Today we celebrate an important Saint for our times. St. Therese of the Child Jesus was canonized a saint in 1925, less than thirty years after she died. That’s pretty incredible given that she was practically unknown even by the sisters she lived with. The Carmelites would send out a circular reporting on the death of its members, but when St. Therese passed away, some of the sisters who lived with her said, “Whatever will we say about her? There was nothing extraordinary about her life!” Those who knew St. Therese best, even in the convent, were the sisters from her family. They had the difficult task of promoting her cause and spiritual doctrine to the rest of the Carmel and the Universal Church. One of St. Therese’s blood sisters, who was the superior of the convent where they lived, knew how special St. Therese’s life was and asked her to write the story of her life and spiritual doctrine. This book, “l’Histoire d’une âme” circulated widely and quickly after her death and is the main reason she was canonized so rapidly.
St. Therese’s message was so powerful that in 1997, St. Pope John Paul II elevated her to doctor of the church. To give you some idea of how important that is, there are over ten-thousand canonized Saints in the Catholic Church and only thirty-six of them are Doctors. Of those thirty-six only four are women. Doctors of the Church typically have special titles, St. Therese is the Doctor of Divine Love. John Paul II understood that in our modern times we have a particular need for a pertinent teaching on the Love of God. At the time St. Therese entered the Carmel, it was common practice for the nuns who consecrated themselves to God to make a special offering of themselves to the justice of God. Upon entering the convent, Carmelites of the late 1800s saw clearly how unvirtuous and destitute humanity had become so they offered themselves to God’s divine justice with the hopes that by living as well as they could they would appease God’s wrath and call down his mercy and favor on the perverse and devious human race. The problem, however, was that this idea led those religious to become proud of themselves: what motivated them was their own perfection rather than God Himself.
St. Therese did not make an offering of herself to Divine Justice. She made an offering instead, on the eve of her final vows, to Divine Love. In that act of offering, St. Therese famously states how her approach to God differed from her sisters, “In the evening of life I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I am not asking you, Lord, to count my works. Indeed, all our supposed justice is stained in your eyes.” St. Therese was fascinated with a story about a woman who was converted by a group of disciples in the early church. They mentioned the Love of God only briefly to this woman, and she believed and completely converted. The Love of God became so real to this convert that it was like a fire burning within her. She immediately wanted to abandon her way of life to share it with others. So strong was the love however, that she died then and there in a living flame of love while they were yet on their journey to spread the Gospel. St. Therese identified with this woman and wanted to “die of love” like she did. The Holy Spirit showed her another better way. She could make herself a living victim to the Love of God by applying that love to everything she said and did. The more she hid this love in everything she did, the more mysteriously marvelous her life became. There was a nun that St. Therese lived with and found very difficult to get along with. She decided to apply the love of God in her heart to that sister, so she would give her the most beautiful smile every time they crossed paths, and especially when the sister was being difficult. The sister is quoted as saying, “I don’t know what Sister Therese sees in me.” She must have perceived God’s love in the smile of St. Therese.
In today’s world, we need this message. As a society we neither fear hell or the justice of God, nor do we trust in the true power of Love. We’re like those children in the street who neither weep at a sad song nor dance at a joyful one. St. Therese has much to teach us about true joy, true love, the Love of God, and we need to listen to her and learn from her. Love is so abused and broken in today’s world. We sometimes don’t know who we can trust. I met a young girl about your age in France several years ago who simply told me, “I don’t believe in love.” Last night Gracie talked to us about the power of the love between a father and his daughter, and then the power of the love between a father and his lost son. Jesus talks to us the whole time He is with us about His Father. The most important thing in Jesus life is His Father, and He wants us to know His Father. That was the whole reason He came to save us, so that we could know and have in our hearts the same love that He has for His Father. It is hard, especially today, but worth the risk. Let your heart be softened enough to experience the Love of God, and Jesus will run with you to the Father’s embrace. “I am going to the Father.”