St. Therese, Ecclesial Politics and the Redemption of Micropractice

St. Therese of Liseux was a Carmelite nun who died in 1897 at the young age 24. She was posthumously given the title “Doctor of the Church” for her articulation of Carmelite Spirituality known as “the Little Way”, which has become a mainstay in much popular Catholic spirituality because Therese did not regard grand acts of heroism as necessary for holiness. Therese once remarked:

“Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”

Therese touches on a theme that is often overlooked in the implementation of an ecclesial politics: in one’s attention to the master framework, one often ignores the little practices that fill up the gaps within that framework, in particular the works of mercy. These little practices, as Therese reminds us, are not merely incidental to the pursuit of holiness. Rather they are the means by which such holiness can be pursued.
At the same time, micropractices are also important to ecclesial politics because they are also important sociological categories. They are not just things we do, but are also things that can affectively prime us to do or think particular things in turn. In The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann noted that actions are less the result of rational choice than being affectively nudged via a series of “plausibility structures” that often act without the knowledge of the agent. These “plausibility structures” emerge not from some grand cognitive scheme. According to Pierre Bourdieu, these structures emerge out of a “social universe” that in turn borne out of an array of “social positions”, that is a whole set of bodily practices. This would mean that the forms of a whole array of practices that we find ourselves engaged in without thinking often carry with them a logic that primes us into sets of habits and mindsets that can in turn implicate us in extending something other than the Kingdom of God, however much we like to think to the contrary.
This would mean that for those in the Body of Christ, every element of contemporary culture should be of concern, simply because these seemingly insignificant elements can combine to create a whole “social universe” that can either nurture or hinder the Body of Christ. This is why the Church ought to resist the calls of the cultural powers that be – politicians, commenterati banshees and even some within the Church – that certain things are beyond its competence. It should also pay attention to things that may seem incidental or unconnected to the pursuit of holiness – the shape of agriculture, the configuration of supply chains, the positioning of families to local economies and with that the decentralisation of administrative power, just to name a few.
These things are not so profane as to be unconnected to the spiritual life, but can constitute one of the flowers within creation to which Therese draws our attention.
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One thought on “St. Therese, Ecclesial Politics and the Redemption of Micropractice

  1. Yes Matt – the successful micro-practice of our faith (and what other successful practice of our faith could there be?) is not something we can do by ourselves. The grace of the Holy Spirit embedded in the Body of Christ, in the doxological practice of love to the Father and all in His creation is how it must actually 'work'. In this sense, the atomization of the church is a complete destruction of working faith in the world.

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