“Sainte Jeanne et Sainte Thérèse, ensemble elles sont la couleur la plus belle en les cieux.” (Saint Joan and Saint Thérèse, together they are the most beautiful color in the heavens.)
This is a motto of mine that describes my feelings about both of these saints individually as well as in their blended spiritual kinship. I love and propagate devotion both to St. Joan and St. Thérèse as well as to St. Joan with St. Thérèse. Each saint is individually her own remarkable and unique color imbued in the magnificent, metaphorical spiritual landscape that is the Kingdom of God; yet, together their souls create a colorful collage of even more astonishing beauty.
We could aptly extend this metaphor of the Kingdom to say that they are like flowers in that same landscape, each with individual brilliance; yet, together they form a set of blossoms that dazzles even more wonderfully our spiritual senses. Furthermore, as we raise our eyes, we see that this bed of flowers is itself part of a larger, unified ensemble of trees, meadows, lakes, rivers, hills, and mountains comprising that one landscape. If we are able to contemplate this scene as one who stands quietly on a hilltop overseeing this remarkably edifying panorama, we will then begin to appreciate God’s work of supernatural art that is the spirituality of Sts. Joan and Thérèse.
We also begin, in this contemplative image, to be enlightened as to the substance of their spirituality, both individually and as an amalgam of two souls. For individual spirituality, as presented in this metaphor whereby individual elements make up one beautiful landscape, receives its beauty and grandeur from the ground in which it is planted or established. Flowers only grow to perfection in the right soil with the right sunlight and the right amount of fresh water. A river only looks masterfully rich and powerful in the right location. Meadows only receive a pristine elegance in the context of their surroundings made of lakes, forests, and mountains. Just so, Sts. Joan and Thérèse lift our souls to heavenly heights with their spiritual beauty by being uniquely inspiring within their combined, authentic context that elevates the dignity of the larger picture.
It is the latter point that is so often misunderstood or even ignored when contemplating these two great saints. To be beautiful in oneself is one thing, but to actually have that beauty be appropriately proportional to an even higher principle representing a unified wholeness of all parts is to reach perfection. Our spiritual perfection cannot be attained in a vacuum. By the very nature of what it means to be perfect, our spirituality must, while retaining our individuality, be moved outward from ourselves toward the authentic whole. Being a beautiful flower is wonderful. Being a beautiful flower in a meadow which sits by a rushing river with majestic mountains in the distance is perfection.
St. Thérèse herself spoke of how Jesus taught her this very thing. He opened her spiritual eyes through the mystery of nature to observe how not every soul in the metaphoric landscape of His Kingdom is created equally to be a mountain, or an oak tree, or even a fragrant rose. Each soul is created differently and proportionately by Him for the purpose of magnifying the glory of God in the unified oneness of the end Principle which is Himself.
Thérèse could see that this is comparable to how beautiful individual elements in nature together glorify the whole landscape. Each can be seen in its individual wonder while at the same time all are lost in the magnificence of the unified whole. Whether one is a rose or a small violet, an oak or a shrub, our perfection comes in being that for which we were designed that we may all celebrate as one family the beauty of the whole. This is the glory that is the Kingdom of God, that is, unity in Principle while still astonishing in individual variety.
Using this general scheme, we see a mystery unfold in the particular with Sts. Joan and Thérèse as they retain their individual spiritual beauty but still blend together in that flower bed of dazzling array. Stepping further back we contemplate that dazzling array as it brings to life a unique beauty that glorifies the entire Kingdom. It is this perfect ordination which moves us as a unified family to glorify God that we celebrate.
Here we are led into true mystery. St. Thomas Aquinas points out the obvious, but often overlooked, point of reason that a multitude of particulars cannot be brought into the act of unity in a purposeful form except by a unified One Who is the first cause and final principle of all movement. The particulars do not carry in themselves, by nature, the ability to order all to a unified Form, just as the individual stars and planets do not have it in their nature to order themselves to the Form of a unified universe. Only One who is outside and “super-natural” to the nature of the particulars can move those particulars toward their end in that unified, beautiful whole.
A flower need have nothing but the potentiality held in a seed to be transformed with soil, water, and light into its end. It is bound by the laws of the created order to appropriately actualize with the application of the proper efficient causes of change. A rose seed cannot resist becoming a rose in the proper environment.
The individual person, though, who has the astonishing dignity of freedom of will and the use of motive powers driven by that free will, and unlike the flower, must have knowledge of the Form through his intellect and have the desire in his will for it in order to move himself toward that Final Good. Thus, man needs knowledge, or a revelation from God in order to find his ending principle. As that revelation is necessarily beyond his own nature, man further needs Faith for his intellect and Hope for his will so that, unlike the flower bound by law, he might voluntarily motivate himself toward the final Good, which is Love, i.e., God. Here we see how man needs proper and true religion. Authentic religion is this necessary revelation of God with the effective graces of Faith and Hope that subsequently allow free people to be perfected through their intellect and will as they voluntarily journey from potentiality to their ultimate resting place in Love. Thus, to “find one’s self” is to “lose one’s self” in God. To find “individual meaning” is to find “God’s meaning.” To become “whole” is to become “One with God.”
Now we finally arrive to the substance of the beautiful color emanating from this bed of flowers in our spiritual metaphor. This substance is decidedly both spiritual and religious. It is God’s revelation, i.e., religion, that empowers the individual to grasp the objective principle of true perfection to be found in the whole. Dogma, that religious knowledge which is unattainable by nature to man on his own, is God’s revelation to man. This revelation is essential for man in order that he may understand that general principle toward which he is to move and by which he will attain individual perfection and proportionately contribute to the perfection of the whole. Doctrine is man explaining and teaching that life-giving revelation of Dogma to others. The infallible Church, as the depository of that Dogma, is God’s way of ensuring that one man so teaches another that the wholeness, the very principle toward which all beauty moves, is not lost such that the rivers run out of their courses and drown the flowers. The particular must align itself with the Dogma of the ending general principle, lest the created order fall into chaos and never attain its perfection.
This is the beauty and marvelous mystery I encountered when I was called by St. Thérèse and St. Joan out of the Dark Forest of individualism, relativism, and secularism among many other cancerous “isms” that seek the ending principle not through revealed Dogma but only through the chaotic, subjective desires of the particular individual. Theirs was a beauty far more reasonable, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally life-giving than was the subjective, intellectually inconsistent, and emotionally unsatisfying self-affirmation of the individual or the mere mundane and distracting doctrinal debates of the denominational pluralists.
In relief, these two took me by the hand to lead me along a narrow pathway I came over time to know as the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed. The Trail is the path of revelation that, through Faith and Hope, transforms our potentiality into the final Form of Love as one travels it toward the true Kingdom of which we have been metaphorically speaking. These two were sent by the Mother of God who had pity on me in the sickness and spiritual death I had experienced as I fell to the ground seeking my own way in the Dark Forest of the secular world.
The saints are proof to us of the Love of God. In their lives we see the fulfillment of the promise to transform potentiality into Love. They are truly “like us” by nature yet “more than us” in glory. Through knowledge of God’s revelation and in cooperation with His free gifts of Faith and Hope in their intellect and will, they have reached their full potential. They have reached perfection in Divine Love which is God Himself. They are now truly capable of assisting us in God’s grace through their glory. Their glory is the reflection of God’s glory just as the final, magnificent, masterpiece is the glory of the Artist. We are all created to ultimately be Formed into such masterpieces. “And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30) (Latin Vulgate)
And as charity is the highest of all the virtues and the living, driving force of the Kingdom, their charity to us is an outpouring of God’s own Love and is an astonishing acclamation to His Glory! Heaven is not a holding cell where souls are collected while God attempts to rope us in. Heaven is an extension of glorified, loving hands bound in God’s own charity, helping all of us still in potentiality who dare to will the Final Principle of the Kingdom for which we are designed. Is that not what we would expect from a Kingdom of Love?
As the result of this charity, I am alive, and I have sold all I own to follow these two, with numerous others, through the meadows, creeks, and hills on the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed to accept what has been offered. Though, at this point, I am mostly filled with “potential.” Still, going back to the metaphoric, the first thing a seed must do to grow is to fall to the ground and die. I fell to the ground and spiritually died at one point. My manner in doing so was not at all graceful nor becoming. But St. Joan and St. Thérèse have thrown me into just the right dirt and splashed me with just the right amount of water to get this poor, broken seed to make the first upward movements toward the Light Who is Jesus Christ. Is that not charity?
Though I am like but a blade of grass resting in the shade of these two elegant, fragrant, and beautiful flowers, I am more than content. I am happy and joyful, two attributes I was unable to acquire while trying to be a mighty Redwood in the smoke-filled Dark Forest of man-made philosophies and fanciful spiritualities.
It was when I heard my name called by those two saintly souls who possessed such beauty and freedom that I felt it only reasonable to approach them to know more. They pointed toward the Kingdom in the far distance at the end of the Dogmatic Creed which ran gracefully through the meadows and over the hills. Though only a trace of this Kingdom could be seen in the distance, for the rest is mystery not to be revealed in this life, my heart was inflamed with desire for it. From that moment forward, every other principle has paled in comparison.