At the rate the world goes, a century-old is enough to cast into oblivion most of the works of man, yet upon the message of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus the passing of more than hundred years has set no mark of age. Nothing in it grows old. It is as vitally important now as ever. It has the perpetual youth of the truth, or we should rather say, of God. Adapted from The Spirituality of St. Thérèse: An Introduction. Author, Abbé André Combes
It is true that our Saint knew nothing of the advances in science which have modified so profoundly the conditions in which we live, nor did she experience the two great wars, which threatened and still threaten, our very existence. She did not suspect the coming of the atomic age which we have now entered and which promises such untold destruction. She was happily ignorant of the pitiable nonsense that masks itself under the name of philosophy, as she too of the political rivalries which tear nations asunder at a time when there is every motive for men to put aside folly and to strive for unity.
Nevertheless, of all our contemporaries, she is the most up-to-date, just because she despised the flattering illusions of sense, and made herself so to say, the contemporary of Him who was yesterday, who is today and who will be forever, Jesus and Him Crucified.
When she buried herself behind the grille of Carmel, Thérèse Martin knew that she was taking the most direct route to glory, but the glory to which she aspired was in heaven. On this earth, she asked only to be forgotten. While this young girl, whose education would not be considered very advanced—she had no degrees or certificates not any technical equipment for a worldly career—while she chose the living death of a cloister, life went on busily outside and many men played prominent parts upon the world’s stage. Is there any need now to exhume them to ask whether they have left us any living message? From our point of view they are absolutely dumb. They have no power to move our enthusiasm or to guide our lives. Because they chose this passing life, they themselves have passed away together with the life they loved. Let the dead bury their dead.
Living, on the contrary, indeed very living the charming work of this unsophisticated nun. We cannot say she had no suspicion of her posthumous glory, but we can certainly say that she had no purpose of achieving, as she has done, the conquest of the world. Though she was ignorant of the fierce political rivalries of her contemporaries, yet she spoke a language far more suited than theirs to the deepest needs of the day.
Compared with the life of this young saint of our own times, the lives of any others, be they writers, scientists, artists, politicians, what you will, are but ephemeral, trivial or even harmful. Her life was an integral Christian life, a life of complete sacrifice to God who alone is essential life, and therefore the book that mirrors it is a living thing. The life she lived was so perfect that its history in her own living words has not only produced an invaluable psychological masterpiece , but during fifty years has circulated in all countries of the world, and produced more evidences to her constant activity and unfailing help than any other biography which the world has ever known.
The best of her contemporary writers are no greater than their works. Far different is St. Teesa. She surpasses what she has written; she prolongs it; she consecrated it by an activity that is living, still living in our midst. She is with us in all our sufferings; she sustains all our hopes; she gives us courage for the future. The outlook, to human eyes, may be dark, but she assures us that whatever may come to pass will be a grace from God. “I am never disappointed, because I am always pleased with what God does. I have no desire beyond His will.”
In order to understand her continuous, if unobtrusive, active, to give it our effective cooperation, to be filled with her true spirit, we must never cease to study her early days, when God was preparing her for her providential mission. We shall learn to understand the supernatural messages that now come in such abundance, if we give our close attention to the simpler lessons of her autobiography.
This we have tried to do, and now finally we shall attempt to single out the essential characteristic of the message of resurrection and life which today God gives to the world by His faithful mouthpiece, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
To put it in one word, the message she has for the world today is a message of purity.
We do not mean purity in the restricted sense the words usually bears. In that sense, indeed, it does form part of St. Thérèse’s message, as Pius XI noted in his discourse of 29th March, 1925. “At a period,” he said “when impurity and sensuality are rampant (what would he have said of today, twenty years later?), Thérèse of the Child Jesus is a delightfully attractive vision of simplicity and purity.” We are trying now, however, to transcend any particular virtue in order to reach, if possible, the very essence of her message. We do not think we are running any risk of mistake when we define it as an extraordinary purity.
Thérèse, in her love of the absolute, always tried to make perfect the chief elements of her life and thought. The result of this characteristic was that her soul tended of simplify everything by attempting to reach the purity of its essence, and assimilating it only when it was so purified. But the laws of the supernatural life are such that this simplification and purification lead not to essence reduced to their formal constituents, but the living God. Now the living God is one and the same with the God of Christian revelation. The purity, then, of St. Thérèse’s message consists in its unswerving agreement with the teaching of the Gospel. If a historian is careful to set aside prejudice and to deal objectively with his texts, he will find this constant agreement to be a most remarkable phenomenon.
Let us take some striking examples in illustration of our meaning.
St. Thérèse’s holiness is pure holiness, that is to say, holiness reduced in some way to its essence, and therefore her life shows nothing but holiness.
If we consider the other saints, we shall usually find external manifestations, more or less striking, on their holiness, strictly so-called. Thus we have the blood of the martyrs, the writings of the doctors, the austerities of the ascetics, the various labors of the confessors, the virgins and the holy women, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, the visions of St. Bernadette, the orphans of St. Vincent de Paul, of St. John Bosco or of Pere Brottier. With St. Thérèse, it is simply her rule, and that, for her and for one who judges from without, is synonymous with an absence of active of active works. “I have not accomplished anything,” She used to say, and in a sense it was true. But she had that disposition of the heart by which she surrendered herself without reserve to God who dwelt within her, and her desire was that He Himself should be her holiness.
In this direction she went to the utmost possible extreme. While she renounced all activity of her own choice, Thérèse willed that her Creator should be the source of all her moral life. This determination to depend absolutely upon Him, this clinging to the first source of all being and action, made of the smallest details of her life works of sanctity, thus transforming her life, which was so simple and so devoid of outward importance, into a pure transparency of God.
This fundamental union with God is a union of love, and of pure love.
It goes without saying that her love was pure in the classical sense that she did not love God for the sake of the reward, though, nevertheless, she trusted in Him to bestow it. That is obvious and not in any special way characteristic of her. But what we mean is that she possessed that holy disposition of heart which found all its joy in God, by which she clung to God her Father wish all the strength of her will in utter self-abandonment, by which she was consciously united to Him, not by the uncreated Love Himself. For at length God took the fullest possession of the heart which she had offered Him as a holocaust and consumed it to its lowest depths by the fire of His Love.
True it is that the uncreated Love dwells in every Christian soul which is in the state of Grace, but how few realize this presence and cling, when trials come, with all the fibers of this being, purely and simply, to the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of Love! How many there are who find it difficult to believe that God is actually and essentially Love! Sorrows overwhelm them, anxieties distress them, the darkness envelops them. . . “Oh yes! There is a God, but does He love us?”
“Yes, He is Love Itself,” replies Thérèse, at the very moment when her interior crucifixion is at its height and her supreme temptation at hand. He is Love and therefore infinitely merciful. “I love Him, as He is. That is all. In Him, by Him, for Him, I wish to be love and nothing more.”
Thus the prayer of our Saint becomes pure prayer, for it is the utter self-abandonment of her soul to the unceasing work within her for her sanctification of the infinite Love. She has no thought of self; she is never discouraged; she is never hurt by the apparent indifference of her Best-Beloved. The more He hides Himself from her, the more she thanks Him.
For, from this pure sanctity, from this heart given over to the pure love of God, from this pure prayer, arises a pure spiritual life, which grows to ever greater strength. Some books may have helped this little Carmelite, but in reality no other theologian formed her save Love Himself.