It’s possible that St Therese of Lisieux is one of those saints of whom we hear so often that we think, well, we already know that story – next! Yet I think we often only capture her “slogan” of childlikeness, and in skipping over it, we miss the profound and prophetic truth manifested in her life. God always gives to each time in history the saints and prophets who are exactly needed to face the challenges and struggles of the day. I think that St Therese is one of those saints that gives real, solid answers for today’s world – I know that she does so for my own life. In the light of her Feast Day this past weekend, I invite you to turn with me again to her wisdom.
Childlikeness & Love
What is the most fundamental aspect of St Therese’s way of childlikeness? I see two essential aspects, and they both are bound in the word LOVE. The first her capacity to dwell in God’s love for her – His personal Father love for her. And the second is her openness to receiving His love – you might say, the personal understanding of her own need for His love. She says:
I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Sometimes I seek another word to express Love, but in this land of exile the word which begins and ends is quite incapable of rendering the vibrations of the soul; we must then adhere to this simple and only word: TO LOVE. 1
That is what I think it means to live a childlike faith – to discover again how we are each personally loved by a Person who is God, who is Love. In her words, “There exists but one Being capable of comprehending love; it is Jesus; He alone can give us back infinitely more than we shall ever give to him.” 1
Childlikeness & Openness
In that personal experience of being loved, there we can embrace and let go of our own limitations and weaknesses, and admit how we are not self-sufficient. Not self-sufficient – we are children, infants! “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3). I think these words of Christ
are the key to people of today finding true inner freedom again, and true religious experience. Why? Because when we realize we are infants, we are open! And when we are open to God, we are open to love. Then we become the everyday saint who is so needed today. Fr Joseph Kentenich often called Therese of Lisieux the first everyday saint. He could have been talking about her when we he said,
“In all his strivings and efforts [the everyday saint] makes love his most important aim. Even his religious knowledge and study are deliberately used to foster love; he does not act like Christians who read many spiritual books, think over and discuss religious problems, but do not grow in love. These Christians can be compared to an artist who makes his own tools for his particular work but then putters around for the rest of his life without creating anything.” 2
Childlikeness, Mercy & Mary
In this little way of love, I think St. Therese has something to teach us in this last month or so of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. St. Therese understood God’s love as inseparable from His mercy. She often addressed God as “Merciful Father” and spoke of his “merciful love.” This organic connection between love and mercy is also an expression of spiritual childlikeness. I think the discovery of this inner connection between the Father’s love and mercy is one that happens in each individual heart that spends time contemplating its own short comings and how much God fills the heart with personal love.
This coming weekend, Pope Francis will celebrate the Marian Jubilee of Mercy in Rome. How beautiful that Pope Francis will draw our attention to our Blessed Mother in this Jubilee Year! I look forward to reading his words on that special occasion. St Therese is, for me, a living example of Mary. By following this way of love, she manifested in
today’s world an original image of Mary, who is that Eternal Woman who is an exhaustible source of knowledge for any man or woman who wants to know and love God.
“She, the Blessed Mother, shows us the expression of her childlikeness through the way she
1) constantly swims in God’s ocean of mercies,
2) and in the awareness of her personal need for God’s mercy.” 3
There you have a simple meditation, a simple way in this Year of Mercy to grow day by day in the steps of Therese of Lisieux, which is to say in LOVE.
1. All St Therese quotes came from this page: http://www.littleflower.org/therese/words-of-st-therese/love-of-god/
2. Fr Joseph Kentenich, Everyday Sanctity, page 50
- Fr Joseph Kentenich, Schoenstatt’s Everyday Spirituality, page 128-130