Therese of Lisieux – Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience

Today the Holy Father's General Audience was on St. Therese of Lisieiux, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The greater part of the audience is a retelling of her life. In the last two paragraphs the Pontiff reflects on her significance for us. I have translated these two paragraphs from the Italian. (An English translation is apparently not yet available.) Pope Benedict XVI points out that the saint is especially a guide for theologians. The science of theology that relies upon study depends for its vitality upon the "science of the saints", the science that comes from union with God in love and prayer.

Dear friends, with St. Therese of the Child Jesus we too should be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live from love for Him and for others, to learn, at the school of the saints, to love authentically and totally. Therese is one of the "little ones" of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God in the profundity of his mystery. A guide for everyone, especially for those who, in the People of God, carry out the ministry of theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Therese enters continuously into the heart of Sacred Scripture that contains the mystery of Christ. Such a reading of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not opposed to academic science. The science of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of The Story of a Soul, is the highest science. "All the saints have understood it, perhaps most especially those who filled the universe with the radiance of the Gospel teaching. Is it not indeed from prayer that Saints Paul, Augustine, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic and so many other illustrious Friends of God drew this Divine science which ravishes the greatest minds?"(Ms C, 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, the Eucharist is for Therese the Sacrament of Divine Love that lowers Himself to the utmost to raise us up to Him. In her last Letter, on a picture that represents the Baby Jesus in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: "I can not fear a God who for me has become so small! (…) I love Him! For he is nothing but Love and Mercy!" (LT 266).

In the Gospel Therese discovers above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point of saying: "To me He gave His infinite mercy, through it I contemplate and love the other divine perfections! (…) Then all seems to me radiant with love, Justice itself (and perhaps more than anything else) seems to me clothed in love"(Ms A, 84r). Thus she expresses it also in the last lines of the Story of a Soul: "As soon as I look to the Holy Gospel, I breath the perfumes of Jesus' life, and I know which way to run … It is not to the first place, but to the last that I hurry … I feel that even if I had on my conscience all the sins that one could commit, I would run, my heart broken with sorrow, into the Arms of Jesus, because I know how much you love the prodigal son who returns to Him" (Ms C, 36v-37r). "Confidence and Love" are therefore the final point of the story of her life, two words that like beacons have illuminated her whole path of holiness, so that she can guide others in the same way as hers, the "little way of confidence and love," of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226). Confidence like that of a child who abandons itself into the hands of God, inseparable from a strong commitment, rooted in true love, which is a total gift of self, forever, as the Saint says in contemplating Mary: "To love is to give everything, and to give oneself" (Because I love you, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Therese shows all of us that the Christian life consists in living fully the grace of baptism in the total gift of self to the love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, His very love for all others. Thank you.

St. Therese of Lisieux

Today is the feastday of St. Therese, virgin and doctor of the Church.

"Merit does not consist in doing or giving much. It consists in loving much." (Letter 142, to Celine).

"When I have committed a fault that makes me sad, I know well that this sadness is the consequence of my infidelity. But do you think I stop there? Oh no, I'm not so silly! I hurry to say to God: My God, I know that I have merited this feeling of sadness, but let me offer you all of it as a test that you send me out of love. I regret my sin, but I am content to have this suffering to offer to you. (Last words of St. Thérèse as recollected by Sr. Agnes of Jesus.)

Sayings of St. Therese of Lisieux on Love

Judging, Part 3 (Therese of Lisieux)

To apply the principles mentioned in the previous posts, of judging doubtful cases positively or favorably, without being negligent to remedy problems (which presupposes at least a tentative judgment), it is helpful to bear several things in mind: (1) our knowledge of ourselves and of others is always limited; (2) there is always some good to be found in everything; (3) recognizing this good is good for ourselves and for others; St. Therese of Lisieux says “We should always judge others with love, for often what seems to us to be negligence, is an heroic deed in God's sight.” (CS 107) And again:

Yes, I know when I show charity to others, it is simply Jesus acting in me, and the more closely I am united to Him, the more dearly I love my Sisters. If I wish to increase this love in my heart, and the devil tries to bring before me the defects of a Sister, I hasten to look for her virtues, her good motives; I call to mind that though I may have seen her fall once, no doubt she has gained many victories over herself, which in her humility she conceals. It is even possible that what seems to me a fault, may very likely, on account of her good intention, be an act of virtue. I have no difficulty in persuading myself of this, because I have had the same experience. (MsC, 12v/13r)

Regarding the second and third point, the possibility of seeing good in things, and the value of doing so, St. Therese says, speaking about circumstances generally, “I always see the bright side of things. There are people who always take everything from the most painful point of view. I do just the opposite. If I am faced with pure suffering; when heaven is so black that there is no bright spot to be seen anywhere, I then make that itself a source of joy” (DE 215/27.5). And about persons, “There is nothing sweeter than to think well of one’s neighbor,” (CS 25) and “Charity consists in disregarding the faults of our neighbor, not being astonished at the sight of their weakness, but in being edified by the smallest acts of virtue we see them practice.”

Regarding the first point, the limitation of our knowledge, which never extends to a person's responsibility before God: “Even when there doesn't seem to be any excuse, we always have the possibility of saying: 'this person is obviously wrong, but she does not know it.'” (CS 107)

(4) A fourth point to keep in mind: love can be visible even in correcting, rebuking, etc., and we should strive to make it thus visible. St. Therese did not hesitate to speak the truth, even when it was not necessarily pleasant to hear: “I say the whole truth. If someone doesn't want to hear it, they shouldn't come to me.” (DE 203/18.4.3) Correcting in a loving manner does not mean that one does so in a “soft” manner, but that one does so not merely for the sake of abstract “rightness,” but of the person one corrects. St. Therese says:

In order that a reprimand bear fruit, we must give it dispassionately. When we have scolded a person, within the bounds of justice, let us stop there and not become soft-hearted, tormenting ourselves because we realize we have inflicted pain on someone. To run after the one we have thus afflicted, to console her, is to do her more harm than good. But when we leave her to herself, we force her to expect nothing from the human side, but to have recourse to the good Lord, recognize her faults, and humble herself. Otherwise we shall make her accustomed to being consoled after we have administered a deserved reproof, and she will then act like a spoiled child which jumps with rage and cries, knowing that this will make his mother come to him and wipe away his tears.I know, my Mother, that your little lambs consider me severe… The little lambs may say what they please. Fundamentally they feel that I love them with a genuine love.

This remark of St. Therese can be taken as complementary to the point mentioned in the previous post about St. Catherine, and the identification and sympathy with a person that helps us to form judgments in the appropriate loving manner. Love and correction are not contraries, as though love were the counterbalance to the correction of another person; rather love is to be shown in the very act of correction, and the act of correction is to be moved by and ordered to love. If that is not possible at a given moment, perhaps because we have strong feelings about an issue, we should if at all possible wait before speaking.

Seven Principles of the Spiritual Life

I've added Br. Thomas's description of Seven Principles of the Spiritual Life to the website. The principles, based on the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Therese of Lisieux, are the following:

1. To keep God in mind at all times.
2. To trust in God as much as possible.
3. To do all things for the love of God.
4. Not to trust in oneself.
5. Not to seek oneself.
6. To do all things with joy.
7. To be as energetic as possible.

The sixth and seventh principles may be a bit of a surprise. Is it even in our power to do things with joy? What does "energy" have to do with spiritual life? Yet St. Paul tells us to "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil 4:4), and St. Therese says that energy "is the most necessary virtue; with energy one can easily reach the height of perfection" (LT 178). These and the other principles are explained at greater length in the article. Comments are welcome!

My Vocation is Love!

“O Jesus, my Love, finally I have found my vocation: my vocation is Love!… Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!…. Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”

Has St. Thérèse just found the vocation common to all men and women–the vocation to love–or has she found her own unique vocation? Or both? I propose that it is both: her special vocation is to devote herself entirely to that which is the common vocation of us all–to live love. I've posted her words in context, with further reflection on the common and special vocation to love.