Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Doctor
October 1, 2016
Job 42:1-3.5-6.12-17, Ps 119, Lk 10:17-24
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel, we enter into Jesus’ prayer as he praised his Father for his “gracious will” in revealing his “secrets to the childlike.” The greatest secret of all is about Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ greatest gift of all is to reveal to us the Father and allow us to become and live as his beloved children. Jesus tells the disciples that they are so blessed because they see what “many prophets and kings desired to see … but did not” — not only the Messiah but God incarnate — and to “hear what you hear, but did not hear it,” most particularly the full revelation of the Father, his love and his plans. The immediate context is Jesus’ response to the seventy-two disciples’ joy that the demons were subject to them because of Jesus’ name. Jesus says that there is a far great thing that they should be happy about: that their “names are written in heaven,” that they are loved by the Father with an eternal love who wants them to come to eternal life by knowing the Father and the Son. In the first reading, we finish “Job week” with seeking the effect of the testing we’ve pondered through these last several days: Job has learned how to trust in God even more fully and has come not just to “hear” of God but to “see” him, to know him: “I know that you can do all things,” he said, “and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.” The way he was blessed through enduring this trial is depicted in a material way, with animals, beautiful girls, seeing great-grandchildren and living with health to a happy old age. But for those of us to whom much more has been revealed, God wants to bless us spiritually in a far greater way.
- But in order for that to happen we must be “childlike” to receive the revelation of the Father. That’s what today’s feast is all about. St. Therese of Lisieux was declared a doctor of the Church because she showed all of us that way. At the beginning of Mass today, we prayed, “O God, who open your Kingdom to those who are humble and to little ones, lead us to follow trustingly in the little way of Saint Therese, so that through her intercession we may see your eternal glory revealed.” St. Therese shows us the little way of spiritual childhood, the little way of trust and love, that allows us to know the Father and see his eternal glory revealed in this world while veiled and unveiled in the next. In this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, we can ponder more deeply how this little way of spiritual childhood is similarly a way of mercy.
- What is this little way we are praying to know and to talk?
- It’s first a way of mature Christian dependence on God the Father — It doesn’t mean we need to become childish. The Lord does call us, like Jesus according to his humanity, to “grow in wisdom and understanding” and to “come to full stature in Christ.” Often, however, as we grow up, we cease to relate to God the way we should, as his beloved children. We may not act quite as poorly as the prodigal son in the parable, who asked for his inheritance while his Father was still alive because to him the Father was already dead, and then proceeded to waste all that the Father had given him in a downward spiral of egocentric hedonism until he was living and behaving worse than pigs. No, for many of us, we know the Father is not dead. We don’t want to waste his gifts in a life of sin. We often just want to “grow up” and leave home, to do things on our own, to be less dependent on him than we were before and more self-reliant and self-sufficient. Just like so many of us who when we grow up can’t wait to be out on our own and, whereas once we used to live with our Father, talk to him everyday, sacrifice for him and observe his sacrifices for us, we’ve basically moved out. Sure, we still love the Father, but less than we used to. We talk to him now once a week. We visit with him less than that. When we offers to do something for us, we say, “Thanks, Dad, but I’ve got it covered.” To become like little children means to return to our true dependence on the Father and begin to allow him to continue to raise us to become perfected as he himself is perfect. The little way of spiritual childhood for St. Therese begins with grounding oneself in who the Father is, how much he loves us, and responding with love and trust as a child does to his or her parent. St. Therese once wrote, “To remain little before God and to remain little is to recognize one’s nothingness, expect all things from the good God just as a little child expects all things from its father; it is not to be troubled by anything, not to try to be on the lookout for favors. Even among poor people, a child is given all it needs, as long as it is very little, but as soon as it has grown up, the father does not want to support it any longer and says: ‘Work, now you are able to take care of yourself.’ Because I never want to hear these words I do not want to grow up, feeling that I can never earn my living, that is, eternal life in heaven. So I have stayed little, and have no other occupation than of gathering flowers of love and sacrifice and of offering them to the good God to please Him. Again, to stay little means not attributing the virtues we practice to ourselves, under the impression that we are capable of such things, but to recognize that the good God places this treasure of virtue in the hand of His little child for him to use as he needs it; and that it remains God’s treasure.” Spiritual childhood “is to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything from its father; it is to be disquieted about nothing, and not to be set on earning our own living. … To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices. … It is not to become discouraged over one’s faults, for children fall often, but they are too little to hurt themselves very much.” It’s a way of spiritual poverty. She linked two passages of the Gospel together to arrive at an important truth. Both passages point to a condition to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The first is to convert and become childlike. The second is become poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Becoming childlike and becoming poor in spirit are basically synonymous. As Therese made spiritual childhood her own, so she made her own poverty of spirit. She aspired to be nothing more than “a poor little child” who looks to her Father for everything and who obtains everything from Him because of this same poverty. She cultivated this poverty and wants to keep nothing for herself, not even her merits and her good works.
- It’s second a way of trust in God’s mercy — Once we grasp that we are poor little children, then we learn how to relate to God and particularly to his merciful love. Talking about the mercy of God, she encouraged everyone to follow her lead and grasp God by the “heart.” She said: “Consider a small child who has displeased his mother, by flying into a rage or perhaps disobeying her; if he sulks in a corner and screams in fear of punishment, his mother will certainly not forgive his fault; but if he comes to her with his little arms outstretched, smiling and saying: ‘Kiss me, I won’t do it again,’ surely his mother will immediately press him tenderly to her heart, forgetting all that he has done… Of course she knows quite well that her dear little boy will do it again at the first opportunity, but that does not matter; if he takes her by the heart, he will never be punished…” She drew a conclusion: “I have long believed that the Lord is more tender than a mother. I know that a mother is always ready to forgive trivial, involuntary misbehavior on the part of her child. Children are always giving trouble, falling down, getting themselves dirty, breaking things – but all this does not shake their parents love for them.” Nor do our faults shake God’s love for us. She was able to have this child-like confidence in God’s love because she understood the whole meaning of the Incarnation. She once wrote that she could not understand how anyone could be afraid of a God who became a child. God became small precisely so that we shouldn’t be intimidated by him, so that we wouldn’t be afraid. The way of spiritual childhood is a way of meeting, learning and imitating the child Jesus, who teaches us in a very concrete way to relate to God. She wrote, ““Jesus condescends to show me the only way that leads to this divine furnace (of divine love). It is the surrender of a small child who sleeps without fear in its father’s arms.” Relating as a spiritual child to the Child Jesus was one of the characteristic parts of her spirituality. She could never be afraid of a God who became a little baby. Would he want to punish her for all eternity? Would he become enraged with a sense of exacting strict justice? She just couldn’t see it. In Therese’s day, this sense of relating to the God of Mercy as a trusting child was rare. The heresy of Jansenism was rampant. It was Catholic Calvinism, relating to God as a cold and distant figure full of laws and rules, how we could never be worthy of any of his graces and therefore should just do our duty and offer ourselves as victims to divine justice so that he doesn’t exact the punishment on us and others that we all deserve. She battled against this. Most people, therefore, lived paralyzed by a fear of God and of his judgment. This fear stifled their ability to live as children of God. This totally affects the whole way they relate to him and how they relate to his mercy. Many oppose St. Therese’s path of spiritual childhood precisely because they don’t believe in the “naivete” that they assume it implies. Rather, they prefer to live under the delusion of their own self-made excellence – their expertise, their extraordinariness – thus giving free reign to ambition, arrogance, egotism, and apathy. Since the world doesn’t live it, since the world doesn’t live by the beatitudes, since the world doesn’t live by the commandments, since the world lives as if God doesn’t exist, they need to go the way of the world. Pope John Paul II declared in 1997, “Before the emptiness of so many words, Thérèse offers another solution, the one Word of salvation which, understood and lived in silence, becomes a source of renewed life. She counters a rational culture, so often overcome by practical materialism, with the disarming simplicity of the “little way” which, by returning to the essentials, leads to the secret of all life: the divine Love that surrounds and penetrates every human venture. In a time like ours, so frequently marked by an ephemeral and hedonistic culture, this new Doctor of the Church proves to be remarkably effective in enlightening the mind and heart of those who hunger and thirst for truth and love.” We could say that St. Therese teaches us that the first two steps in her little way of spiritual childhood is first, that God shows love by mercy and forgiveness and second none of us is “perfect” in following the Lord. We need the Lord’s mercy. We need to come to him to receive it. This is how the little way is a path to conversion and holiness. Compared with God’s mercy, our misery is nothing. In a poem, Vivre d’Amour, she writes: “To live by love, that’s to banish all fear, all remembrance of past faults. I will no longer take note of my sins because it in instant love burned them all. Divine Flame, O Furnace most sweet. I have taken up my place within you. It’s in your flames that I sing: ‘I live on love!'” In a poem to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she writes: “Oh, I well know that all our justices have no value before your eyes. In order to gain anything from my sacrifices, I want to throw them on your Divine Heart.” God raised up St. Therese of Lisieux “to enable us to grasp and live the profound truth of divine Love with the same intensity as she lived it. Or to put it another way, the Church has proclaimed Saint Thérèse a Doctor of the Church in order to help God’s people love the love that is mercy. Yet, the question remains: Why do we need a Doctor of the Church to teach us to love the love that is mercy? And the answer is that, over and over again in this regard, we falter and fail. St. Therese would cry out in her spiritual autobiography about how important it was for us to recognize how much God wishes us to accept his merciful love. Like the Sacred Heart, “On every side God’s love is unknown, rejected; those hearts upon whom you lavish [love] turn to creatures seeking happiness from them with their miserable affection; they do this instead of throwing themselves into your arms and of accepting your infinite love…. Among his own disciples, Jesus finds few hearts who surrender to him without reservation, who understand the real tenderness of his infinite love.”
- Most importantly, the way of spiritual childhood is life according to the Holy Spirit who helps us in Jesus the Son experience the meaning of our divine filiation, that our entire life is supposed to be in a loving union with God the Father — This is the secret, hidden from the wise and the clever of the world that Jesus spoke about in today’s Gospel that was revealed to Therese in all her childlike simplicity and that she helped us to understand. John Paul II wrote in 1997, in a document explaining why he was declaring her a doctor of the Church, that “the most authentic meaning of spiritual childhood” is “the experience of divine filiation, under the movement of the Holy Spirit.” When he visited Lisieux for the first time as Pope in 1980, he said that it was precisely the Holy Spirit that led St. Therese on this “little way” and helped her to walk it with great generosity. Not to be outdone by Pope Pius XI who at her canonization called her “the greatest saint of modern times,” Pope John Paul II in Lisieux said that she is, in fact, “our saint,” a saint for our times, and confessed that that was always the way he looked to her in his own life. He said that grasped the “fundamental mystery,” the “reality of the Gospel,” that we have truly received “a spirit of adoption that makes us cry out ‘Abba, Father!’ The “little way,” he continued, is the way of “holy childhood,” adding that nothing could be more fundamental and universal than the fact that God is our Father and we are his beloved children. “To be a child, to become like a child, means to enter into the heart of the greatest mission to which Christ has called each of us: to recognize one is God’s beloved child and be occupied with the affairs of the Father, just like Jesus was when he was 12 and discovered in the temple. This way of divine filiation is a way of love. The great discovery of her vocation is one of the most beautiful passages in hagiography, when she saw that her vocation was to be love in the heart of the Church. “Love”, she wrote, “gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a heart and that this heart was burning with love. I understood that it was love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if love were ever extinguished, apostles would not proclaim the Gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love includes all vocation…. Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: ‘O Jesus, my Love … at last I have found my vocation; my vocation is Love!'” On August 24, 1997 in Paris, John Paul II said that St. Therese was “entirely captivated by the love of God. She lived the radical offering of herself in response to that love.” A few days later, back in Rome, he said she “had a marvellous understanding of the overwhelming message of God’s love, received as a gift and lived with the humble trust and simplicity of children who in Jesus Christ totally entrust themselves to the Father. And she has become its authoritative teacher for the present and future of the Church.” To love is the vocation of all of us, no matter what our state of life, from a Carmelite cloistered nun, to an contemplative sister on the streets in blue and white, to a priest, to married spouses, to widows and widowers, to young people.“It is not happiness that attracts me,” she wrote, “but Love alone! To love, to be loved and to return to earth to make Love loved.” In order to be love in the heart of the Church, we must be like a child and receive God’s love and reciprocate it.
- Fourth, the little way of spiritual childhood is a way of greatness through humility — In her quest for sanctity, she believed that it was not necessary to accomplish heroic acts, or “great deeds”, in order to attain holiness and to express her love of God. She wrote, “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.” She wrote: “Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles, surrounded by a crowd of illusions, my poor little mind quickly tires. I close the learned book which is breaking my head and drying up my heart, and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons; perfection seems simple; I see that it is enough to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself, like a child, into God’s arms. Leaving to great souls, to great minds, the beautiful books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because ‘only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.” More and more Thérèse realised that she felt no attraction to the exalted heights of great souls. She looked directly for the word of Jesus, which shed light on her prayers and on her daily life. Thérèse’s retreat in October 1892 pointed out to her a downward path. “Jesus’ very descent, this emptying of the soul, is simply a spontaneous gesture of love, an automatic movement to catch him as he falls, so that he lights gently on the ground without being hurt. “‘Make haste, and come down’ was what Our Lord said to Zachaeus. Jesus tells us to come down! But where must we come down? Celine, you know better than I… ‘the birds of the air have their nests, but I have not where to lay My head’. That is where we must come down, if we are to serve as a dwelling for Jesus; we must be so poor that we have not where to lay our heads... Jesus wants us to receive Him in our hearts; by now, doubtless, they are empty of creatures; but alas! I feel that mine is not wholly empty of me, which is why Jesus tells me to come down. And I too want to hide my face, I want my Beloved alone to be able to see it … that in my heart at least He may lay down His dear head and feel that there He is recognized and understood.” When a novice once sighed, “A novice once sighed: “When I think of everything I still have to acquire!” She replied, “You mean, to lose! Jesus takes it upon himself to fill your soul in the measure that you rid it of its imperfections. I see that you have taken the wrong road; you will never arrive at the end of your journey. You are wanting to climb a great mountain and the good God is trying to make you descend it; he is waiting for you at the bottom in the fertile valley of humility.” She wasn’t discouraged by not feeing a call to the greatness of many of the great spiritual writers and martyrs: “Instead of being discouraged, I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realised, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way – very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new.”
- Fifth, the little way to greatness is one lived in the ordinary things of each day — She once said, “I want to sanctify my heartbeats, my thoughts, my simplest actions, uniting them to his infinite merits.” As one of her fellow sisters testified, “”Thérèse deliberately ‘sought out the company of those nuns whose temperaments she found hardest to bear.’ What merit was there in acting charitably toward people whom one loved naturally? Thérèse went out of her way to spend time with, and therefore to love, the people she found repellent. It was an effective means of achieving interior poverty, a way to remove a place to rest her head.” St Therese translated “the little way” in terms of a commitment to the tasks and to the people we meet in our everyday lives. She took her assignments in the convent of Lisieux as ways of manifesting her love for God and for others. She worked as a sacristan by taking care of the altar and the chapel; she served in the refectory and in the laundry room; she wrote plays for the entertainment of the community. Above all, she tried to show a love for all the nuns in the community. She played no favorites; she gave of herself even to the difficult members. Her life sounds so routine and ordinary, but it was steeped in a loving commitment that knew no breakdown. It is called a “little way” precisely by being simple, direct, yet calling for amazing fortitude and commitment. One of the reasons why Catholics and other Christians have been attracted to St Therese’s style is because her “little way” seems to put holiness of life within the reach of ordinary people, to help them live out their days with confidence in God’s love for them, to realize that each day is a gift in which their life can make a difference by the way they choose to live it, to put hope in a future in which God will be all and love will consume their spirit, to choose life, not the darkness of pettiness and greed. St Therese knew the difference love makes by allowing love to be the statement she made each day of her life. John Paul II affirmed this in 1997: “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. It is not a prosaic way, as if it were less demanding. It is in fact a demanding reality, as the Gospel always is. But it is a way in which one is imbued with a sense of trusting abandonment to divine mercy, which makes even the most rigorous spiritual commitment light.”
- Sixth and finally, the little way is a way of sanctity — “Sanctity,” she wrote, “does not consist in performing such and such acts; it means being ready at heart to become small and humble in the arms of God, acknowledging our own weaknesses and trusting in his fatherly goodness to the point of audacity.” And she encouraged us to seek this with all our heart. “If you want to be a saint, it will be easy … you have but one goal: to give pleasure to Jesus.” This care for our Lord eventually becomes the essential mark of sanctity. But we can’t please God and become holy by halves. She wrote, ““You cannot become half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” And she was hoping that we would be as committed to this as she was. After telling one of her two adopted priest brothers, “my way is all confidence and love,” she continued, “I hope that one day Jesus will make you walk by the same way as me.” That’s what all of us prayed at the beginning of this Mass. And we pray that St. Therese from heaven will help us. She said on her deathbed: “I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making God loved as I love him, of giving my little way to souls. If God answers my desires, my heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth.” And the greatest good she wants to do is to help us follow the way she took all the way to the vision of God in heaven!
- St. Therese learned this way from Jesus’ incarnation, not just in Bethlehem and Golgotha, but on the altar. This is where we become one with the Son so that he can reveal the Father’s love from the inside. This is where we learn to trust in God’s providing everything, because if he doesn’t spare his own Son, he will give us everything besides. This is where we cry out with trust for his mercy, for if he has become so small for us, we cannot be intimidated. This is where the Holy Spirit helps us to cry out with Jesus, “Abba, Father!” This is where we, like Therese, learn humility. This is where we unite all the ordinary things of every day. This is where God seeks to make us holy, so that we may spend our time and eternity doing good!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 JB 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17
Job answered the LORD and said:
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.
I have dealt with great things that I do not understand;
things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.
I had heard of you by word of mouth,
but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I disown what I have said,
and repent in dust and ashes.
Thus the LORD blessed the latter days of Job
more than his earlier ones.
For he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels,
a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she-asses.
And he had seven sons and three daughters,
of whom he called the first Jemimah,
the second Keziah, and the third Kerenhappuch.
In all the land no other women were as beautiful
as the daughters of Job;
and their father gave them an inheritance
along with their brothers.
After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years;
and he saw his children, his grandchildren,
and even his great-grandchildren.
Then Job died, old and full of years.
Responsorial Psalm PS 119:66, 71, 75, 91, 125, 130
Teach me wisdom and knowledge,
for in your commands I trust.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
I know, O LORD, that your ordinances are just,
and in your faithfulness you have afflicted me.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
According to your ordinances they still stand firm:
all things serve you.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may know your decrees.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
The revelation of your words sheds light,
giving understanding to the simple.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
Alleluia SEE MT 11:25
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 10:17-24
The seventy-two disciples returned rejoicing and said to Jesus,
“Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”
Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
Behold, I have given you the power
‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions
and upon the full force of the enemy
and nothing will harm you.
Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
At that very moment he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father,
and who the Father is except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”