myself to You forever!" There were no demands made, no struggles, no sacrifices; for a long time now Jesus and poor little Therese looked at and understood each other. That day, it was no longer simply a look, it was a fusion; they were no longer two, Therese had vanished as a dop of water is lost in the immensity of the ocean. Jesus alone remained; He was the Master, the King. Had not Thereses asked Him to take away her liberty, for her liberty frightened her? She felt so feeble and fragile that she wanted to be united forever to the Divine Strength!

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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Day 26: Poor in spirit - St. Thérèse of Lisieux

God gave me the grace of knowing the world just enough to despise it and separate myself from it... I must admit this type of life had its charms for me... The friends we had there [at Alencon] were too worldly; they knew too well how to ally the joys of this earth to the joys of this earth to the service of God. They didn't think about death enough, and yet death had paid its visit to a great number of those whom I know, the young, the rich, the happy!... And I see that all is vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun, that the only good is to love God with all one's heart and to be poor in spirit here on earth. Perhaps Jesus wanted to show me the world before His first visit [her upcoming first Communion] to me in order that I may choose freely the way I was to follow.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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Day 25: The making of a saint - St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Then I received a grace which I have always looked upon as one of the greatest in my life because at that age I wasn't receiving the lights I'm now receiving when I am flooded with them. I considered that I was born for glory... After seven years in the religious life, I still am weak and imperfect. I always feel, however, the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint because I don't count on my merits since I have none, but I trust in Him who is Virtue and Holiness. God alone, content with my weak efforts, will raise me to Himself and make me a saint, clothing me in His infinite merits.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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