The situation in the Holy Land is a most distressing one which calls for prayer and the continued resolve to do everything to end the horror of all wars. The inhumane attack which took place and savagely is taking so many innocent lives once again reveals the ugly side of humanity. We ask, as we have on other occasions, how can human beings commit such evil as we recoil in horror before what we see, so vividly before us? How can we deal with such evil?
It may be providential that at the time of this horror of human sin, Pope Francis issued a long awaited Apostolic Exhortation on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, commonly referred to as the Little Flower. Saint Thérèse is one of Pope Francis’ favorite saints. He wrote it on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of her birth and 100th anniversary of her beatification. She is one of the most well-known and popular saints of the Church even though she lived a relatively short life, dying at the age of 24. Most of her life was spent in a cloistered Carmelite monastery where she had little contact with the outside world. However, her powerful influence of goodness, innocence and holiness reveals the power which supersedes that of evil and counteracts it in a miraculous manner, many times unseen by so many.
The title of Pope Francis’ letter is C’est la Confiance. These are words used by Saint Thérèse in a letter to a Carmelite sister expressing her full confidence in the merciful love of God as she stated, “It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to love.” Pope Francis explains how these words sum up the entire genius of the spirituality of Saint Thérèse and why they justify her being named a Doctor of the Church by Saint Pope John Paul II. Nothing but confidence leads us to put our trust completely in God and to experience His love for us, not as we deserve, but as He so freely lavishes it upon us. As the Pope says, “With confidence, the wellspring of grace overflows into our lives, the Gospel takes flesh within us and makes us channels of mercy for our brothers and sisters.”
It was confidence that enabled Saint Thérèse to trust so much in the love of God that she wanted nothing more than make Him happy. She had a keen sense that, as in any real relationship, our acceptance of ourselves as God made us and our acceptance of His love, give joy to God. The desire of Saint Thérèse to please God so that she could make Him happy motivated all that she did. This enabled her to be filled with joy and to freely share her love with others. So many times, we think that the meaning of life is to please God when actually its true meaning is God’s desire to please us and our openness to that. Saint Thérèse was so caught up in the love of God that she expressed that, “If (in heaven) I am not surprised enough, I will pretend to be the surprised just to please God.” Her joy was in God and God’s joy was in her as it is for all of us. This is the essence of love which is the life of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The center of Saint Thérèse’s spirituality is known as her Little Way. Pope Francis tells us, “One of the most important insights of Thérèse for the benefit of the entire people of God is her ‘little way,’ the path of trust and love, also known as the way of spiritual childhood. Everyone can follow this way, whatever their age or state in life. It is the way that the heavenly Father reveals to the little ones (cf. Mt 11:25). The Little Way is based on experiencing God in the everyday activities of life and performing those activities joyfully. Saint Thérèse had many deep spiritual experiences, but they all surrounded her everyday activities, dealings with others, and own personal sufferings.
The Little Flower lived in an age which stressed the God of justice. We also live in an age which emphasizes justice, not so much from God, but from a need to retaliate and find vindication. Saint Thérèse stressed that God is merciful love. She knew that the justice of God always delights in His forgiveness of those who turn away from sin. She emphasized that, “God has so much love to give, and He can’t do it; people present only their own merits, and these are so paltry.” She developed the “art of accepting failure.” She would delight in her unsuccessful actions not because they were unsuccessful but because she knew they would bring her God’s unconditional love and mercy. She said, “If I had been faithful, I would have received the reward of merit. I was unfaithful, I am humiliated, I am going to receive the reward of my poverty and humiliation.” In our day of justice, how much we need to understand Thérèse’s message and to realize that God’s justice does not seek vengeance but seeks the joy of His creation in humanity. The Little Way of Saint Thérèse is one that is very much needed today.
As we look at the horrible situation of war today, it is only confidence in love, God’s love, that reminds us that God respects a freedom that can sin. His joy is not in punishing that sin but in forgiving it when it is recognized and turned away from. When God looks at the situation in war today, he cries. Nothing makes Him more unhappy, and He uses the goodness of others, like Saint Thérèse, to turn things around. He rejoices when there is confidence in His love. Saint Thérèse expressed that she wanted to live in heaven by continuing to do good on earth. She certainly does that in ways that cannot even be recognized. The more we experience hatred and violence in our world and rightly recoil from it, the more we need to love and realize that it makes a difference in the world. That is true confidence and the love of God. The Little Way of Saint Thérèse reminds us that we can only change the world in the little world around us, but we can really do that with God’s grace. As we do this, we give joy to God who gives joy to us.
As Pope Francis says in “C’est la confiance,” it is trust that brings us to love and thus sets us free from fear. It is trust that helps us to stop looking to ourselves and enables us to put into God’s hands what He alone can accomplish. Doing so provides us with an immense source of love and energy for seeking the good of our brothers and sisters. And so, amid the suffering of her last days, Thérèse was able to say: “I count only on love.” In the end, only love counts. Trust makes roses blossom and pours them forth as an overflow of the superabundance of God’s love. Let us ask, then, for such trust as a free and precious gift of grace, so that the parts of the Gospel may open in our lives.”
Pope Francis concludes his Apostolic Letter with the following prayer to Saint Thérèse so important for today:
Dear Saint Thérèse,
the Church needs to radiate the brightness,
the fragrance the joy of the Gospel.
Send us your roses!
Help us to be, like yourself,
ever confident in God’s immense love for us,
so that we may imitate each day
your “little way” of holiness.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 20, 2023