Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
September 10, 2001
St. Thérèse: A Child of God
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Jansenism was a movement in the early 17th century Church in France that attempted to restore the purity of the Gospel, but instead cast a pall of gloom over the Church.
The Jansenists believed that human nature is fundamentally corrupt because of original sin. People are utterly incapable of choosing to do good and must prepare for judgment by an avenging God. That puts us in a tight spot. The Christian's primary activity is to perform acts of penance in order to develop the perfect contrition necessary for our sins to be forgiven.
As an actual movement, Jansenism was fairly short-lived. But its spirit of scrupulosity and pessimism infected parts of the Church for centuries.
That spirit was alive in the late 19th century when Thérèse Martin entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux. Thérèse had an overly strong sense of her own sinfulness, a sense that began to be whittled away when her confessor told her that she had never committed a mortal sin.
But it took two more years and another priest who told her that God was very pleased with the state of her soul before Thérèse set "full sail upon that sea of confidence and love."
She came to realize that it was the devil, not God, who sapped her confidence by making her focus on her faults and failings. The Jansenists had it backwards - the relationship between God and humanity is not that between a master and a slave but between a Father and his child. Jesus came to abolish fear by offering us a relationship as God's adopted children.
For Thérèse, one of the key Gospel passages occurs when the disciples want to know who is the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus surprises them by putting a child in their midst and saying, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:1-4).
We dwell with God not by doing great things but by being totally dependent on his grace and mercy. Like a good parent, God is always with us, always present in the events of daily life. We need to be ever attentive to the opportunities for love that God constantly provides.
Sin is the rejection of God's fatherhood; it's the insistence on doing things my way. Sin is the rebellion of the slave against the master; holiness is the child throwing herself into the Father's arms in times of both joy and sorrow.
Salvation comes from a merciful God, not from our own good deeds. In her act of offering, Thérèse prayed, "In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works."
And elsewhere, she wrote, "I am daringly confident that one day I shall become a great saint. I am not relying on my own merits because I haven't any. I hope in him who is virtue and sanctity itself."
It is easy to lose heart and to worry about the future. But this worrying "is like meddling with God's work." It leads to discouragement and despair. Better to focus on loving today, in this moment, and let God prepare the gift of the future for us.
Thérèse had a keen sense of the Father's longing for his children to love him and for the tragedy of his children's refusal to give that love. She resolved to give herself without reserve to the loving Father to console him and to win for him the love of his children. This, she believed, would give God great joy for his Father's love would no longer go unrequited.
Thus, in the life and writings of St. Thérèse do we see the Gospel come alive. It is a Gospel not of fierceness and fear, but gentle acceptance of the Father's love. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, as we shall see next week, it has clear implications for how we should live our lives.
(Fourth in a series of articles)
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