VISIT OF THE RELICS OF ST THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX
OUR LADY OF LOURDES, MEDICAL MISSIONARIES OF MARY
21 MAY 2001
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
Thank God for this visit of the relics of St. Thérèse to our country, to our diocese, to the town of Drogheda and to the Medical Missionaries of Mary. It is a sign that God is granting Thérèse her wish, which she expressed in one of her final conversations when she said, “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth”.
Already we have seen the good that is being done – people taking time to come and visit. People getting to know more about this most popular of saints by reading the story of her life. People going to Confession and seeking pardon for their sins. People asking St. Thérèse to intercede with the Father for us. We pray that her message – that God reveals the secrets of His life to those who become like little children – we pray that, that message may become more widely known and accepted.
I have heard people asking these days, what do we mean when we say that St. Thérèse is a Doctor of the Church. Obviously she is not a medical doctor, although her intercession and her merits can indeed produce a healing of mind and soul. A Doctor of the Church is someone who has something to teach us about God and about our relationship with God. In 1997 Pope John Paul II declared St. Thérèse’s life and teaching to be worthy of imitation. He said that through her life and writing Thérèse had made the Gospel shine out with great appeal and great attraction for the people of our time.
It is well known that within a few years of her death – through the influence of her own life story entitled The Story of a Soul – Thérèse inspired the faith of countless thousands. Many soldiers, especially during the First World War, turned to her in prayer for help.
Now the basic facts of her life are easily told. Born in Normandy in France in 1873, Thérèse was the ninth child of Louis and Zelie Martin. Four of the children died in infancy or early childhood. Their mother died of breast cancer when Thérèse was four and half years old. Their father was an outstanding Christian. He made sure that his family was brought up in the practice and knowledge of their faith. Probably one effect of her mother’s early death was that Thérèse was shy and very sensitive. Her schooldays were not happy as she was constantly bullied by an older girl.
Gradually Thérèse regained her self-confidence and reached the conclusion that she was being called by God to enter religious life. She showed her strong will in her persistent pleading with the Church authorities, even with the Pope, that she be allowed to enter despite the fact that she was too young.
She got her way and entered the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux when she was fifteen, where she spent the remaining nine years of her short life. It was a life of obscurity, behind the walls of the convent, following out the routine of the Carmelite Order. It was a life dedicated to prayer and reading and to work. It was a life of enduring with patience, the many trials and sufferings that came her way, but trying to do all things with love. She became ill with tuberculosis and died peacefully on September 30, 1897 at the age of twenty-four.
The fact that she said she wanted to spend her heaven doing good on earth, shows that she understood very clearly the three different states of the Church. At the present time, some of the followers of Christ, like ourselves for instance, are pilgrims here on earth. Others have died and are being purified. Still others are saints in glory, contemplating God in full life. Because the saints are more closely united to Christ, they do not cease to intercede. They are interceding all the time on our behalf. They offer the merits, which they acquired here on earth, to God, on our behalf. Thérèse was quite clear that the love, which Christ has for each one of us, is the source in us, of all our merits before God. Like a child she asked everything from God.
She believed firmly in the immense love which God has for each one of us and which was revealed in Jesus Christ. Thérèse believed deeply that God desires, despite our many faults and failings, to draw us into His love and to shower us with the fruits of that love. She thought often and long about the death of Christ on the cross. She came to see that God was calling her to respond to that love. She said, “In the end we will be judged on love alone”. Another time she said, “the Church must have a heart, a heart burning with love. This love alone is the true force which enables all the other members of the Church to act. Love in fact is THE vocation which includes all others”. “Lord” she prayed on one occasion “I want to work for your love alone. In the evening of this life” she said, “I shall appear before you with empty hands for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. I wish them to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love, the eternal possession of yourself. I have come to understand this” she said, “without love, all works are nothing else”.
It would be a great mistake to give the impression that for Thérèse, her faith was always clear. For years it was so and she says that for years she simply could not understand how anyone could be an atheist. But all of that was to change. About a year and a half before her death, her dark night of faith began. The foundations of her faith were shaken. All the joy and peace that she used to have in believing, vanished.
She described the experience in these words, “Jesus allowed me to experience for myself that there really are souls who have no faith, or have lost the faith. He allowed my soul to be covered with the thickest darkness and let the thoughts of heaven, which had always been my joy, become instead a cause of nothing but strain and torment”. Thérèse compared the experience to a journey through a dark tunnel, a tunnel which continued without relief or ray of light. It was to continue during the last months of her life, until her death. She describes this darkness as if it were mocking at her faith and hope. “There is no beyond” the voice seemed to say, “there is nothing beyond”. She was tempted to believe that one day the scientists would be able to explain it all away.
Thérèse’s answer to difficulties in prayer was to keep on praying. “For me” she said, “prayer is a surge of the heart. It is a simple look towards heaven. It is a cry of recognition and of love, which embraces both trial and joy”.
In the same way her answer to difficulties in faith was to keep on believing. She once wrote out the Creed in blood. Her desire was to live her faith through tears and troubles. She came to see that faith is a commitment of the whole person, which lies beyond seeing or feeling. “I have made more acts of faith in the past weeks” she said “than during the rest of my life”.
Lots of people are tempted like that, to give up their faith or to believe that faith is useless. May St Thérèse help them and all of us, to believe more firmly.