October 1, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Therese of Lisieux

John F. FinkThe Church celebrates the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus on Oct. 1. Also known as St. Thérèse of Lisieux to distinguish her from St. Teresa of Avila, she is one of our most popular saints.

She entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux, France, when she was 15 and died there in 1897 at the age of 24. She never performed any spectacular feats. Nevertheless, by living a life of humility and simplicity, she became an example for all.

From her monastery, she also wrote letters to missionaries to encourage them in their work. Because of that, she was declared patroness of foreign missions in 1927.

In obedience to her superior, who was also one of her older sisters, Thérèse wrote her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. From the lessons she taught in that book, Pope John Paul II declared her one of the 33 doctors of the Church in 1997.

In her book, she wrote about her search for meaning in her life, for what God was calling her to do. She found her answer in the 12th and 13th chapters of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In Chapter 12, Paul explained that we are all given different gifts. Just as a body has many parts, so is Christ’s Mystical Body.

Therefore, Thérèse wrote, she learned that not everyone can be an Apostle, prophet or teacher, just as the eye cannot be the hand or the head cannot be the foot. But this didn’t satisfy her, she wrote. It told her what she couldn’t do, but not what she should do.

So she continued reading. Chapter 13 is where St. Paul writes about the necessity of love. Thérèse wrote, “For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.”

She said that she had not recognized herself in any of the members of the Mystical Body that Paul described, and yet she wanted to distinguish herself within that body. Therefore, “Love appeared to me to be the hinge of my vocation.”

The Church has a heart, she wrote, a heart aflame with love. It was that love that drove the members of the Mystical Body to action. If that love was ever extinguished, the Apostles would no longer proclaim the Gospel and the martyrs would no longer shed their blood. St. Paul was right when he wrote about the necessity of love because love, she wrote, “sets off the bounds of all vocations.”

When Thérèse realized this, she said that she was nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy of her soul. “I proclaimed,” she wrote, “O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my proper place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.” †

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