Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
October 1, 2013
Today in the Gospel, St. Luke tells us that Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” He fixed his face on Jerusalem and began the journey up to the place where he would offer his life on the Cross for us all.
It would there, on Calvary, that the refrain for the Responsorial Psalm today, “God is with us,” would take on new, salvific meaning.
It was there that Jesus would ultimately fulfill the prophecies announced by Zechariah after the exile. It would be to Jesus, the true temple destroyed and rebuilt in three days, to Jesus on the Cross, that people from different cities would say, “Come, let us go to implore the favor of the Lord,” “I, too, will go to seek the Lord, and “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”
The key for being a disciple of Jesus is that as he resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem we are called likewise to set our sights on his holy target and journey with him.
This leaves us with a choice. Some choose not to journey with Jesus to Calvary. We see this in the response of the Samaritans in the Gospel, as they rejected Jesus because he was determined to go to Jerusalem. We also see this rebuff anticipated by St. Peter and the apostles when they reprimanded Jesus after he said that he would be betrayed in Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the religious and civil leaders, be beaten, scourged and murdered.
Still today many do not want to embrace Jesus’ determined vision about the way he wishes to be with us, united with us on the path of sacrificial love we call the way of the Cross. They seek Christ without the Cross, a Christianity without suffering, The Cross remains a scandal and a folly for many today, just as it was for many at the time of the apostles.
The saint whose feast day the Church celebrates today, however, shows us how to align the eyes of our heart with Christ’s vision and embrace the Cross as part of our Christian spirituality.
When St. Therese was discerning what her truest vocation was, she saw famously that it was to be “love in the heart of the Church my mother.” That was not some vague sentimentalism, but it was to enter into Christ’s sacrificial love shown for us on the Cross.
St. Therese’s celebrated way of spiritual childhood encompasses this path of love and trust that we see in Jesus upon the Cross. It’s an entrance into Jesus’ own filial abandonment, his own trust in the Father’s goodness, his own entrusting of his soul and all he was to the Father.
When we look at St. Therese’s poetry we see just how central sharing Christ’s love on the Cross is to all that she teaches us as a doctor of the Church. We can look at parts of four different poems that will help us to ponder how she understood the Cross in the Christian life and sought to unite herself to her crucified Savior. Her path will show us the way to do the same.
In one poem, she writes: “To live of love, ’tis not to fix one’s tent / On Tabor’s height and there with Thee remain. / ‘Tis to climb Calvary with strength nigh spent. / And count Thy heavy cross our truest gain.”
Living by love, in other words, means not to build booths to maintain the consolation of the Transfiguration, but to enter with Jesus on Calvary and build our booth together with Jesus on the Cross.
She continues, “In heaven, my life a life of joy shall be / The heavy cross shall then be gone for aye. / Here upon earth, in suffering with Thee, Love! let me stay.”
She begs to stay with Jesus in this crucified love. That is the path not only to finding that the burden of the heavy Cross is “sweet and light,” but to enter into Jesus’ eternal joy.
In a second poem, St. Therese stresses her desire to be crucified to the world and have the world crucified to her through union with Christ on the Cross.
“I long for suffering; and the cross / With strong desire my heart doth crave. / A thousand deaths were gain, not loss, / If but one soul I help to save!”
This poem evokes what Christians sing in the great Lenten classic, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” In the last verse of that hymn, we pray, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, ‘twas an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”
St. Therese had this desire to give all. In the mosaics in the Crypt chapel of the Basilica dedicated to her honor in Lisieux, France, there’s written expression that she said with great insight as a young novice, “To love is to give all. It’s to give oneself.” She made that self-gift, holding nothing back. She wants to help and encourage us to do the same.
In a third poem, she builds on this notion to desire and love the Cross. The motivation of that love is to desire and love what Jesus desires and loves.
“Remember Thou that amorous complaint / Escaping from Thy lips on Calvary’s tree: / ‘I thirst!’ Oh, how my heart like Thine doth faint. / Yes, yes! I share Thy burning thirst with Thee. / The more my heart burns bright with Thy great Heart’s chaste fires, / The more I thirst for souls, to quench Thy Heart’s desires./ That with such love always I burn, by night, by day.”
She thirsted for what Jesus thirsts, which is the salvation of every person. That was what burned her insides, to share that love. Likewise, with us, we need to begin with a love, with a hunger, for God so strong that it makes us want what he wants. This type of union with the vision of Christ’s heart makes us capable, by his grace, of sacrificing for it, as we see so often with the martyrs.
In the last poem, St. Therese teaches us very practically how to walk this way of the Cross. On the floor of the Crypt chapel of her Basilica in Lisieux, there are some in-laid mosaics that say, in French, “If you love me, come, follow me!” To love Jesus means to follow him along the path of love signified by the Cross. St. Therese did. The last poem shows us how she did, in the simple, little things of every day.
“O Jesu! O my Love! Each eve I come to fling / Before Thy sacred Cross sweet flowers of all the year. By these plucked petals bright, my hands how gladly bring, I long to dry Thine every tear! To scatter flowers! — that means each sacrifice, / My lightest sighs and pains, my heaviest, saddest hours, / My hopes, my joys, my prayers, — I will not count the price. / Behold my flowers! / With deep, untold delight Thy beauty fills my soul. / Would I might light this love in hearts of all who live! / For this, my fairest flowers, all things in my control, How fondly, gladly I would give! / To scatter flowers! — behold my chosen sword / For saving sinners’ souls and filling heaven’s bowers. / The victory is mine: yes, I disarm Thee, Lord, With these my flowers!”
Everything in her day she treated as a flower with which she would adorn Jesus with love on the Cross. All the little sacrifices of every day could be sanctified as an act of love, and that’s what she tried to do. That’s what she’d like to help us try to do.
The way St. Therese grew in love most was not just through the physical sufferings she endured with terrible tuberculosis at the end of her life and an unexplained lengthy illness at the beginning of her life. It wasn’t just through the death of her mother at the age of four and her father’s getting dementia at the end of his. It wasn’t merely through the dark night of the soul that tormented her over the last couple of years of her existence.
It was mostly through the Mass. This is where the love of God, shown for us on the Cross, became real for her. And it’s in the Mass, too, that we can align our sight to Christ’s and set our face resolutely on our union with him on Calvary and through Calvary in the heavenly Jerusalem.
In religious life, St. Therese had two names that are very much connected: St. Therese “of the Child Jesus” and “of the Holy Face.”
The reference to the child Jesus is a clear reference to Jesus’ humanity, when God literally became Emmanuel, “God with us.” In the Eucharist, we adore and receive the same Jesus who was adored by the Magi, the Shepherd, Mary and Joseph and the angels in Bethlehem.
The reference to the Holy Face points to Jesus’ blood, beaten, spat upon visage at the end of his life. It is likewise in the Eucharist that St. Therese grasped that continued incarnation of the Word made Flesh happens through suffering.
She wrote in a poem about the Holy Face that it is in contemplating Jesus’ bloody face in the Holy Eucharist that she learns how to imitate Jesus in this total self-giving love.
“My only wealth, Lord! is thy Face; / I ask naught else than this from Thee; / Hid in the secret of that Face, / The more I shall resemble Thee! / Oh, leave on me some impress faint / Of Thy sweet, humble, patient Face, / And soon I shall become a saint, / And draw men to Thy saving grace.”
She saw that the path to holiness and mission, the way she would become a saint and draw others to unite themselve with Christ’s holiness, was through her resemblance to his Sacred Face, a face that loves so much that it is willing to suffer. St. Therese wants to show us that face and help us no longer just to contemplate it but begin to gaze on what that sacred face gazes.
And as a co-patronness of the missions through her prayers in her Carmel and well as from the celestial cloister, she seeks to spend her heaven doing good upon earth. She specifically wants to help us learn to live her way of confidence and love together with Jesus on the Cross.
Today it’s St. Therese who says to us, “Come, let us go to implore the favor of the Lord,” so that we may become the instruments by which God can bring all nations to see him on the same holy mountain of sacrificial love.