Therese of Lisieux

A Spirituality of Suffering

  • Christopher Cook Durham University, Durham, UK
Keywords: Thérèse of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, Vocation, Suffering

Abstract

Thérèse of Lisieux wrote that a desire to suffer was “born within her heart” at the age of only 11 years which later in her life, she concluded that her vocation was in fact not suffering, but  love. She developed a creative and individual approach to pursuing this vocation which she referred to as her “little way”. In the final months of her life, she faced the challenges of doubt and inner darkness, as well as the physical sufferings of her terminal illness, with the same spirit of love and prayer that she had brought to bear on smaller things. Thérèse did not show psychological awareness of how her desire to suffer may have been formed by her early losses or the religious culture of her time. However, her spirituality reflected a remarkably creative and dedicated approach to Christian living, within which small and great experiences of suffering were all grasped as opportunities to express love for God and her fellow human beings. The desire to suffer for suffering’s own sake may be identified as psychologically and theologically contrary to human flourishing and marks a different approach to that of John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila. However, the differences may be less than commonly appreciated and Thérèse modelled a creative approach to Christian living which is more characteristically
Carmelite than it may at first appear.

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Published
2020-12-14