Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. presents Transformation in Christ Transformation according to
Therese of Lisieux Fr. Thomas Keating, o.c.s.o. The truth is as she says in another place God is all-powerful and I was all merciful and therefore you can never, never have too much confidence in him. On the contrary to our audacity in trusting in God is the virtue rather than our hesitation to, but our own interior misgivings make that leap of faith and trust very difficult unless you keep working at this thing and begin to see God helping you without apparently doing so, not in a way that you would like at least and so that the hiddenness of God’s presence is so hidden that the only way you can really be sure of it’s working is in the results and the results are not grandiose as we saw in the parable of the mustard seed. But are real and these can be the little improvements, you may not have a magnificent conversion but we keep ever so faithfully and persistently pursuing this path of the little way and little sacrifices until we begin to notice that our attitudes towards events and people are changed. Now how are they changed? They’re changed because our expectations have been released we don’t have a human projection about God or our own ideas of how God should proceed even if they’re developed from spiritual books. You can be sure that whatever you think is the way of going to God isn’t, because even if you were right and can find “certain spiritual authors to help you” just because you think you’re on the right road. God will find another Road that’s just as good so you won’t think you’re on the right road. It’s our fault certitude in our preconceptions and biases and value system that are the great hindrance. So this openness to God coming to us in daily life through events and people is an important and a very important way of grasping. There’s one other parable I would like to conclude on and this is really a delightful parable and very close to our experience if you if you think about it a little while. It’s the parable of the barren fig tree. You remember the story this and householder he said to his gardener this tree this fig tree has not had any fruit for three years please cut it down. And the gardener said, why don’t you put a little let me put a little manure around it and if it doesn’t do better in a year then I will cut it down. That’s the end of the parable. Well what could that be? Well it seems to me that it’s a very powerful symbol of how we experience daily life if you’re trying to be transformed, if you’re trying to take on the mind of Christ, to put into effect the values of the gospel and to manifest the fruits of the spirit, charity, joy and peace insofar as the Spirit, gives you that wonderful consolation. Well the manure is means dung of course, I’ll leave out other words but those that’s the word actually Jesus used. So it’s a very down-to-earth term and it has a certain pungency. So you — we know what we’re talking about here but for some reason trees like dung. So what’s poison for one is chocolate cake for somebody else. Well the dung then is the symbol of our experience of daily life and of our constantly recurring faults and routines and the sense of going nowhere, the inability to pray the dryness the endless flow of thoughts going by, all the psychological experiences of how hard prayer is, how hard daily life is and nothing really helps turning on the television is well it gives you a brief source Issa, but then you’re back in the same old hole and perhaps deeper. So all the means we use to us wage that that pain of daily life of not getting anywhere is not the way to proceed, it’s rather to shovel the dung. That is to keep accepting, to keep putting up with one’s fault, to keep putting up with one’s moral corruption, which is the worst kind of level to have to deal with. And still trusting in God but now all the manure in the world isn’t going to change that tree. So you know that from the beginning but what you don’t know is that if you keep shoveling at some point God is going to give life to that tree, not because of the dung but because you kept trying and he was so touched, that he gave life to you anyway. Teresa had a great insight into that parable in her example of the elevator perhaps you remember that if somebody asked her about well how did you reach this holiness that you have and so on, she tended to acknowledge that she was — she had a little insight into being holy but she tributed all to God. So this is a little parable she gave to explain that she said suppose suppose there was this little infant at the bottom of a long staircase with her father at the top and this little infant is maybe one and a half and the steps are fairly significant, maybe, so she’s calling out to her father to come and catch her and give her a big embrace, come down and catch her. And the father is up at the top of the stairs saying come on, come on all through the gospel you get that invitation, come on, and be transformed, forget your faults and get your sins and just be in the present moment and I’ll take care of you and all the other things the scripture reassures us about but because we’re not like little children we don’t hear that. Well anyway she was like a little child and she heard it and so she said the little child keeps raising her foot, notice the effort but there’s no chance of her getting to the first step even because her leg is too small. So she keeps raising it and then it comes down and she raises the other and that comes down. So there’s no opportunity no chance at all that she’s even going to negotiate the first step to get to Daddy, who’s calling her with this infinite love, come on, come on, I’m waiting for you. So she keeps doing it, she keeps doing it. In other words she keeps shoveling the manure her feebleness, her experience and accepting her weakness her inability to make any progress to get anywhere, she keeps saying yes, yes, but she doesn’t give up even though it’s impossible and Theresa says well if she keeps this up long enough, the father himself because of his nature of unconditional love will not be able to stand this situation and will come rushing down and gather her into his arms and take her upstairs and she said that’s how she got where she was, not by her own efforts but by the infinite mercy of God. This is why I say Theresa’s insight into the gospel is one of the great contributions to virtual renewal in our time especially to the renewal of contemplative life which is the way of little of childhood, that is of listening to God and waiting for God and trusting in God, of having faith in God, of not listening to our commentaries that say you’re not getting anywhere or you’ll never make it if you don’t enter the trapars. You can never make it with this husband, you can never make it with these children, you’ll never make it with this bankruptcy, you can never make it with this addiction. These are all real difficulties I don’t want to minify them. But God is using them to give you the kingdom and the Kingdom is conditional only on your consent, acceptance of the situation. You can try to change the situation but always with a certain detachment, if it doesn’t work, no sweat because you’re basically willing to accept what is as the communication, the deepest communication of the kingdom and that’s where the kingdom is most powerful and it’s absolutely certain to work not because of your efforts which you have to keep up even though it’s hopeless. But because God loves you so much that he won’t be able to stand it, seeing you struggle and not succeed and he will do it. That is the heart of the Christian, a thesis or mystery or transformation and it’s something that Theresa recovered in its essence through her simplicity in her extraordinary love of God which went to great lengths to do everything for God. So is this so hard? Everybody can love and everybody can suffer, well that’s all you need. It’s all gets a little uncomfortable now and then but also it perks up every now and then but it doesn’t matter because God is totally present always and whatever psychological experience we have is even when it’s our fault, it’s a way that God is trying to alert us to the fact that we need to let something go that’s something we’re attached to or some idea prejudice this is putting us into a straitjacket. So this little way is the path of liberation from the false self, liberation from over identification with our feelings. We have feelings but we’re not our feelings. So we should never say I’m angry or despair, but we should say rather I have angry feelings, which implies you — yes and you can do something about it because you are not identified with your feelings, you can choose what to do with them and with all the other feelings and it’s that effort to do that which doesn’t succeed which leaves you with the sense of manure, juicy manure. But it doesn’t matter if it’s your attitude that is changing and which it gives you a sort of friendly attitude towards your feebleness and failings. Now we should work on our addictions yes at least for the sake of other people not for our own but only God can deliver us and he delivers us after a wait, not because he wants to wait, but because we’re not ready to be healed until we’ve kind of hit bottom and know that we can’t do it ourselves and that only God’s grace is infinite mercy can provide, that’s reality. So how do we just that is the Christian path of discipline and ascesis and that’s why some disciplines that are external can become harmful after a while because we put our confidence in them or we think if we do this we’re going to force God to do something, no, God only responds to love, that’s what forces him but that’s what’s so free that you can’t call it a force, it’s a relationship and it’s that relationship in which Theresa died and her last words were but her life had become not from the beginning but increasingly, oh my god I love you. That that’s really all we have to do. I’ll add one more parable here. The parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable also describes the social map of Israel and the which was very, very rigid and so we find three people four people on the journey one who gets beaten up as you remember and then comes the priest and a Levite from the temple and the third person would normally be a lay person in this Israelite preconditioning of consciousness. So the story is very cleverly put together so that it builds up a certain expectation that the triad that is so familiar to people of the social structure of the time priest Levite and lay person would be repeated. We have to remember that Samaritans at the time were the mortal enemies of the Jewish nation and they’re also apostates from the faith in their opinion. So they couldn’t be a more precise image of moral corruption coming down the street. So the audience is inclined to think well who’s coming next and sure enough along comes a Samaritan the mortal enemy of people and they just think well he’ll you’ll just finish off this poor man who’s by the side of the road but instead the Samaritan begins to show all kinds of mercy as you remember. And the point of this story is obviously to undermine the social presuppositions of that period of Palestinian society and indicate that one who you think is your enemy may be your greatest friend. So it undermines the easy assumption of what is good and what is evil. So what happens in this story is it’s just a reversal and it’s a familiar theme I guess in stories ever since. The good guy becomes the bad guys and the bad guy becomes the good guy. And leaving the people there to wonder whether this story could be true or whether it’s just unbelievable and they would write it off as if no interest. So it emphasizes then the idea that there are no barriers in the kingdom of heaven, there are no social structures at least that God wants, there are that barriers are something that human beings set up, not God and if we’re not careful these barriers could follow us perhaps into the next life and to separate us
from other people. So that it emphasizes them that God is the father of everyone and there are no elite, there are no chosen because everybody is chosen in God’s view, I mean the loves, desires all persons to be saved. Well it’s this idea of God that was kind of revolutionary to the people of the time with thinking of God as a as a defender of Israel, as the God of armies, as the God of Sinai and what Jesus does is to revolutionize the idea of God from someone to be feared into someone to be loved and whose protection extends beyond external circumstances to enable us to endure within ourselves through the love of God, the circumstances that are otherwise very difficult or even impossible. So this was Theresa’s idea of god of extending to everybody and so in the last few months of her life, she used to say love fulfills every vocation. So you don’t have to go to the missions, you don’t have to teach catechism, you don’t have to do this or that work, you have to do something that is what is nearby and what you can easily do to minister to the emotional, physical, mental needs of others, it’s the sensitivity in daily life and showing mercy and reaching out and smiling to those in trouble and holding the hand of those in sorrow and it is these things that manifest the kingdom of God so beautifully. And love fulfills every vocation or as she said in another place to pick up a pin out of love can convert us somebody. So think then of the enormous potentialities of this humble hidden but persevering love that consists not in sentiments so much but in showing love to those who need it in the circumstances of daily life and the family at work or wherever and just keep showing love and to do our little acts so we walk down the street why are you doing that, why not do it as a way of manifesting God and I’m allowing your presence to God through you to send out good energy and love to everybody on the sidewalk. When you go to the movies or to church when there’s a big crowd or like this crowd why not open your hearts to everybody in ask God to send his love into everybody, if that’s how you were surrounding them in a kind of capsulating them in the love of God or to ask yourself how can I show love more to this person, how can I be reconciled with this member of the family. It’s love that counts in that just one last parable, in the parable of the prodigal son, you have two sinners one the young man who went out for the good life and came to ruin and came home and was received without any request for repentance or to repay the money that he’d spent which really injustice he should have done because that was part of that to take care of his father the inheritance in his old age. And the other young man who was one of those self-righteous people who do all the right things but for the wrong reasons. He was looking for the inheritance too and he had a right to be angry at his brother because he spent all of his it would mean that the eldest son would have to pay more for the support of the old man. But he berates his father for his goodness so that he really fails in the fourth commandment of honoring his father. So the net-net is that both have failed but the father just as he embraces and forgives us his son without a word of remonstrance the one who was a wild one, the one who was well behaved to all appearances but who was secretly self-righteous and seeking his own gain by behaving properly and so he’d get the inheritance. He comes out and remonstrates with this, try to remonstrates with self-righteous people with quite a job but the father doesn’t he says you must commit as that my son was lost we have to rejoice. He couldn’t understand that because he wanted to be the center of attention. The point is that this father instead of taking worrying about his honor which was very important in that culture, throws away his honor, doesn’t act as the typical patriarchal father but rather acts as a mother and forgives both sons and his only request is that they live together in peace and harmony and love each other. So again the gospel is terribly simple to love one another as I have loved you and this is what St. Theresa practically tried to do on a day-to-day basis and one wonder this isn’t the best project because anybody can do it, everybody has an everyday life, it’s just when it gets to that moral corruption starts coming in and makes us think well maybe there’s a better way than this. There isn’t, the kingdom of God is in everyday life and in what you do with it and if you put love into it, you will certainly
be transformed according to Theresa’s teaching, she certainly was and then you have to hold on when into daily life becomes physical, mental, emotional difficulties for yourself or for others but this is to open you to deeper self-knowledge into deeper self surrender to God. And finally you may struggle with what is perhaps most difficult for someone sincerely seeking God, the inability to overcome your faults perhaps your sins but again according to the parable of the leaven the kingdom is right there and perhaps what you have to do is to accept the humiliation of not being as
good as you’d like. So now and doing the best you can and trusting to audacity in the Father’s goodness, boundless confidence in the love of God and in the power of that love to work through you to heal the wounds of a lifetime and to heal as many people as possible in your own acquaintanceship not you but the love of God in you is that healing power which has no limit, it’s not limited to physical healing, to emotional healing even to spiritual healing, it’s rather the healing of love which is the ultimate healing of setting in order charity within us so that no matter what our difficulties are, we continue always to show love to forgive, to build instead of tear down, to have mercy.