Hans Urs von Balthasar describes this young nun (who was photographed dressed as Joan of Arc, interpreting the role of her favourite heroine in a play at the convent) as a born warrior, whose texts teem with symbols of battle: she fought against everything in which she sensed a continuation of the Pharisees, “against that will-to-power disguised in the mantle of religion that drives one to assert one’s own greatness instead of acknowledging that God alone is great…against every ascetical practice which aims not at God but at one’s own ‘perfection,’ & which is nothing more than a spiritual beauty treatment.” Therese seeks in that vein to reinterpret even her painful experience of abandonment by God as a special gift & challenge – but also as a cross beneath which her knees buckle; she, after all, refused the endeavours of her sisters to depict her death as “heroic suffering” in the spirit of the kitsch biographies of the saints. & the fact that she interprets her states of abandonment by God as sharing a table with unbelievers means that she also creates scope to reinterpret their atheism: what they accept with indifference & as a matter of fact is actually a state of darkness “far from all suns." For Nietzsche, looking into the abyss that opens up after the “death of God” represented an opportunity & challenge to fill the resultants space with a new type of humanity: the superman. In the case of Therese, we may assume that she would construe her experience with this abyss traditionally as a sacrifice, aimed at helping bring sinful unbelievers back into the bosom of the church - & naturally we would find texts by her that suggest such an interpretation. It would then not be surprising if atheists were to reject Therese’s interpretation of the hidden face of their atheism as an “unsolicited favour,” as a romantic projection of her own image, which does not respect them, their self-understanding, their distinctiveness, & their right to be themselves, but rather attempts to manipulate them (maybe even by some kind of emotional blackmail) into coming back to where they do not want to go. However, if I am correct in my understanding of Therese & of her path through paradox & constant reinterpretation, then her concern was something else: not simply to draw these unbelievers back into the heart of the church, but rather to broaden that heart by including their experience of darkness. Through her solidarity with unbelievers, she conquers new territory (along with its inhabitants) for a church that has previously been too closed. [“Patience with God” Fr Tomaz Halik ]
In recent days there has been some progress in Fr Abbot’s ongoing case in which he seeks Church permission to resume his monastic life here & his full responsibilities as Abbot. On legal advice he has opened procedures in the High Court in an attempt to overturn a current ruling by the Abbot President which prevents his return. Under Canon Law he has made representation to Rome for his case to be fully considered by them. As a result, there is to be an Apostolic Visitation to our Community beginning today (19th Oct) which will probably last until the end of the month. It will be conducted by two Abbots appointed by Rome, from Australia & Ireland. They will listen to all parties before taking full details back to Rome for a decision, ultimately by the Holy Father. Please keep Fr Abbot & our Community, as well as the Visitators, in your thoughts & prayers at this crucial time. Last Saturday Pope Francis canonised (now) St Oscar Romero, a brave & holy church leader who was murdered in his Cathedral in San Salvador on 24th March 1980. It was a time of profound change within the Church, with the rise of what was termed Liberation theology, which, in effect was, & still is, at the heart of the Gospel; the truly “good news” of God’s will that all human beings should flourish in peace & in just relationships in this life, as a foretaste of the fullness in the next. It preached an end to the fatalism that had characterised colonial Catholicism for centuries. No longer did the poor understand their poverty & the malnutrition of their children as ordained by God. No longer was faith understood as the mere endurance of this life’s hardships in the hope of relief in the next. In my retreat work of the last 20 years I have regularly used some powerful phrases of Oscar Romero, such as “we provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.” Please take a copy home to read, to reflect on, & to bring to life with St Oscar’s inspiration. With love & prayers, Fr Bede.