The Mission of St Thérèse
There is much evidence during her short life of the missionary awareness and zeal of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face: she was determined to become a Carmelite; she referred to her role in the training of novices as a mission entrusted to her; she said she came to Carmel to save souls and to pray for priests; she wished to be a pilgrim missionary and alluded to this in her famous interpretation of the phrase in the Canticle of Canticles ‘Draw me: we shall run’.
Before her death in 1897, St Thérèse spoke the memorable words ‘I feel my mission is about to begin, my mission to make God loved as I love Him, to teach souls my Little Way’ - the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender. The astounding wealth of spiritual treasure embedded in these intertwining sentiments was recognised in the naming of St Thérèse as Principal Patroness of Missionaries and the Missions, equal to St Francis Xavier, by Pope Pius XI in 1927 and in the proclamation of St Thérèse as a Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope St John Paul II in 1997.
St Thérèse articulated her doctrine of love when writing what has come to be known as section B of Story of a Soul. She addressed this part of her writing to Jesus. It is much acclaimed and has been described as the jewel of her writings. She wrote about wanting to be a warrior, a priest, an apostle, a doctor, a martyr and then of how she came to understand that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING; THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES…IN A WORD THAT IT WAS ETERNAL! This led her to exclaim: O Jesus, my Love….my vocation, at last I have found it….MY VOCATION IS LOVE!
Since the providential publication of her writings, the spirituality of St Thérèse - her Little Way of Spiritual Childhood embodied in her absolute surrender and abandonment to the Merciful Love of God - has become known to millions.
Down the years the popes have endorsed the message of St Thérèse: Pope Pius X introduced her cause in 1914; between 1923 and 1927 Pope Pius XI beatified, canonised and declared Thérèse Patroness of Missonaries and the Missions and spoke of her as the star of his pontificate; Pope Pius XII proclaimed her Patroness of France and at the time of the consecration of the Basilica of St Thérèse in Lisieux in 1954 remarked that St Thérèse penetrated to the very heart of the Gospel; Pope Paul VI 'offered her as a teacher of prayer and theological virtue of hope, and a model of communion with the Church, calling the attention of teachers, educators, pastors and theologians themselves to the study of her doctrine'.
On Mission Sunday 19 October 1997 - the year of the hundredth anniversary of her death - St Thérèse was proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church in recognition of the wisdom of her doctrine of love in the Church, her holiness and the worldwide dissemination of her message through her writings. In his homily on the occasion in 1997 Pope St John Paul II said ‘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 practising 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’. Pope John Paul said ‘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’.
Pope John Paul referred to the Doctrine of Love in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte at the close of The Great Jubilee of The Year 2000. He wrote ‘Love is truly the "heart" of the Church, as was well understood by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, whom I proclaimed a Doctor of the Church precisely because she is an expert in the scientia amoris. He quoted her saying ‘I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was aflame with Love. I understood that Love alone stirred the members of the Church to act…’.
With regard to her mission Pope St John Paul said ‘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). Pope John Paul continued ‘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’.
Today the mission of St Thérèse to make God loved as she loved Him continues. Her Little Way of Trust and Surrender to God's Merciful Love continues to spread: Story of a Soul is read in numerous languages; her message is on the worldwide web; her relics travel nationally and internationally; the teachings of St Thérèse are presented in homilies and are studied and reflected on by individuals, prayer groups and pilgrims, by those who ask the intercession of St Thérèse for a deepening of trust in God's Merciful Love and by those participating in novenas and the events surrounding the travels and visits of her relics. These visits of the relics of St Thérèse to communities are occasions of great outpouring of prayer and devotion centred on St Thérèse's Little Way - the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.