Sister Kathleen McGarvey, the OLA Provincial Leader, shared her Reflection on St Therese’s Way to God on the third evening of the 2014 National Novena in honour of St Therese of Lisieux at the National Shrine in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork.
Thursday – 25 September 2014
Good Evening and Happy Feast of St Finbarr.
My sincere thanks to the SMA Fathers for inviting me here this evening to say a few words on St Thérèse’s Way to God. When Pope John Paul II proclaimed Thérèse a doctor of the Church in 1997, he said she was graced by God to know the Science of Love, the mysteries of God’s Kingdom. She knew she had a special wisdom and that she had a mission to tell people about her Little Way and she does this through her life and her writings. Even though she died at the young age of 24 and lived in an enclosed convent, Thérèse really has had and continues to have such an enormous influence.
Basically the Little Way of St. Thérèse is simply a way of “total confidence and love”. It is centered on appreciation of the infinite mercy of God and recognition that everything is grace. God is in control every moment and we are only asked to trust, as children do, and to embrace the will of God in every detail and circumstance of life. But we are not asked to just sit back and do nothing. We prove our love of God by our works, accepting every moment, loving others at all times, especially the ones we find most difficult to love. In her relationships in the Convent, in her attitude to work, in the way she accepted and lived her sufferings, Thérèse lived this Little Way. She would not allow one opportunity to escape, whether a word or a gesture or a sacrifice or whatever, through which she could show this love of God by loving others.
Thérèse saw that it is God who we must trust, not ourselves or our own efforts at piety or holiness. God isn’t there counting our penances or sacrifices or our other efforts at being good. In fact, Thérèse said the one science God doesn’t know is arithmetic: God isn’t reckoning our good deeds against our failures! She said: “I know that certain spiritual directors advise us to count our virtuous acts in order to advance in perfection. But my spiritual director, Jesus, does not teach me to count my acts. He teaches me to do it all for love.”
Some people think that the Way taught by St Thérèse is little because she was young and was very childlike, naïve, innocent and pure, the ‘little flower’. This is not entirely wrong, but it is simplistic. The Way of St Thérèse may be the Little Way but it is a very adult, complex and demanding path in so many ways. When we are sick or unemployed or confronted with other very real difficulties as we all are at different times in life, and when we see such barbaric violence and senseless suffering in Iraq and Syria and Nigeria and other parts today, it is indeed not easy to have childlike trust in God, to believe God is in control and to thank God for the opportunity to love! It is not easy to abandon ourselves into the merciful love of God, to admit our own weaknesses, to forgive ourselves for our weaknesses, to accept and forgive others. Sometimes we dream of doing great things to change the world and it is not easy to appreciate the little ordinary things we are asked to do and see them as extraordinary opportunities to love God and to show God’s mercy. And it is not easy to do all for love alone and to never look for thanks! But this is the science of divine love. Her Little Way is simple, straightforward, but it is not easy. I am sure that any of us could live like Thérèse for an hour or two; but to live it day after day – that is the stuff of saints! But we can only try.
Without doubt if more people lived by the Little Way, we would have a different world. There would be greater sensitivity to the beauty and dignity of every human being, greater appreciation of all creation, and much greater peace, justice and communion throughout the world. Pope Benedict said: “To our society, often permeated by a rationalist culture and widespread materialism, little Thérèse of Lisieux points out, as the answer to the great questions of life, the little way, which looks instead to the essentials of life”. We cannot change the whole world but we can start with ourselves and through our witness we can teach others.
Thérèse was not naïve. Between the loss of her mother as a child, her sicknesses as a teenager, the human struggles and deprivations of convent life, the great suffering of tuberculosis in her last year, she certainly knew the tough path of life. But as Pope John Paul I said about her: “Once you had chosen the path of complete dedication to God, nothing could stop you: not illness, nor opposition from outside, nor the mists or inner darkness.” As she said herself, “I am not always faithful, but I am never discouraged”. The Church in Ireland has gone through a very difficult path in recent years. Many would say that because of the evils which have been exposed, the story of the Church is far from being a ‘success story’. But, as St. Thérèse said: “What does success matter! Let us keep going, however exhausting the struggle may be… One must do one’s duty to the end..”
Thérèse is convinced of the connection between holiness and energy. “In order to be holy, the most essential virtue is energy. With energy one can easily reach the height of perfection… You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” Today the world to which we are sent as missionaries, whether Africa or Ireland, needs whole saints, energized by confidence in God’s love and providence. May St Thérèse, Patron of the Missions, intercede for us. And today, let us also ask St Finbarr to help us to learn the Little Way of St Thérèse and to make it our own.
Thank you very much.