St Theresa of Lisieux

St Thérèse of Lisieux and Lectio

I have just come back from a 5 day pilgrimage with young people from our parish. We went to Normandy to see the D-day landing beaches, to Lisieux to visit St Thérèse’s home town, and to Paris where we ended up locked inside Sacré Coeur for a night of Adoration. Besides the joy of being with young people, for many of whom the highlights were the time of adoration and the talk given by a radiant young nun, it gave me a chance to rediscover the spirituality of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Rarely in the history of the Church has there been a superstar quite like St Thérèse. She became a nun aged 15 and died of tuberculosis in 1897 at the young age of 24. Her parents Louis and Zélie were both canonised in 2015, and her sister Léonie’s case for sainthood is under review. Her three other sisters were Carmelites in the same convent where she spent her short period of religious life. In 1997, she was made a doctor of the church by Pope St John Paul II.

So the question I asked myself on our pilgrimage was how did this young nun obtain the highest theological recognition which the Church can bestow on anyone and what can she say to us today? To put this in context there are only 36 doctors of the church, and only 4 of those are women. She had no theological training. Her writings consist of three autobiographical manuscripts and a corpus of letters. The clue for me was a comment by Bishop Guy Gaucher, the authority on St Thérèse, who tells us that there are over 1,000 references to the Scriptures in her writings. Thérèse never had access to a Bible – incredible when you think how commonplace it is today – but she was avid in collecting scriptural references. She had a bound copy of the Gospels which she carried round with her, and when her sister Céline joined the convent a few years after Thérèse, she brought with her some hand copied quotes from the Old Testament. Thérèse had a copy of the “Imitation of Christ” from which she gleaned various references and of course there was the liturgy of the office and the mass which fed her too.IMG_2140

Which brings me to the topic of St Thérèse and lectio. Sometimes we hear it said that Vatican II and the decree Dei Verbum was when the Catholic Church re-engaged with the Bible. This may be true at an institutional level but St Thérèse shows that there is a deep tradition of Catholic engagement with the Bible. St Thérèse lived her entire life fed by the Word of God. As Pope St John Paul wrote “her doctrine is a confession of faith, a testimony to the mystery of the Christian life and a route that all people can follow to sanctity.” Thérèse would listen to a passage of scripture, chew it over, pray about it, and then apply it to her life. She so deeply trusted the word of God that she lived in faith by some of the most difficult passages which most of us would find hard. One of her favourite passages was from Job “I would trust the Lord even if he were to kill me”. She meditated deeply on the meaning of the Mystical Body of Christ and through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians famously discovered her vocation of love. She is indeed a perfect example of the practice of lectio divina learning to live her life in harmony with the Word of God. Thérèse democratised the spiritual life for millions of people. Her writings showed that all is possible if we have the attitude of a child towards our loving God. There is barely a Catholic church without a statue of St Thérèse holding the roses which she promised she would shower on people when she was “spending her heaven doing good on the earth.” We could do worse than ask for her prayers on us and our community to be devoted to the Word of God, and an example of love in the body of the Church.

 

 

Categories LCSB | Tags: | Posted on April 23, 2017

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