Therese’ Doctoral Dissertation
01 October 2021, Friday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin, Doctor of the Church and Patroness of Missions
Lk 10: 13-16
Today, two popular devotions are being celebrated. Being the 1st Friday of the month, we express our devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. And today, the 1st of October, we celebrate the memorial of St Therese of the Child Jesus who was described by St Pope Pius X as the greatest saint of modern times. What is the connection of these two?
Jesus’ sacred heart reveals to us God’s tenderness and love for all. But how come that in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is so harsh and impatient to the obstinate people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum? Let us read the text in context. Such places have witnessed Jesus’ mighty works and heard His words. But instead of accepting Jesus, they rejected Him. They’re no different to the people to whom prophet Baruch in the 1st reading prophesied by saying, “For we did not heed the voice of the Lord our God… each one went off after the devices of his own wicked heart, served other gods and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God.” (Bar 1:22) Having rejected Jesus, they have rejected the Father. St Augustine said, “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.” The gifts of mercy and love can take place if only we accept in humility God, the Giver of such gifts. What about Therese?
Therese showed the face of God as mercy by reaching out to those who are not lovable, are struggling and are rejected. Therese chose the difficult path. But she did it, not with great strides, but by being “little”. At Carmel in Lisieux, Therese had a sister whom she considered as an irritant. What did she do? She said, “I did not remain content with praying a lot for this nun who caused me so much disturbance…and whenever I was tempted to speak unpleasantly to her, I made myself give her a pleasant smile and tried to change the subject. And after all this she asked me one day with a beaming face: ‘Sister Therese, will you please tell me what attracts you so much to me? You give me such a charming smile whenever we meet.’ Ah! it was Jesus hidden in the depth of her soul who attracted me, Jesus who makes the bitterest things sweet!” What can we learn from this experience of Therese? We cannot change the person but we can change our perspective of that person for the love of God.
Therese was a contemplative nun but she struggled with prayer. She understood well those who are struggling too. Therese corresponded with a seminarian Maurice who was struggling with his vocation. They exchanged 21 letters over the last two years of Therese’ life, and their exchanges were deep, intimate, affectionate, comforting, and filled with love. Thérèse was a saint, and Maurice was not. Once, Maurice mentioned to Therese how sorry he was for doing such “worst blunder of all”. Replying, Therese simply poured out her love to Maurice, despite all his weakness. In a letter, Therese wrote, “Oh my little brother, how I would love to be able to pour the balm of consolation into your heart!” Therese is teaching us that we don’t have to complicate things just to make others become closer with God. Helping those who are struggling is an act of charity.
Like Jesus and Baruch, Therese was a prophet. How? She reached out to Henry Pranzini, a murderer. She prayed for his conversion in this fashion, “My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.” Before he was executed, Henry Pranzini asked for a crucifix and kissed it. When Therese learned about these last gestures of Henry, she said, “My prayer was granted to the letter.” If circumstances and people are difficult to bear, Therese is showing us, not the easy ways, but the “little way” on how one can truly love God and lead others to Him: prayer. For her, prayer is God’s hands that lift us up and that carry us through in life’s various winds and tides, in season and of season. For what reason? God wants us to be one with Him.
If that Carmelite nun, Maurice and Henry were now in heaven, worshipping and adoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus, they owe it to Therese’ simple acts of charity, humility and mercy. Showing the love for God for poor souls is St Therese’ doctoral dissertation. Amen!
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