Today we celebrate the one year anniversary of our blog – and the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. Just last weekend her relics were being venerated at the Little Flower Basilica here in town. We were unable to go, but there’s just something comforting about the fact that she was “in town” for the weekend. Of course, she is always around, no farther away than a prayer, and her powerful intercession has been felt by each of us at different times throughout our lives.
She is the youngest doctor of the Church, and the most recent, being declared a doctor only 100 years after her death in 1897.
Here are a few excerpts from Pope John Paul II’s (himself soon to be declared a saint, and perhaps one day a doctor of the church) apostolic letter proclaiming St. Therese a doctor of the universal church. Note his point that her special wisdom and insight was not arrived at by any special education or training, but it was light received through prayer. Prayer is something each of us can do, regardless of education, employment, or vocation.
From Divini Amoris Scientia:
During her life Therese discovered “new lights, hidden and mysterious meanings” (Ms. A, 83v°) and received from the divine teacher that “knowledge of love” which she then expressed with particular originality in her writings (cf, Ms. B, lr°). This knowledge is the luminous expression of her understanding of the mystery of the kingdom and of her personal experience of grace. It can be considered a special charism of Gospel wisdom which Therese, like other saints and teachers of faith, attained in prayer (cf. Ms. C, 36r&3176;).
The pastors of the church, beginning with my predecessors, the supreme pontiffs of this century, who held up her holiness as an example for all also stressed that Therese is a teacher of the spiritual life with a doctrine both spiritual and profound, which she drew from the Gospel sources under the guidance of the divine Teacher and then imparted to her brothers and sisters in the church with the greatest effectiveness (cf. Ms. B, 2v&3176;-3&3176;).
First of all, we find a special charism of wisdom. This young Carmelite, without any particular theological training but illumined by the light of the Gospel, feels she is being taught by the divine Teacher who, as she says, is “the Doctor of doctors” (Ms. A, 83v), and from him she receives “divine teachings” (Ms. B, lr°). She feels that the words of Scripture are fulfilled in her: “Whoever is a little one, let him come to me…. For to him that is little, mercy shall be shown” (Ms. B, NO,- cf, Prv. 9:4; Wis. 6:6) and she knows she is being instructed in the science of love, hidden from the wise and prudent, which the divine Teacher deigned to reveal to her, as to babes (Ms. A, 49r; cf Lk. 10:21-22).
Despite her inadequate training and lack of resources for studying and interpreting the sacred books, Therese immersed herself in meditation on the word of God with exceptional faith and spontaneity. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit she attained a profound knowledge of revelation for herself and for others. By her loving concentration on Scripture – she even wanted to learn Hebrew and Greek to understand better the spirit and letter of the sacred books — she showed the importance of the biblical sources in the spiritual life, she emphasized the originality and freshness of the Gospel, she cultivated with moderation the spiritual exegesis of the word of God in both the Old and New Testaments. Thus she discovered hidden treasures, appropriating words and episodes, sometimes with supernatural boldness as when, in reading the texts of St. Paul (cf. I Cor. 12-13), she realized her vocation to love (cf Ms. B, 3r&3176;-3v&3176;). Enlightened by the revealed word, Therese wrote brilliant pages on the unity between love of God and love of neighbor (cf Ms. C, I IV19r&3176;); and she identified with Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper as the expression of her intercession for the salvation of all (cf. Ms. C, 34r&3176;-35r&3176;).
Therese is a woman who in approaching the Gospel knew how to grasp its hidden wealth with that practicality and deep resonance of life and wisdom which belong to the feminine genius. Because of her universality, she stands out among the multitude of holy women who are resplendent for their Gospel wisdom.
Therese is also a contemplative. In the hiddenness of her Carmel she lived the great adventure of Christian experience to the point of knowing the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love (cf, Eph. 3:18-19). God did not want his secrets to remain hidden, but enabled Therese to proclaim the secrets of the King (cf. Ms. C, 2v&3176;). By her life, Therese offers a witness and theological illustration of the beauty of the contemplative life as the total dedication to Christ, spouse of the church, and as an affirmation of God’s primacy over all things. Hers is a hidden life which possesses a mysterious fruitfulness for spreading the Gospel and fills the church and the world with the sweet odor of Christ (cf. LT 169, 2v&3176;).
Last, Therese of Lisieux is a young person. She reached the maturity of holiness in the prime of youth (cf. Ms. C, 4r°). As such, she appears as a teacher of evangelical life, particularly effective in illumining the paths of young people, who must be the leaders and witnesses of the Gospel to the new generations.
Therese of the Child Jesus is not only the youngest doctor of the church, but is also the closest to us in time, as if to emphasize the continuity with which the Spirit of the Lord sends his messengers to the church, men and women as teachers and witnesses to the faith[…]Therese is a teacher for our time, which thirsts for living and essential words, for heroic and credible acts of witness.
St. Therese, Little Doctor of Divine Love, pray for us!