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Posted February 1, 2006

Book: The Love That Keeps Us Sane: Living the little way of St. Therese of Lisieux
Author: Marc Foley, O.C.D.
Paulist Press, NY, 2006, pp. 93

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The Love That Keeps Us Sane offers a portrayal of St. Therese as a real person who experienced and dealt with all the vicissitudes and trials of the human condition. What distinguished her, however, was her capacity to deal with the absurdities of daily life without losing perspective. Her great gift was the ability to see everything in the light of eternity, and it was this insight that helped her to keep all things in their proper proportion. In this volume her gift is shared with readers who are encouraged to embrace her view as they attempt to keep sane amid the struggles of everyday living.

An Excerpt from the Book:

If we examine the experience of our emotions such as shame and fear, we will discover that we feel that they are experiences of being “looked at.” Shame, for example, is the experience of feeling exposed to the gaze of others. And do not most of our fears come down to “What will other people think of us?” There always seems to be an “other” standing in back of us looking over our shoulder.

Freud believed that this “other” is the internalization of the values, ideals, and mores of our parents and other authority figures that we have incorporated into ourselves as our parents looked down upon us. How we gaze or glare at ourselves is a reflection of what we saw in our parents’ eyes as we were growing up.

An archetypal story of this internalization process is The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. The story begins with the egg of a swan being hatched by a duck in a barnyard. Because it appeared different from the other ducklings, it is looked upon as ugly.

“The poor duckling was chased and mistreated by everyone . . .Even his mother said, “I wish you were far away.” . . . At last, the duckling ran away. It flew over the tops of the bushes, frightening all the little birds so that they flew up into the air. “They too, think I am ugly,” thought the duckling.” Outer evaluation became inner evaluation, but at the end of the story, there is healing.”

One day, the ugly duckling caught sight of some beautiful swans and felt an uncanny attraction. “He did not know the name of those birds. . .yet he felt that he loved them as he had never loved any other creatures.” However, because he believed himself to be so ugly, he feared that if he approached them, they would peck him to death. But there was something stronger than fear in him — “a strange longing” that he recognized in their call to one another.

At the end of the story, the duckling approached the swans, expecting to be killed. But to his surprise, they encircled and caressed him. When the duckling opened his eyes, he saw his true image in the water, that of a beautiful swan.

The story of the ugly duckling and Freud’s concept of the Uber-Ich intimate a deep spiritual truth of our nature, namely, that we can only see ourselves in the eyes of another. As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, this ultimately means that we will find our true identity only in the face of God who mirrors back to us our deepest self.

Dante expressed this primal truth of our existence when he put into the mouth of his beloved Beatrice the reason why God created us,

“Not to increase His good, which cannot be,
But that His splendour, shining back, might say:
Behold, I am, in His Eternity.”

We become fully self-conscious only when we see the “I amness” of ourselves reflected back to us in the face of God. This is why Therese cries out to God, “Your Face is my only Homeland.”

The “hidden life” is about seeking where our deepest identity and the true source of immortality can be found, in the face of God alone. Therese wanted to become like a little grain of sand, hidden from all eyes for a reason: “so that Jesus alone may be able to see it.” She sought her true reflection in the face of Jesus alone. Therese chose to direct her gaze inward so that the opinion of God alone would matter to her. In doing so, even though she suffered the misunderstandings and rash judgments of others, she freed herself from the exhausting task of trying to win their approval.

Ponder for a moment th numerous ways we spend time and energy in either trying to win the approval of others or protect ourselves from criticism. How often do we try to justify ourselves in the minds of others? How often do we rationalize our behavior, distort the truth, or embellish facts in order to be seen in a postive light? How much of our behavior is posturing or putting on airs in order to impress? How often do we do things merely to enhance our image? How often do we lie or shade the truth to avoid rebuke or to curry favor? How often do we vie to be the center of attraction? The list goes on and on and on. How apt is Dante’s description of the garb of the hypocrites: O cloak of everlasting weariness.”

Therese’s means of avoiding this weariness in living the “hidden life” was silence.

Table of Contents:

1. The secrets that keep us sane
2. Finding her way
3. The sanity of silence
4. The sanity of loving freely
5. The Divine perspective of charity
6. An attended life, an authentic life