My Dear Friends:
Today we celebrate World Mission Sunday which falls on October 22 which would normally be the feast day of our beloved Pope St. John Paul II. On this Mission Sunday back in 1997, he proclaimed our patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the church. I thought it was only appropriate to share excerpts from the saintly pope’s homily on that momentous day:
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 practicing 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, n. 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. 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.
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.
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…
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!
God bless you all,