Vilma Seelaus, O.C.D. 

                                                        Finding Strength in Weakness*

     Along with her strengths, Thérèse had the potential for severe psycological diminishment. Through the repeated loss of the persons who anchored her life, she had to look for security elsewhere. She experienced profoundly her own powerlessness through the many years of free flowing tears and seeming loss of self after her mother's death. What directs her on a path of integration? I think it is her love of truth which enables her to penetrate the reality of the human condition as fragile and finite, yet passionately loved by God. She can now surrender to the wedding of seeming opposites: spirituality and imperfection. She is able to embrace her imperfections as integral to her life with God. Instead of being obstacles, they become for her a meeting place with Christ who has taken her weakness upon Himself. Not only does she sustain a daring hope in the midst of darkness--where all roads for her appear equally dark -- she also comes to a remarkable shift in vision.

     Like St. Paul, Thérèse begins to see life through the lens of what is yet to come. A word frequently used by Thérèse is heaven. In the Story of a Soul it occurs 145 times. She always understood that knowing God and living according to Christ meant entering a new order of existence in which God is center and light. This reality penetrates her soul anew and she begins to live life as an anticipation of the glory to come. Her entire concern is to give and receive love. The glory to come is hers now in the life of Christ she already possesses through faith.


     Thérèse's struggle with her weakness, with the commonplace of illness, and with the difficulties of community living give us a new view of life--of the greatness of everyday . She gives us a new outlook on defeat, weakness, anguish and distress of whatever kind. Hers is a voice of hope, of trust to the last in spite of darkness. Like her own passion for truth, she establishes us in our own.

If Thérèse has a message for us today, it is to offer us encouragement in our own dark times when it seems all that we see is the worst in ourselves and in our society. The Harvard psychologist, Charles Verge, speaks of the difference between Cure and Healing. He points out:

Cure seeks change at the level of the problem. Healing is a change of perception which can only happen from the depth of the divine self and it comes as gift, as grace. It is not necessarily a change in the circumstance (the problem) Rather, healing requires a change in focus away from a view that demands changing of the circumstance or that the circumstance be removed. Healing requires a change in perspective that embraces the circumstance from another inner source.14

     Thérèse did just that. She could not change the dynamics of life with erratic Mother de Gonzague nor could she do away with what today we might call, her own wounded child. She changes what she can through her instructions to her novices and her letters of encouragement to her blood sisters in community, she befriends what she can not change, including her personal limitations. It all becomes the stuff of her relationship with God grounding her in daring trust.15 Thérèse teaches us not to be overcome by difficult, unchangeable life circumstances, such as the need to care for an aging parent, an ill spouse, or an autistic child. We too can pray to see life and other people through the eyes of God. Our own limitations and those of others need not have the last word. Something deeper invites us forward.16

     Teresa of Avila helps me to draw these reflection to a close The sixth dwelling place of the Interior Castle describes the phenomenon of God's continued self-communication to Teresa. She experiences God as delighting in her. It seems we humans, in spite of our imperfections, are God's eternal ecstasy. In this dwelling place, a remarkable shift in imagery happens. Until this point, Teresa presents the soul as a castle with many dwelling places, with God in the center room. Now however, deep secrets in God are revealed to her. In a vision she sees God to be like an immense and beautiful dwelling place or palace, and that this palace, is God's Self. She says; that within this palace, that is within God everything for good or for evil takes place.22

     God is like a global atmosphere containing all.23 Everything negative in our daily experience-- such as violence, oppression of the weak, the destruction of earth's ecology--mysteriously take place in God. So too do positive actions, such as efforts toward peace, justice, mercy and compassion and all that fosters the common good of humankind. Everything for good or for evil takes place in God, so intimate is God present to our world and to the human experience. God, therefore, is the source for world's transformation. For Teresa God's presence is a purifying fire as she sees the whole of her own life in God. Everything that tries to exist outside of the divine ambiance becomes the stuff of love's purifying fire.


     In the acceptance of our humanity as finite, and imperfect, yet passionately loved by God, we let go of our facades. Like Thérèse we discover an inner well-spring of peace that sustains us in the midst of our daily struggles and which can reveal God's intimate presence calling us to be more ourselves.  God is a consuming fire. We are a spark of God. If we but surrender ourselves, God will consume all, even our imperfections, in the fire of Divine Love.


*The above article is an excerpt from an article first published in Spiritual Life, Winter, 1998, entitled Spirituality of Imperfection.  See              for the complete article.


14Verge makes a fine distinction between what he calls the contextual self, which is subject to change and to life's vicissitudes, and the divine self, where spiritual awareness happens. Here problems offer and opportunity for spiritual growth even in the midst of seeming unbearable circumstances. See: Charles Verge, "Foundations for a Spiritually Based Psychotherapy" in L.Burton(ed.) Religion and Family (Hayworth Press,1992), pp.41-59.


15Read Thérèse's letters to Abbé Bellière written only months before her death in July and August 1897. These letters in particular demonstrate the daring trust to which Thérèse invites her spiritual brother: Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Vol. II, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1988).


16See: Vilma Seelaus, O.C.D. "Fragmentation and Divine Transformation: Meditation on the Compost Heap" (The Way, Heythrop College, London, England, Vol.28 October, 1988), pp.301-312.


22The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. II trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriquez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1980), p.419.


23Jn 15:5-7, Gal. 2:20, and 2 Cor. 13:5 are but a few Scriptural references which bear this out.


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