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On St Therese of Lisieux

On St Therese of Lisieux

During the early summer before the relics of St Therese came to England. Father Michael McAndrew visited our parish one evening to give a talk on St Therese of Lisieux and the inspiration the Saint had been to him.

It was an inspiring talk and I asked Father McAndrew if he would kindly share further his inspiration with the wider parish audience for our parish magazine for those who were unable to attend that evening. He  thankfully responded. What follows is his thoughts and experience.  To those who read on, I hope it   may be of inspiration to you also.

Bernard Price Editor

In the autumn of 1978 I went to Seminary and one the gifts I was given before I went was a little CTS pamphlet with excerpts of the writings of Therese. Sadly I do not remember who gave me that little booklet.  It was one of those almost unnoticed events that became crucial for my life.  I read that little book of the sayings of Therese and was immediately captivated.  After that first encounter with Therese I immediately read her autobiography, then the ‘Last conversations,’ and her Letters – in fact I read anything about her I could lay my hands on. What was it that captivated me and has continued to inspire me these past 30 years?

In the Story of a Soul I read of her ‘complete conversion’ after Midnight Mass in 1886 and how she discovered ‘an absolute confidence in the mercy of Jesus’.  She writes there of how ‘God was able in a very short time to extricate me from the very narrow circle in which I was turning without being able to come out’.  Quite simply, Therese demonstrated to me that the way forward was to entrust oneself entirely to the mercy of God, that to be a disciple of Christ is not to place our faith in our own abilities or in anything we can achieve.  She teaches that the way of the Gospel is to place our faith in God and all that he does for us.

If we are to stop ‘turning in circles’ we must place all our trust in him and allow the Lord to do for us all that he wishes to do. She wrote to her sister Marie What pleases God is that he sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope I have in his mercy…That is my only treasure…. why would this treasure not be yours?’[1] Therese taught me the central truth of the Gospel, that we must entrust ourselves to the Lord.  If we abandon ourselves into his arms then he will do everything for our salvation.   We do not have to earn our salvation, as Jesus says in St Matthews Gospel ‘it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom’. As a Seminarian and a young priest she taught me also to accept myself.  Without her guidance I could so easily have become discouraged by my failings.

Reading the two volumes of her letters I discovered that even the coarsest of sins were not an obstacle to vocation but the raw material of real growth. In the same letter to her sister Marie she writes ‘The weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more suited one is for the workings of his consuming and transforming Love.’ There is also the beautiful correspondence between Therese and the young Seminarian Maurice Belliere.  When Maurice writes to Therese about his own ‘wretchedness’ and the ‘grief’ he has caused Jesus she responds: ‘For those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into his arms, Jesus trembles with joy’[2] The heart of Jesus trembles with joy when we throw ourselves into his arms Therese taught me that we need to accept ourselves as God accepts us.

In 1997, on the centenary of her death, Pope John Paul II made Therese a Doctor of the Church, that is a teacher of the Church.  She is only the 3rd woman to be given this title in the history of the Church.  This is telling us that her way of following the Gospel is a sure guide for us. Since that time her relics have been travelling the world.  So far they have been to more than 40 countries and millions of people have been to venerate them and to make a deeper connection with God.

In 2006 the Bishops of England and Wales asked the Carmelites in Lisieux if Therese relics could come to our country.  Since then I have been a part of the committee that has been preparing for this visit.   As I write the relics have just visited our city where more than 6000 people visited the Church of Teresa’s in Filton.  This was the first Church in England to be dedicated in honour of St Therese and so a fitting venue for the visit May the celebrations in honour of St Therese bring many graces to our Diocese and lead more people to know and love Christ our Saviour

Fr Michael McAndrew

[1] Therese to her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart September 17th 1896 Collected Letters Vol II ICS Publications page 999 [2] Patrick Aherne: Maurice and Therese. Doubleday 1998 page 189

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