Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 14, 2002
Describe St. Therese's legacy
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Now that the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus have come and gone, what do you think is important to retain from this experience?
I know many people were greatly touched by being and praying close to the relics of this great saint. Perhaps some miracle cures took place. And no doubt many people will continue to experience something of the powerful encounter they had. I will try to summarize briefly the essence of St. Therese's spirituality.
St. Therese's autobiography had a profound effect on many people when it was first distributed. Why? Perhaps because of the miracles. But there wouldn't have been miracles if people hadn't first been touched by something in her life and then prayed through the intercession of this saint.
What moved them most is, I believe, the same thing that moves us today in our sophisticated and fast-paced world.
Her spirituality was simple and powerful. It is surprising it was not based on the spirituality of her time that was severe and condemning. Instead it was based directly on her own experience and her reflection on the Gospels.
She believed Jesus invites us to a deep intimacy with him. God's love illuminates our path and gives us the grace to respond freely and fully to that invitation. When we falter, God "stoops to our nothingness and transforms us."
She reports "waves of infinite tenderness" flood her soul, but she knew it was God's love, not hers. God's love was flowing through her and was not the result of any achievement on her part.
God is the source of our love, and we are to love with God's love and become channels of God's own love by our availability to God.
What is this availability, in practical terms? First, utter trust in God as a little child trusts and consciousness of her weakness and need for God. She was content to be a little flower in contrast to great saints who were like giant trees in the forest. She felt God was inviting her to an inner freedom and authenticity - being true to who she was created to be.
She did not focus on penances as such but on an awareness of her own willfulness and her need to please others and be affirmed by them. She worked at loving others as God loves them, not for the acknowledgment they would give her.
She continued to work against that tendency right to the end. However, she believed holiness was God's doing and not due to her efforts.
For prayer, she did not employ various techniques common at that time. Instead, she believed each of us should pray in any way we can.
She, herself, remained in God's presence simply loving and saying nothing. Right to the end of her short life when she experienced intense suffering and a struggle of faith, she believed all was God's grace.
St. Therese's "Little Way of Spiritual Childhood" is based on the Gospels. It encompasses being true to whom God created us to be, using our own particular giftedness and weaknesses to love and serve God and others.
Total trust in God and in God's presence in our own ordinary lives, we remain in God's love, knowing that love will flow through us to the world. As we pray, we have Jesus' assurance that he will lift us up to experience the fullness of life in God where we will continue to help those on earth. Hence, her promise of dropping roses.
When St. Therese was canonized, Pius XI indicated that she was a suitable model for our own times because she lived out her vocation "without leaving the common order of things. . . ." She makes holiness a part of our everyday lives.
She uses the word "hidden" 46 times in her autobiography. This is her concept of holiness that is accessible to all and desirable for all - without any extraordinary heroism.
That is briefly, I believe, what struck those who read her autobiography a century ago and what we still need to remember today.