Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
I want to read something from St. Thérèse of the Little Flower to fulfill my goal of commenting on these excerpts once in a while. This is from Novíssima Verba of St. Thérèse, a testimony written by Sister Agnes on August 3rd.
Dr. Caio Xavier da Silveira, who selected this excerpt for me, titled it thus: “I went to war against myself,” a phrase from St. Thérèse. Here it is:
Bl. Henry Suso
“A text about the life of Blessed Henry Suso on corporal penance came to my attention. He had done frightening penances that had ruined his health. Then an angel appeared and told him to stop, adding, ‘Until now you have fought only as a soldier. Now I want to make you a knight.’
“And he explained to the Saint the superiority of the spiritual combat over mortifications of the flesh.
“Well then, my dear Mother, ‘ma petite Mère,’ my little mother: God did not want me as a simple soldier; I was immediately made a knight and went to war against myself in the spiritual realm through self-denial and by means of small, hidden sacrifices; I found peace and humility in the obscure combat where nature has no claw at all and nowhere to lay its hand.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
This is a very beautiful thought. St. Thérèse goes to war against herself. She emphasizes this principle: many people mortify themselves and do fasting and penance. This is a good thing, but it is not the best.
She then tells the story of the famous Blessed Henry Suso, who did tremendous bodily penances, but an angel appeared to him and said, “you will now be promoted to a higher battle. You will no longer fight like a foot soldier in a battlefield, but like a knight (Suso is from the Middle Ages). That is, you will be an incomparably more effective warrior. You will wage a spiritual battle.”
With this he meant that it is much harder for us to overcome our spiritual defects than to perform bodily penance. The difficult part is to overcome one’s own spiritual defects.
So St. Thérèse says, “I was made a knight from an early age.” In other words, she fought against spiritual defects. Then she shows how, through abnegation—a quick word that means a lot, self-denial, renouncing oneself, having no pride, no self-love, no will of one’s own, no desire to show off, living exclusively for the love of God and always doing what is most perfect—this is what she understands as abnegation—through small sacrifices, hidden works that no one sees—she started her great battle: her war against herself.
You see, on the one hand, how the whole doctrine of the little way is enunciated here. In other words, she did not do terrible physical mortifications or carry out extraordinary feats that few can practice, but led a whole interior life of sacrifice. On the other hand, you also see how her little way has nothing to do with softness.
"...her little way has nothing to do with softness."
It is the toughest of all wars: the war against oneself. Because fighting with others is easy, the trouble is fighting oneself. It is tremendously hard.
Well then, St. Thérèse teaches us that we should conceive the spiritual life as a war against ourselves; a war waged under God’s loving gaze; but still a war against ourselves.
That which is not legitimate, one does not do. That which one cannot give, one does not give. Cost what it may, one prays and counts on God’s love and mercy, but one refrains, period. Here you see the beauty and colorful harmony of the little way.
(These commentaries are drawn and adapted from a meeting given by the author on August 7, 1970. He was not able to review them prior to this publication.)