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Taking us to the very heart of the Gospel

The greatness of the life and message of St. Thérèse of Lisieux lies in her ability to take us to the very heart of the Gospel in a simple and direct way, accessible to all people. As Bl. John Paul II said when he declared her Doctor of the Church: “The core of her message is actually the mystery itself of God-love.... At the root, on the subject’s part, is the experience of being the Father’s adoptive children in Jesus; this is the most authentic meaning of spiritual childhood.... At the root again and standing before us, is our neighbor, others, for whose salvation we must collaborate with and in Jesus, with the same merciful love as his”1 (DAS 8). With no extraordinary experiences in her life that would make us feel too distant from her, she founded her life in the love of God and neighbor in the midst of ordinary life and through concrete acts of love, accepting life experiences as coming from God’s loving hand and abandoning herself completely to his mercy. She was able to teach us how to avoid the trap of being too absorbed in ourselves by not keeping account of one’s spiritual progress, but only loving freely and selflessly, and humbly recognizing one’s poverty and many imperfections with a constant and confident appeal to God’s merciful love. In this way she was an instrument of God that brought light to the human dilemmas of sin, human weakness and limitations, feelings of guilt, shame and self-hatred. But this Saint’s greatness lies also in the fact that she addressed issues that bring anguish to the heart of modern humanity: the quest for the meaning of human life, death and suffering, the fear of final annihilation, the search for authentic existence, the loss of a sense of faith and hope, the search for truth and the profound anguish of feeling it lost.2 At the end of her life Thérèse was allowed to have a share in the experience of all this bitterness which has plagued the heart of many throughout history, but especially in modern times. “Jesus made me feel there were really souls who have no faith, and who, through the abuse of grace, lost this precious treasure.... He permitted my soul to be invaded by the thickest darkness, and that the thought of heaven, up until then so sweet to me, be no longer anything but the cause of struggle and torment. One would have to travel through this dark tunnel to understand its darkness.” This spiritual trial was combined to the ever increasing physical sufferings caused by the diseases that would eventually bring her to death. She continues: “When I want to rest my heart fatigued by the darkness that surrounds it by the memory of the luminous country after which I aspire, my torment redoubles; it seems to me that the darkness, borrowing the voice of sinners, says mockingly to me: ‘You are dreaming about the light, about the fatherland embalmed in the sweetest perfumes; you are dreaming about the eternal possession of the Creator of all these marvels; you believe that one day you will walk out of this fog that surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness.’” At the peak of her suffering, with tuberculosis that had left her with half a lung to breathe and gangrene in her intestines, she was even able to understand why some people their own lives. And what was her response in the midst of all this?: “Your child, O Lord... is resigned to eat the bread of sorrow as long as you desire it; she does not wish to rise up from this table filled with bitterness at which poor sinners are eating until the day set by you. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine” (SS p. 213). “The chalice is full to the brim!... [And yet], I do not regret having surrendered myself to Love.” Her life ended with the triumph of love, mercy, faith and confidence over sin, meaninglessness and despair. In her weakness God showed the power of his relentless love for each of us, a love that through the voice and life of St. Thérèse continues to remind us that we are not to live in fear and anguish. That we only need to surrender and let ourselves be sustained by his merciful love. In raising this, the greatest saint of modern times, our loving Lord reminds us his words in the Gospel: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12: 32). 

1 JOHN PAUL II, Divini Amoris Scientia.
2 SCHMIDT, J. F., Everything Is Grace, The Life And Way Of St. Thérèse Of Lisieux, The Word Among Us, 2007, p. 21. 

Written by Fr. Jorge Cabrera, OCD
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