Monday, October 01, 2012

St Therese, Model of the Vatican II Catholic

We're at a marvelous confluence of faith moments at the start of this October. The feast of St. Therese is always one of those, since she is one of the most popular saints of all time (keeping pace even with St. Francis of Assisi, who had an 800-year head start, and whose feast is later this week). But what I'm really thinking of is:
  • yesterday's magnificent first reading about the descent of the Spirit of the Lord on the 70 "elders" in the desert and Moses' ardent cry, "If only all the people of the Lord would be prophets! If only the Lord would bestow His Spirit on them all!"
  • the Synod of Bishops (which begins on Sunday) on the theme of the New Evangelization
  • the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II on October 11
  • the opening of the Year of Faith (October 11 2012-November 24, 2013)
  • the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, the consecrated virgin of the first evangelization of the Americas

It seems to me that all these themes are very well depicted in the young woman we call the "Little Flower."

Adapted from Celine's painting at
the Shrine of the Little FLower in Darien IL.

Despite the pieties of her time (something she couldn't escape), Therese had a discerning appreciation for what was essential: being a child of God and making all of life a response of love--even when that love consisted of a dry, tasteless faith. It was in the great spiritual trial she suffered toward the end of her life (so much like her later namesake in Calcutta) that Therese gave our post-modern generation a real model of faith. She found herself in a mysterious communion with the modern era's first secularists. The sense of God's presence had vanished; it was no more than a memory and a vague hope for eternity. A dark doubt penetrated her mind and heart. And she was wracked with pain so great she admitted that a person with no faith at all would have very easily ended it all with an overdose of the medicines that were being kept too near the sickbed.

She turned it all into a priestly offering, united with the sacrifice of Jesus. She knew that nothing in her life would go to waste; she gave it all, freely. If those bereft of hope needed a companion on their dark way to Jesus, she would be that companion, even if it meant sharing the pain of that darkness.

Here is a young laywoman (yes, Sisters are laity) who lived her baptismal calling in that priestly spirit Vatican II would remind the rest of the People of God about a hundred years later. She didn't expect priests to carry the burden of the Church alone. Much has been made of the fact that she herself ardently desired the ordained priesthood (I believe she even remarked once that it was a gift of God's mercy that she was dying before reaching the minimum age of ordination), but since that route was closed to her (as it is to very many people who may feel the same desire), she supported the ministry of those who were ordained, and who may have needed the extra spiritual "assist" in order to live that calling effectively.

As co-patron saint of the Catholic missions (with Francis Xavier!), Therese embodies the Vatican II document "Ad Gentes." As a woman religious who declared herself to be "love in the heart of the Church," she embodies "Perfectae Caritatis." As a Doctor of the Church, she teaches us how to live the Scriptures in the sense of "Dei Verbum" (even though she never had a Bible of her own). As a sister and companion to the people of the first secularized European society, she demonstrates what "Gaudium et Spes" meant when it called all of us to live our faith "in the modern world." 

I could go on, but you get the picture. Would that all the servants of the Lord were such prophets! Would that the Lord might similarly bestow His Spirit on them all!


Lisa said...

Awesome post and reflection, Sister Anne!

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Blessings, Lisa!