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St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face

Carmelite & Doctor of the Church - from France
Born on 2 January 1873; died in Lisieux on 30 September 1897
Autobiography: L'histoire d'une âme (Story of a Soul)
In 1907 St Pius X called her "the greatest saint of modern times".
Canonised in 1925, she was named Co-patron of the Missions in 1927 with St Francis Xavier & Co-patron of France with St Joan of Arc in 1944.
St John Paul II declared St Thérèse a Doctor of the Church on Mission Sunday 1997, writing his Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia about her.
Feast Day - 1st October.

3 2us by Father Anthony Doe      
"Thérèse above all embodies that spirit of openness, childlike willingness to receive from God. And in her teachings she very clearly enunciated a pattern of life, what she called her 'Little Way', a way of surrender to the person of Jesus in the minutest details of daily life, but particularly when she and we are confronted by our weakness, our failure, our human frailty, our vulnerability, all those things that we cannot change in ourselves. Thérèse had that wonderful insight to see that these were moments not to deplore but in fact to rejoice in because they were opportunities to give herself, give ourselves, to the person of Jesus and to recognise that it's His power, His strength, His love, His wisdom that in the end is meant to empower us. And she encourages us constantly to see our daily life in terms of moving more deeply into this bond of love with the person of Jesus who can only give himself to us when we are open and receptive to His gifts like children."

Novena to Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus

This novena includes a different prayer for each day of the novena followed by 24 'Glory Be's, in thanksgiving for all the blessings and favours given to Thérèse during the 24 years of her life. The music is by Edwin Fawcett.

Day 1     -   Day 2     -   Day 3     -   Day 4     -   Day 5     -   Day 6     -   Day 7     -   Day 8     -   Day 9  

To download the free mp3 Totus2us audio recordings, right/double click on the play buttons.

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI      
Wednesday General Audience, 6 April 2011 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to talk to you about St Therese of Lisieux, Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, who lived for only 24 years in this world, at the end of the 19th century, leading a very simple and hidden life but who, after her death and the publication of her writings, became one of the most known and loved saints. The "little Therese” has never stopped helping the simplest souls, the little, the poor and the suffering who pray to her, but she has also illuminated the whole Church with her profound spiritual doctrine, so much so that in 1997 Pope John Paul II wanted to give her the title of Doctor of the Church, in addition to that of Patroness of the Missions, which Pius XI had already attributed to her in 1927. My beloved Predecessor called her “expert in the scientia amoris” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n 42). This science, which sees the whole truth of faith shine out in love, Therese expressed principally in the recounting of her life, published a year after her death with the title 'The Story of a Soul'. It is a book that immediately had enormous success, was translated into numerous languages and distributed throughout the world. I would like to invite you to rediscover this small-great treasure, this luminous commentary on the Gospel fully lived! The Story of a Soul, in fact, is a marvelous story of Love, recounted with such authenticity, simplicity and freshness that the reader cannot but be fascinated! But what is this Love that filled Therese’s whole life, from childhood to death? Dear friends, this Love has a Face, it has a Name, it is Jesus! The Saint speaks continuously of Jesus. We want therefore to retrace the major stages of her life, so as to enter into the heart of her doctrine.

Therese was born on 2 January 1873 in Alençon, a city in Normandy, France. She was the last daughter of Louis and Zélie Martin, exemplary spouses and parents, beatified together on 19 October 2008. They had nine children, four of whom died at a tender age. Five daughters were left, who all became religious. Therese, at the age of four, was deeply upset by the death of her mother (Ms A, 13r). Her father then moved with his daughters to the town of Lisieux, where the Saint spent the rest of her life. Later on Therese, struck by a serious nervous illness, was healed by a divine grace, which she herself defined as the “smile of Our Lady” (ibid, 29v-30v). She then lived intensely receiving her First Communion (ibid, 35r), and put Jesus Eucharist at the centre of her life.

The “Grace of Christmas” 1886 marked the great turning-point, which she called her “complete conversion” (ibid, 44v-45r). She was healed, in fact, totally from her childhood hyper-sensitivity and began the “race of a giant”. At the age of fourteen, Therese with great faith became ever closer to Jesus Crucifed, and took to her heart the apparently desperate case of a criminal, condemned to death and impenitent (ibid, 45v-46v). “I wanted at all costs to prevent him from falling into hell”, wrote the Saint, with the certainty that her prayers would put him in contact with the redeeming Blood of Jesus. It was her first and fundamental experience of spiritual motherhood: “I had such great trust in the Infinite Mercy of Jesus”, she wrote. With Mary Most Holy, the young Therese loved, believed and hoped with “a mother’s heart” (cf PR 6/10r).

In November 1887, Therese made a pilgrimage to Rome with her father and her sister Céline (ibid, 55v-67r). For her, the culminating moment was the Audience with Pope Leo XIII, whom she asked for permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux at just fifteen. A year later, her desire was realised: she became a Carmelite, “to save souls and to pray for priests” (ibid, 69v). Contemporaneously the painful and humiliating mental illness of her father began. It was a great suffering that led Thérèse to the contemplation of the Face of Jesus in his Passion (ibid, 71rv). Thus, her name as a religious — Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face — expresses the programme of her whole life, in communion with the central Mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption. Her religious profession, on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, 8 September 1890, was for her a true spiritual espousal in evangelical “littleness”, characterized by the symbol of the flower: “What a beautiful feast the Nativity of Mary on which to become the spouse of Jesus! - she wrote - It was the little new-born Holy Virgin who presented her little Flower to the little Jesus” (ibid, 77r). For Therese, to be a religious was to be spouse of Jesus and mother of souls (cf Ms B, 2v). The same day, the Saint wrote a prayer which shows the whole orientation of her life: she asked Jesus for the gift of his infinite Love, of being the littlest, and above all she asked for the salvation of all men: “That no soul may be damned today” (Pr 2). Of great importance is her Offering to Merciful Love, made on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity in 1895 (Ms A, 83v-84r; Pr 6); an offering that Therese, being already vice-mistress of the novices, shared immediately with her sisters.

Ten years after the “Grace of Christmas” came the “Grace of Easter” in 1896, which opened the last period of Therese’s life, with the beginning of her passion in profound union with the Passion of Jesus. It was a passion of the body, with the illness that led to her death through great suffering, but it was above all a passion of the soul, with a most painful trial of faith (Ms C, 4v-7v). With Mary beside the Cross of Jesus, Therese then lived the most heroic faith, as a light in the darkness that invaded her soul. The Carmelite sister was conscious of living this great trial for the salvation of all the atheists of the modern world, whom she called “brothers”. She then lived fraternal love even more intensely (8r-33v): for the sisters of her community, for her two spiritual missionary brothers, for priests and for all people, especially the most distant. She truly became a “universal sister”! Her lovable and smiling charity was the expression of the profound joy whose secret she reveals to us: “Jesus, my joy is loving You” (P 45/7). In this context of suffering, by living the greatest love in the littlest things of daily life, the Saint brought to fulfilment her vocation to be Love in the heart of the Church (cf Ms B, 3v).

Therese died on the evening of 30 September 1897, uttering the simple words, “My God, I love you!”, looking at the Crucifix she clutched in her hands. These last words of the Saint are the key to her whole doctrine, to her interpretation of the Gospel. The act of love, expressed in her last breath, was like the continual breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart. The simple words "Jesus I love You" are at the centre of all her writings. The act of love for Jesus immersed her in the Most Holy Trinity. She wrote: “Ah, you know, Divine Jesus I love You / The spirit of Love enflames me with his fire, / It is in loving You that I attract the Father.”

Dear friends, we too, with St Therese of the Child Jesus, must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love in an authentic and total way. Therese is one of the Gospel's “little ones" who let themselves be led by God into the depths of his Mystery. A guide for everyone, above all for those who, in the People of God, carry out the ministry of theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Therese entered continually into the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this reading of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not opposed to academic science. The science of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks in the last page of The Story of a Soul, is the highest science. “All the saints have understood and in a more particular way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that the saints Paul, Augustine, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic and so many other illustrious Friends of God have drawn this divine science that fascinates the greatest geniuses?” (Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, the Eucharist is for Therese the Sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to extremes so as to raise us to Him. In her last Letter, on a picture that showed the Child Jesus in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who, for me, made himself so little! […] I love Him! In fact, He is nothing but Love and Mercy!”

In the Gospel, Therese discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point of affirming: “To me He has given his infinite Mercy, through it I contemplate and adore his other divine perfections! (..) Thus all appear to me radiant with Love, Justice itself (even more perhaps than the rest) seems to me clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r). She also expresses herself thus in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “As soon as I look at the Holy Gospel, at once I breathe the fragrances of the life of Jesus and I know which way to run .. It is not to the first place that I rush, but to the last …. Yes I feel, even if I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, with my heart broken with repentance, to throw myself into the arms of Jesus, because I know how much he loves the prodigal son who returns to Him" (Ms C 36v-37r). “Trust and Love” are thus the final point of the tale of her life, two words that like beacons illuminated her whole pathway of holiness, so as to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf MS C, 2v-3r; LT 226). Trust like that of a child who abandons himself into the hands of God, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of oneself/self, for ever, as the Saint said contemplating Mary: “To love is to give all, and to give oneself” (Because I love you, O Mary, P 54/22). Thus Therese indicates to us all that Christian life consists in fully living the grace of Baptism in the total gift of oneself to the Love of the Father, so as to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, His same love for everyone else/all the others. Thank you."

Saint Thérèse - Letter 142

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord” (Is 55,8). Merit does not consist in doing or giving much, but rather in receiving, in loving much. It is said, it is much sweeter to give than to receive,(Acts 20,35) and it is true. But when Jesus wills to take for Himself the sweetness of giving, it would not be gracious to refuse. Let us allow Him to take and give all He wills. Perfection consists in doing His will, and the soul that surrenders itself totally to Him is called by Jesus Himself "His mother, His sister," and His whole family (Mt 12,50). And elsewhere: "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word (that is, he will do my will) and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him" (Jn 14,23). Oh, how easy it is to please Jesus, to delight His Heart, one has only to love Him, without looking at one's self, without examining one's faults too much.

Your Therese is not in the heights at this moment, but Jesus is teaching her to learn to draw profit from everything, from the good and the bad she finds in herself. He is teaching her to play at the bank of love, or rather He plays for her and does not tell her how He goes about it, for that is His affair and not Therese's. What she must do is abandon herself, surrender herself, without keeping anything, not even the joy of knowing how much the bank is returning to her...

In fact, [spiritual] directors have others advance in perfection by having them perform a great number of acts of virtue, and they are right; but my director, Jesus, teaches me not to count my acts. He teaches me to do all through love, to refuse him nothing, to be content when he gives me a chance of proving to him that I love him. But this is done in peace, in abandonment; it is Jesus who is doing all in me, and I am doing nothing.

Erin-Thérèse & Heidi (from the US) both chose Thérèse on The Incredibles:

Erin-Thérèse      
"You never hear a phrase from St Therese that doesn't include the word 'love'. Her little way is to do small things with great love. Her motto was 'Love is repaid by love alone.' In speaking about God, she said 'I do not regret having given myself up to love.' This was her way of abandoning herself to God. She was in love with God, because she was in love with love. Even her last words were 'My God, I love you.'"

Heidi      
"Whenever I think of her, I think of love. She was so loved by her family, growing up, & then as a Carmelite, her love for God & for the Church was so evident. As she promised, when she went to heaven she would do good on earth, which is her love for us."

Brian, from England      
"The words that come into my mind are those of St Thérèse of Lixieux who said "She is queen and mother, but she is more mother than queen." And throughout my life that's what I have always found Our Blessed Lady to be and always there in the joys and the sorrows and the difficulties and the thanksgivings and someone who is there with us, our mother who loves us."

St John Paul II's homily, proclaiming St Thérèse a Doctor of the Church
Mission Sunday, 19 October 1997 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1. "Nations shall come to your light" (Is 60: 3). The echo of Epiphany already resounds in the words of the prophet Isaiah as a fervent expectation and luminous hope. It is precisely the connection with this solemnity that enables us to perceive more clearly this Sunday's missionary character. Isaiah's prophecy, in fact, broadens the perspective of salvation to all humanity, and thus anticipates the prophetic act of the Magi who, coming from the East to adore the divine Child born in Bethlehem (cf Mt 2: 1-12), proclaim and inaugurate the adherence of the nations to Christ's message.

All men are called to accept in faith the saving Gospel. The Church is sent to all peoples, all lands and cultures: "Go ... and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28: 19-20). These words, spoken by Christ before ascending into heaven, together with the promise he made to the Apostles and their successors that he would be with them until the end of the world (cf Mt 28: 20), are the essence of the missionary mandate: in the person of his ministers, it is Christ himself who goes ad gentes, to those who have not yet received the proclamation of the faith.

2. Thérèse Martin, a discalced Carmelite of Lisieux, ardently desired to be a missionary. She was one, to the point that she could be proclaimed patroness of the missions. Jesus himself showed her how she could live this vocation: by fully practising the commandment of love, she would be immersed in the very heart of the Church's mission, supporting those who proclaim the Gospel with the mysterious power of prayer and communion. Thus she achieved what the Second Vatican Council emphasized in teaching that the Church is missionary by nature (cf Ad gentes, 2). Not only those who choose the missionary life but all the baptized are in some way sent ad gentes.

This is why I chose this missionary Sunday to proclaim St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face a doctor of the universal Church: a woman, a young person, a contemplative.

3. Everyone thus realizes that today something surprising is happening. St Thérèse of Lisieux was unable to attend a university or engage in systematic study. She died young: nevertheless, from this day forward she will be honoured as a Doctor of the Church, an outstanding recognition which raises her in the esteem of the entire Christian community far beyond any academic title.

Indeed, when the Magisterium proclaims someone a doctor of the Church, it intends to point out to all the faithful, particularly to those who perform in the Church the fundamental service of preaching or who undertake the delicate task of theological teaching and research, that the doctrine professed and proclaimed by a certain person can be a reference point, not only because it conforms to revealed truth, but also because it sheds new light on the mysteries of the faith, a deeper understanding of Christ's mystery. The Council reminded us that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, understanding of the "depositum fidei" continually grows in the Church, and not only does the richly contemplative study to which theologians are called, not only does the Magisterium of pastors, endowed with the "sure charism of truth", contribute to this growth process, but also that "profound understanding of spiritual things" which is given through experience, with the wealth and diversity of gifts, to all those who let themselves be docilely led by God's Spirit (cf Dei Verbum, 8). Lumen gentium, for its part, teaches that God himself "speaks to us" (50) in his saints. It is for this reason that the spiritual experience of the saints has a special value for deepening our knowledge of the divine mysteries, which remain ever greater than our thoughts, and not by chance does the Church choose only saints to be distinguished with the title of "doctor".

4. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face is the youngest of all the "doctors of the Church" , but her ardent spiritual journey shows such maturity, and the insights of faith expressed in her writings are so vast and profound that they deserve a place among the great spiritual masters.

In the Apostolic Letter which I wrote for this occasion, I stressed several salient aspects of her doctrine. But how can we fail to recall here what can be considered its high point, starting with the account of the moving discovery of her special vocation in the Church? "Charity", she wrote, "gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a heart and that this heart was burning with love. I understood that it was love alone that made the Church's members act, that if love were ever extinguished, apostles would not proclaim the Gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love includes all vocations.... Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: "O Jesus, my Love ... at last I have found my vocation; my vocation is Love!'" (Ms B, 3vº). This is a wonderful passage which suffices itself to show that one can apply to St Thérèse the Gospel passage we heard in the Liturgy of the Word: "I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes" (Mt 11: 25).

5. Thérèse of Lisieux did not only grasp and describe the profound truth of Love as the centre and heart of the Church, but in her short life she lived it intensely. It is precisely this convergence of doctrine and concrete experience, of truth and life, of teaching and practice, which shines with particular brightness in this saint, and which makes her an attractive model especially for young people and for those who are seeking true meaning for their life.

Before the emptiness of so many words, Thérèse offers another solution, the one Word of salvation which, understood and lived in silence, becomes a source of renewed life. She counters a rational culture, so often overcome by practical materialism, with the disarming simplicity of the "little way" which, by returning to the essentials, leads to the secret of all life: the divine Love that surrounds and penetrates every human venture. In a time like ours, so frequently marked by an ephemeral and hedonistic culture, this new doctor of the Church proves to be remarkably effective in enlightening the mind and heart of those who hunger and thirst for truth and love.

6. St Thérèse is presented as a doctor of the Church on the day we are celebrating World Mission Sunday. She had the ardent desire to dedicate herself to proclaiming the Gospel, and she would have liked to have crowned her witness with the supreme sacrifice of martyrdom (cf Ms B, 3rº). Moreover, her intense personal commitment supporting the apostolic work of Fr Maurice Bellière and Fr Adolphe Rulland, missionaries respectively in Africa and China, is well-known. In her zealous love for evangelization, Thérèse had one ideal, as she herself says: "What we ask of him is to work for his glory, to love him and to make him loved" (Letter 220).

The way she took to reach this ideal of life is not that of the great undertakings reserved for the few, but on the contrary, a way within everyone's reach, the "little way", a path of trust and total self-abandonment to the Lord's grace. It is not a prosaic way, as if it were less demanding. It is in fact a demanding reality, as the Gospel always is. But it is a way in which one is imbued with a sense of trusting abandonment to divine mercy, which makes even the most rigorous spiritual commitment light.

Because of this way in which she receives everything as "grace", because she puts her relationship with Christ and her choice of love at the centre of everything, because of the place she gives to the ardent impulses of the heart on her spiritual journey, Thérèse of Lisieux is a saint who remains young despite the passing years, and she is held up as an eminent model and guide on the path of Christians, as we approach the third millennium.

7. Therefore the Church' s joy is great on this day that crowns the expectations and prayers of so many who have understood, in requesting the title of doctor, this special gift of God and have supported its recognition and acceptance. We would all like to give thanks to the Lord together, particularly with the professors and students of Rome's ecclesiastical universities, who in recent days have begun the new academic year.

Yes, O Father, we bless you, together with Jesus (cf Mt 11: 25), because you have "hidden your secrets from the wise and understanding" and have revealed them to this "little one" whom today you hold up again for our attention and imitation.

Thank you for the wisdom you gave her, making her an exceptional witness and teacher of life for the whole Church!

Thank you for the love you poured out upon her and which continues to illumine and warm hearts, spurring them to holiness.

The desire Thérèse expressed to "spend her heaven doing good on earth" (Opere Complete, p 1050), continues to be fulfilled in a marvellous way.

Thank you Father, for making her close to us today with a new title, to the praise and glory of your name for ever and ever. Amen!"

Sr Mary of St Joseph ocd on the Carmelite Sisters      
"Today we experience the Church under attack in many different ways, suffering in many different ways, attacked from outside, suffering scandal and dissension from within, and we can easily resonate with Teresa's words when she said "The world is on fire. Don't let any more harm come to your Church, Lord." So today the Carmelites still desire to offer their lives in prayer for the Church, for all of humanity. Prayer understood as a relationship with God, we're invited, called by God, to a relationship of deep intimacy with him, to the point of coming to recognise our oneness with Him. We trust that by opening ourselves, opening our hearts fully to the love that God desires to bestow on everyone, to pour out on the whole world, that we can be channels of His love to others by receiving it as fully as we can ourselves."

3 2us by Fr Matthew Blake OCD       
"Thérèse lived a quiet, hidden and prayerful life but her holiness, her spirit is reaching the entire world and her spirit is changing the world."

(This was recorded during the visit of St Thérèse's relics to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 2009.)

Brian's Something about Mary       
"The words that come into my mind are those of St Thérèse of Lixieux who said "She is queen and mother, but she is more mother than queen." And throughout my life that's what I have always found her to be and always there in the joys and the sorrows and the difficulties and the thanksgivings and someone who is there with us, our mother who loves us."

Saint Thérèse - Autobiographical Manuscript (A, 45-46)

On that night of light [Christmas, at 14 years of age] began the third period of my life, the most beautiful and the most filled with graces from heaven... I could say to Him like His apostles: "Master, I fished all night and caught nothing." More merciful to me than He was to His disciples, ­Jesus took the net Himself, cast it, and drew it in filled with fish. He made me a fisher of souls. I experienced a great desire to work for the conversion of sinners.. The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded con­tinually in my heart: "I thirst!» These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls...

To awaken my zeal God showed me my desires were pleasing to Him. I heard talk of a great criminal just condemned to death for some horrible crimes; everything pointed to the fact that he would die impenitent. I wanted at all costs to prevent him from falling into hell... I felt in the depths of my heart certain that our desires would be granted, but to obtain courage to pray for sinners I told God I was sure he would pardon the poor, unfortunate Pranzini; that I'd believe this even if he went to his death without any signs of repentance or without having gone to confession. I was absolutely confident in the mercy of Jesus. But I was begging him for a 'sign' of repentance only for my own simple consolation. My prayer was answered to the letter!...

After this unique grace my desire to save souls grows each day, and I seemed to hear Jesus say what he said to the Samaritan woman: "Give me to drink!" It was a true interchange of love: to souls I was giving the blood of Jesus; to Jesus I was giving these same souls, refreshed by the divine dew. I slaked his thirst and the more I gave him to drink, the more the thirst of my poor, little soul increased, and it was this ardent thirst he was giving me as the most delightful drink of his love.

Homélie du Bienheureux Jean-Paul II
Lisieux, Lundi 2 juin 1980 - in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Je suis très heureux qu'il me soit donné de venir à Lisieux à l’occasion de ma visite dans la capitale de la France. Je suis ici en pèlerinage avec vous tous, chers Frères et Sœurs, qui êtes venus vous aussi de bien des régions de France, auprès de celle que nous aimons tant, la « petite Thérèse », dont la voie vers la sainteté est étroitement liée au Carmel de Lisieux. Si les personnes versées dans l’ascèse et la mystique, et ceux qui aiment les saints, ont pris l’habitude d’appeler cette voie de Sœur Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus « la petite voie », il est tout à fait hors de doute que l’Esprit de Dieu, qui l’a guidée sur cette voie, la fait avec la même générosité que celle par laquelle il a guidé autrefois sa Patronne la « grande Thérèse » d’Avila, et par laquelle il a guidé ― et continue de guider ― tant d’autres saints dans son Eglise. Gloire Lui soit donc rendue éternellement!

L’Eglise se réjouit de cette merveilleuse richesse des dons spirituels, si splendides et si variés, comme le sont toutes les œuvres de Dieu dans l’univers visible et invisible. Chacun d’eux reflète à la fois le mystère intérieur de l’homme, et il correspond aux besoins des temps dans l’histoire de l’Eglise et de l’humanité. Il faut le dire de sainte Thérèse de Lisieux qui, jusqu’à une époque récente, fut en effet notre sainte « contemporaine ». C’est ainsi que je la vois personnellement, dans le cadre de ma vie. Mais est-elle toujours la sainte « contemporaine »? N’a-t-elle pas cessé de l’être pour la génération qui arrive actuellement à maturité dans l’Eglise? Il faudrait le demander aux hommes de cette génération. Qu’il me soit toutefois permis de noter que les saints ne vieillissent pratiquement jamais, qu’ils ne tombent jamais dans la « prescription ». Ils restent continuellement les témoins de la jeunesse de l’Eglise. Ils ne deviennent jamais des personnages du passé, des hommes et des femmes d’« hier ». Au contraire: ils sont toujours les hommes et les femmes du « lendemain », les hommes de l’avenir évangélique de l’homme et de l’Eglise, les témoins « du monde futur ».

2. « En effet, tous ceux qu’anime l’Esprit de Dieu sont fils de Dieu. Aussi bien n’avez-vous pas reçu un esprit d’esclaves pour retomber dans la crainte; vous avez reçu un esprit de fils adoptifs qui nous fait nous écrier: Abba! Père! ».

Il serait peut-être difficile de trouver paroles plus synthétiques, et en même temps plus saisissantes, pour caractériser le charisme particulier de Thérèse Martin, c’est-à-dire ce qui constitue le don tout à fait spécial de son cœur, et qui est devenu, par son cœur, un don particulier pour l’Eglise. Le don merveilleux dans sa simplicité, universel et en même temps unique. De Thérèse de Lisieux, on peut dire avec conviction que l’Esprit de Dieu a permis à son cœur de révéler directement, aux hommes de notre temps, le mystère fondamental, la réalité de l’Evangile: le fait d’avoir reçu réellement « un esprit de fils adoptifs qui nous fait nous écrier: Abba! Père! ». La « petite voie » est la voie de la « sainte enfance ». Dans cette voie, il y a quelque chose d’unique, un génie de sainte Thérèse de Lisieux. Il y a en même temps la confirmation et le renouvellement de la vérité la plus fondamentale et la plus universelle. Quelle vérité du message évangélique est en effet plus fondamentale et plus universelle que celle-ci: Dieu est notre Père et nous sommes ses enfants?

Cette vérité la plus universelle qui soit, cette réalité, a été également « relue » de nouveau avec la foi, l’espérance et l’amour de Thérèse de Lisieux. Elle a été en certain sens redécouverte avec l’expérience intérieure de son cœur et la forme prise par toute sa vie, seulement vingt-quatre années de sa vie. Lorsqu’elle mourut ici, au Carmel, victime de la tuberculose dont elle portait depuis longtemps les bacilles, c’était presque un enfant. Elle a laissé le souvenir de l’enfant: de la sainte enfance. Et toute sa spiritualité a confirmé encore une fois la vérité de ces paroles de l’Apôtre: « Aussi bien n’avez-vous pas reçu un esprit d’esclaves pour retomber dans la crainte; vous avez reçu un esprit de fils adoptifs... ». Oui. Thérèse fut l’enfant. Elle fut l’enfant « confiant » jusqu’à l’héroïsme, et par conséquent « libre » jusqu’à l’héroïsme. Mais c’est justement parce que ce fut jusqu’à l’héroïsme, qu’elle seule connut la saveur intérieure et aussi le prix intérieur de cette confiance qui empêche de « retomber dans la crainte »; de cette confiance qui, jusque dans les obscurités et les souffrances les plus profondes de l’âme, permet de s’écrier: « Abba! Père! »

Oui, elle a connu cette saveur et ce prix. Pour qui lit attentivement son Histoire d’une âme, il est évident que cette saveur de la confiance filiale provient, comme le parfum des roses, de la tige qui porte aussi des épines. Si en effet « nous sommes enfants, nous sommes donc héritiers; héritiers de Dieu et cohéritiers du Christ, puisque nous souffrons avec Lui pour être aussi glorifiés avec Lui ». C’est pour cela, précisément, que la confiance filiale de la petite Thérèse, sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus mais aussi « de la Sainte-Face », est si « héroïque », parce qu'elle provient de la fervente communion aux souffrances du Christ.

Et quand je vois devant moi tous ces malades et infirmes, je pense qu’ils sont associés eux aussi, comme Thérèse de Lisieux, à la passion du Christ, et que, grâce à leur foi en l’amour de Dieu, grâce a leur propre amour, leur offrande spirituelle obtient mystérieusement pour l’Eglise, pour tous les autres membres du Corps mystique du Christ, un surcroît de vigueur. Qu’ils n’oublient jamais cette belle phrase de sainte Thérèse: « Dans le cœur de l’Eglise ma Mère je serai l’amour ». Je prie Dieu de donner à chacun de ces amis souffrants, que j’aime avec une affection toute spéciale, le réconfort et l’espérance.

3. Avoir confiance en Dieu comme Thérèse de Lisieux veut dire suivre la « petite voie » où nous guide l’Esprit de Dieu: il guide toujours vers la grandeur à laquelle participent les fils et les filles de l’adoption divine. Déjà comme enfant, comme enfant de douze ans, le Fils de Dieu a déclaré que sa vocation était de s’occuper des choses de son Père. Etre enfant, devenir comme un enfant, veut dire entrer au centre même de la plus grande mission à laquelle l’homme ait été appelé par le Christ, une mission qui traverse le cœur même de l'homme. Elle le savait parfaitement, Thérèse.

Cette mission tire son origine de l’amour éternel du Père. Le Fils de Dieu comme homme, d’une manière visible et « historique », et l’Esprit Saint, de façon invisible et « charismatique », l’accomplissent dans l’histoire de l’humanité.

Lorsque, au moment de quitter le monde, le Christ dit aux Apôtres: « Allez dans le monde entier, et enseignez l’Evangile à toute créature », il les insère, par la force de son mystère pascal, dans le grand courant de la Mission éternelle. A partir du moment où il les a laissés pour aller vers le Père, il commence en même temps à venir « de nouveau dans la puissance de l’Esprit Saint » que le Père envoie en son nom. Plus profondément que toutes les vérités sur l’Eglise, cette vérité a été mise en relief dans la conscience de notre génération par le Concile Vatican II. Grâce à cela, nous avons tous beaucoup mieux compris que l’Eglise est constamment « en état de mission », ce que veut dire le fait que toute l’Eglise est missionnaire. Et nous avons également mieux compris ce mystère particulier du cœur de la petite Thérèse de Lisieux, laquelle, à travers sa « petite voie », a été appelée à participer aussi pleinement et aussi fructueusement à la mission la plus élevée. C’est justement cette « petitesse » qu’elle aimait tant, la petitesse de l’enfant, qui lui a ouvert largement toute la grandeur de la Mission divine du salut, qui est la mission incessante de l’Eglise.

Ici, dans son Carmel, dans la clôture du couvent de Lisieux, Thérèse s’est sentie spécialement unie à toutes le missions et aux missionnaires de l’Eglise dans le monde entier. Elle s’est sentie elle-même « missionnaire », présente par la force et la grâce particulières de l’Esprit d’amour à tous le postes missionnaires, proche de tous les missionnaires, hommes et femmes, dans le monde. Elle a été proclamée par l’Eglise la patronne des missions, comme saint François Xavier, qui voyagea inlassablement en Extrême-Orient: oui, elle, la petite Thérèse de Lisieux, enfermée dans la clôture carmélitaine, apparemment détachée du monde.

Je suis heureux de pouvoir venir ici peu de temps après ma visite dans le continent africain, et, face à cette admirable « missionnaire », de rendre au Père de la vérité et de l’amour éternels tout ce qui, dans la puissance du Fils et de l’Esprit Saint, est déjà le fruit du travail missionnaire de l’Eglise parmi les hommes et les peuples du continent noir. Je voudrais en même temps, si je puis m’exprimer ainsi, me faire prêter par Thérèse de Lisieux, le regard perspicace de sa foi, sa simplicité et sa confiance, en un mot la « petitesse » juvénile de son cœur, pour proclamer devant toute l’Eglise combien la moisson est abondante, et pour demander comme elle, pour demander au Maître de la moisson d’envoyer, avec une générosité plus grande encore, des ouvriers dans sa moisson. Qu’Il les envoie malgré tous les obstacles et toutes le difficultés qu’Il rencontre dans le cœur de l’homme, dans l’histoire de l’homme.

En Afrique, j’ai bien souvent pensé: quelle foi, quelle énergie spirituelle avaient donc ces missionnaires du siècle dernier ou de la première moitié de ce siècle, et tous ces Instituts missionnaires qui se sont fondés, pour partir sans hésiter dans ces pays alors inconnus, dans le seul but de faire connaître l’Evangile, de faire naître l’Eglise! Ils y voyaient avec raison une œuvre indispensable au salut. Sans leur audace, sans leur sainteté, les Eglises locales dont nous venons de célébrer le centenaire, et qui sont désormais guidées surtout par des évêques africains, n'auraient jamais existé. Chers Frères et Sœurs, ne perdons pas cet élan!

En fait, je sais que vous ne voulez pas vous y résoudre. Je salue parmi vous les anciens évêques missionnaires, témoins du zèle dont je parlais. La France a encore beaucoup de missionnaires de par le monde, prêtres, religieux, religieuses et laïcs, et certains Instituts se sont ouverts à la mission.

Je vois ici les membres du chapitre des Missions Etrangères de Paris, et j’évoque le bienheureux Théophane Vénard dont le martyre en Extrême-Orient fut une lumière et un appel pour Thérèse. Je pense aussi à tous les prêtres français qui consacrent au moins quelques années au service des jeunes Eglises, dans le cadre de Fidei donum. Aujourd’hui, on comprend d’ailleurs mieux la nécessité d’un échange fraternel entre les jeunes et les vieilles Eglises, au bénéfice des deux. Je sais par exemple que les Œuvres pontificales missionnaires, en liaison avec la Commission épiscopale des Missions à l’extérieur, ne visent pas seulement à susciter l’entraide matérielle, mais à former l’esprit missionnaire des chrétiens de France, et je m’en réjouis. Cet élan missionnaire ne peut surgir et porter des fruits qu’à partir d’une plus grande vitalité spirituelle, du rayonnement de la sainteté.

4. « Le beau existe afin qu’il nous enchante pour le travail », a écrit Cyprian Norwid, l’un des plus grands poètes et penseurs qu'ait donné la terre polonaise, et qu’a reçu ― et conservé au cimetière de Montmorency ― la terre française...

Rendons grâces au Père, au Fils et au Saint-Esprit pour les saints. Rendons grâces pour sainte Thérèse de Lisieux. Rendons grâces pour la beauté profonde, simple et pure, qui s’est manifestée en elle à l’Eglise et au monde. Cette beauté enchante. Et Thérèse de Lisieux a un don particulier pour enchanter par la beauté de son âme. Même si nous savons tous que cette beauté fut difficile et qu’elle a grandi dans la souffrance, elle ne cesse de réjouir de son charme particulier les yeux de nos âmes.

Elle enchante, donc, cette beauté, cette fleur de la sainteté qui a grandi sur ce sol; et son charme ne cesse de stimuler nos cœurs à travailler: « Le beau existe afin qu’il nous enchante pour le travail ». Pour le travail le plus important, dans lequel l’homme apprend à fond le mystère de son humanité. Il découvre en lui-même ce que signifie avoir reçu « un esprit de fils adopti », radicalement différent d’« un esprit d’esclave », et il commence à s’écrier de tout son être: « Abba! Père! ».

Par les fruits de ce magnifique travail intérieur se construit l’Eglise, le Règne de Dieu sur la terre, dans sa substance la plus profonde et la plus fondamentale. Et le cri « Abba! Père! », qui résonne largement dans tous les continents de notre planète, revient aussi par son écho dans la clôture carmélitaine silencieuse, à Lisieux, vivifiant toujours de nouveau le souvenir de la petite Thérèse, laquelle, par sa vie brève et cachée mais si riche, a prononcé avec une force particulière: « Abba! Père! ». Grâce à elle, l’Eglise entière a retrouvé toute la simplicité et toute la fraîcheur de ce cri, qui a son origine et sa source dans le cœur du Christ lui-même."

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