The Canossian Spirituality Center, where I’m attending a retreat on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is in Albuquerque’s South Valley, which seems to be an old section of town with few zoning laws, an eclectic mix of people, and roots in farming.
The old Camino Real runs through and is now called Isleta Boulevard, and even now is lined with towering cottonwoods, bait shops, and alfalfa and hay fields. Our rooms have swamp coolers. The air is rich with the smell of freshly-mown hay, and chicken feed, and the good deep manure.
Cocks crow day and night and the other morning I went to the corner of the back field to pray the Office and read “Everything that lives and that breathes, give praise to the Lord,” which at that moment included cawing roosters, swooping ravens, neighing horses, a fly that landed on the page of my breviary, and a couple of shirtless revelers who had apparently been up all night drinking and were strumming guitars from an old sofa they’d set up in the back yard of the house next door.
I have always been drawn to the borders of things and am constantly out in the back field, walking the dirt track that lines the perimeter, and peering through the fence at the neighbors.
The retreat place itself is a little oasis with a rose garden, and fountains, and the rooms are cool and comfortable, especially in the heat of the day.
Brother Joseph Schmidt, who is leading the retreat, is low-key and calming and a huge devotee and student of Thérèse of Lisieux. He believes she is truly the saint of our day, and is going to help re-vivify the Church, and is a “bridge” in that she appeals to the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the right and the left, believers and unbelievers, Catholics, Buddhists, agnostics, and many others.
Her message is nothing other than the Gospel message and it is so simple that we have managed to mostly completely miss it and the message is God is love. We are loved to distraction. God doesn’t need our great deeds, he needs our love. And the love of God, and therefore of Christ–this is key–is ENTIRELY DEVOID OF VIOLENCE.
A lot of what we’ve talked about so far is the violence we do ourselves. One, with our incessantly negative thoughts about ourselves: how we tell ourselves we don’t measure up and are not enough and don’t know how to love; two, the way we do violence to ourselves and others by in one way or another compromising our integrity and manipulating in an effort to get love; and three, by judging, and shutting out, and showing less than love to others.
We really can’t love anybody else better or more or more tenderly and healthily and unreservedly and in a non-possessive way than we can love ourselves.