The Vatican

Trust, the key to the apostolic exhortation on St. Therese

"As a Church we still have a lot to learn from her. And we need audacity and inner freedom to be able to do it". St. Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face invites us to let ourselves be conquered "by the attraction of Jesus Christ and the Gospel".

Antonino Piccione-October 17, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes
Therese of Lisieux

Statue of St. Therese of Lisieux in the United States (CNS photo / Nancy Wiechec)

Fleeing from self-referentiality, her "little way" continues to illuminate the path of the Church, pointing out "the beauty of the saving love of God manifested in Jesus Christ, dead and risen": the essential to direct our gaze and our heart to. It is the face of St. Thérèse of Lisieux - "Therese," as the Carmelite nun (1873-1897), whose 150th anniversary of her birth is celebrated this year - that Pope Francis proposes in the apostolic exhortation dedicated to her, published on Sunday, October 15. "C'est la confiance"("It is trust") is the title, which evokes the first words in the original French of a phrase taken from Teresa's writings and which in its complete form says: "It is trust and nothing but trust that must lead us to Love!".

For Pope Francis, "these incisive words of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face say it all, they sum up the genius of her spirituality and would suffice to justify her being declared a Doctor of the Church." "Teresa," he explains, "did not conceive of her consecration to God without seeking the good of her brothers. She shared the merciful love of the Father for the sinful son and that of the Good Shepherd for the lost sheep, distant, wounded. That is why she is the patroness of the missions, a teacher of evangelization".

Evangelization without proselytizing

In reviewing his life and spirituality, the Pontiff underlines "his way of understanding evangelization by attraction, not by pressure or proselytism". And he quotes one of the last phrases he left: "That is my prayer: I ask Jesus to draw me into the flames of his love, to unite me so intimately to him that it is he who lives and acts in me. I feel that the more the fire of love burns in my heart, the more strongly I will say: 'Draw me'; and the closer the souls come to me (poor little piece of iron, if I were to move away from the divine fire), the lighter they will run after the perfumes of their Beloved. For a soul on fire with love cannot remain inactive".

Francis points to Teresa's "little way" as an antidote "against a Pelagian idea of holiness, individualistic and elitist, more ascetic than mystical, which emphasizes mainly human effort". Instead, she "always stresses the primacy of God's action, of his grace." "She never uses the expression, frequent in her time, 'I will become a saint.' However, her boundless confidence encourages those who feel fragile, limited, sinful, to let themselves be led and transformed in order to reach the heights." Living at the end of the 19th century, "that is, in the golden age of modern atheism as a philosophical and ideological system," she feels herself "sister to atheists and sits, like Jesus, at table with sinners. She intercedes for them, while continually renewing her act of faith, always in loving communion with the Lord".

St. Teresa and the Church

Her life shines forth in these words of hers: "I have found my place in the Church and this place, O my God, it is you who have given it to me: in the Heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love! Thus I will be everything...". "It is not the heart of a triumphalist Church," Francis observes, "it is the heart of a loving, humble and merciful Church." Therese never puts herself above others, but in last place with the Son of God, who for our sake became a servant and humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross. This discovery of the heart of the Church is a great light also for us today, so that we may not be scandalized by the limitations and weaknesses of the ecclesiastical institution, marked by darkness and sins, but enter into her burning heart of love, which was kindled at Pentecost thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit".

The contribution of Thérèse of Lisieux as a saint and Doctor of the Church - Pope Francis adds - is not analytical, as could be, for example, that of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Her contribution is rather synthetic, because her genius consists in taking us to the center, to the essential, to what is indispensable. She, with her words and her personal journey, shows that although all the teachings and norms of the Church have their importance, their value, their light, some are more urgent and more constitutive for Christian life. On them Teresa fixed her gaze and her heart. "As theologians, moralists, scholars of spirituality, as pastors and as believers, each in his or her own field," the Pontiff urges, "we still need to recognize this brilliant intuition of Teresa and draw from it the theoretical and practical, doctrinal and pastoral, personal and communitarian consequences. We need audacity and interior freedom to be able to do so.

News about the "caminito" (little road)

Francis points out the precious legacy and the great timeliness of Therese of Lisieux: "In a time that invites us to withdraw into our own interests, Therese shows us the beauty of making life a gift," the Pope concludes.

"At a time when the most superficial needs prevail, she is a witness of evangelical radicalism. In a time of individualism, she makes us discover the value of love that becomes intercession. At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she shows us the way of littleness. At a time when so many human beings are discarded, she teaches us the beauty of caring, of taking care of the other. In a time of complexity, she can help us rediscover simplicity, the absolute primacy of love, trust and abandonment, overcoming a legalistic and ethical logic that fills Christian life with obligations and precepts and freezes the joy of the Gospel. In a time of withdrawal and closed-mindedness, Therese invites us to go out as missionaries, conquered by the attraction of Jesus Christ and the Gospel".

The authorAntonino Piccione

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