a doctor for the third millennium
Circular Letter of Father Camilo Maccise, OCD, and Father Joseph Chalmers, OCarm, to the Carmelite family
When the family of Carmel learned that the Holy Father would proclaim St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Church, Father Camilo Maccise of the Sacred Hearts, superior general of the Discalced (or Teresian) Carmelites, and Father Joseph Chalmers, prior general of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance, issued the following joint pastoral letter to all the members of the Carmelite family.
Dear brothers and sisters in Carmel:
1. Little over a year ago, we wrote to you to reflect upon the message of our sister, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, on the occasion of the centenary of her death. We had no idea then that we would be writing another circular letter about her so soon. This time it is to consider the meaning and significance of the title Doctor of the Church, which, as Pope John Paul II announced recently in Paris at the International Gathering of Youth, he will officially bestow on her in Rome on October 19, 1997, International Mission Sunday.
2. On the morning of August 24, at the closure in Paris of the International Gathering of Youth, the Pope described the character and doctrine of our sister and the motives for declaring her a Doctor after a "careful study" and many petitions received from the Universal Church. He called Thérèse of Lisieux a young Carmelite who was filled with the love of God, who offered herself completely to this love, and who knew how to practice love of neighbor in the ordinary things of daily life. She imitated Jesus as she sat at the table of sinners, his brothers and sisters, so that they would be purified by love, since her ardent desire was to see everyone enlightened by faith. She discovered, the Pope continued, that her vocation was to be love in the heart of the Church, and she walked the "little way" of children who take refuge in God with bold confidence. The core of her message is her child-like attitude, which can be proposed to all the faithful. "Her teachings, a veritable science of love," are the radiant expression of her knowledge of the mystery of Christ and her personal experience of grace. She will continue to assist the people of today and the future to understand better the gifts of God and to spread the good news of infinite love.
3. The Pope called her: "a Carmelite and an apostle, a teacher of spiritual wisdom for numerous consecrated and lay persons, patroness of the missions." He mentioned that she "occupies a place of primary importance in the Church, and that her doctrine merits finding a place among the most effective." He concluded by stating that he wished to announce the Doctorate of Thérèse of Lisieux during the gathering of the youth since she, a young saint, so close to our times, has a message particularly suitable for them. In the school of the Gospel, she leads the way towards Christian maturity for young people, "calling them to unlimited generosity and inviting them in the heart of the Church to be apostles and ardent witnesses of Christ's love." He prayed, along with the young people, to Thérèse of Lisieux that she may lead the people of this age along the way of truth and life. He ended his discourse with these words: "With Thérèse of the Child Jesus, let us turn to the Virgin Mary, whom she honored and prayed to with child-like confidence during her life."
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I. A LONG ROAD TOWARDS THE DOCTORATE
4. Already from the time of her canonization, there was no lack of bishops, preachers, theologians, and faithful from different countries who sought to have our sister Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church. This flow of petitions in favor of the doctorate became official in 1932 on the occasion of the inauguration of the crypt of the Basilica at Lisieux, which was accompanied by a congress at which five cardinals, fifty bishops, and a great number of faithful participated. On June 30, Fr. Gustave Desbuquois, SJ, with clear and precise theological argument, spoke of Thérèse of Lisieux as Doctor of the Church. Surprisingly, his proposal had the support of many of the participants, bishops, and theologians. This positive reaction to the suggestion of Fr. Desbuquois spread universally. Mons. Clouthier, Bishop of Trois Rivières, Canada, wrote to all the bishops of the world in order to prepare a petition to the Holy See. By 1933 he had already received 342 positive replies from bishops who supported the proposal to have Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church.
The Obstacle of Being a Woman
5 The petition of Fr. Desbuquois was presented to Pope Pius XI, along with a letter of Mother Agnes of Jesus, sister of Therese and prioress of the Lisieux Carmel. She informed the Pope about the great success of the Theresian Congress. On 31 August 1932, Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State, replied to Mother Agnes' letter on behalf of the Pope. He was very pleased about the positive results of the congress, but added that it would be better not to speak of Thérèse's doctorate yet, even though, "Her doctrine never ceased to be for him a sure light for souls searching to know the spirit of the Gospel."
However, the time was not yet ripe for a woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church. In fact, Pope Pius XI had already replied negatively to the Carmelites' petition to have St. Teresa of Jesus, "Mother of Spiritual People" declared doctor. The petition was turned down because she was a woman. "Obstat sexus" ("Her sex stands in the way"), the Pope replied, adding that he would leave the decision to his successor. After the Vatican's negative response, and by its order, the gathering of signatures in favor of Thérèse of Lisieux's doctorate was interrupted.
6. Teresa of Jesus and Catherine of Siena's declaration as Doctors of the Church in 1970 eliminated completely any obstacle to naming a woman doctor. As a result, the proposal for the doctorate of Thérèse of Lisieux was taken up again.
In 1973, the centenary of her birth, Mgr. Garrone stated the question anew: "Could St. Thérèse of Lisieux become some day a Doctor of the Church? I respond affirmatively, without hesitation, encouraged by what has happened to the great St. Teresa and St. Catherine of Siena." On subsequent occasions, the Carmelites proposed the possibility of the doctorate. In 1981, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, following up a petition from the Teresian Carmel and after consulting the permanent council of the French Episcopate, sent an official letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to declare Thérèse of Lisieux Doctor of the Church. On different occasions the Discalced postulator general and the bishop of Lisieux, Mgr. Pierre Pican, wrote official letters to this effect. The general chapters of the Teresian Carmel in 1991 and the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance in 1995 also sent petitions. In addition, more than thirty episcopal conferences and thousands of Christians, priests, religious, and lay people of 107 countries pronounced themselves in favor of the doctorate.
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Examination and Approval of the Positio
7. In the first months of this year 1997, the Teresian Carmel was asked to prepare the "Positio," i.e. the presentation of proof required by the church to demonstrate a person's suitability to be declared Doctor of the Church. Because the time allowed was limited, collaboration was necessary. At the beginning of May, a 965-page volume was printed. It was divided into 4 parts and 13 chapters that presented the facts of the life and doctrine of St. Therese and the prominence, influence, and present-day impact of her message. It contains a brief history of the causes for her beatification and canonization (ch. 1) and the process for the doctorate (ch. 2), followed by a small but compact biography of Thérèse of Lisieux (ch. 3), an analysis of her personality (ch. 4), a chronology (ch. 5), and a presentation of her writings (ch. 6). From the doctrinal point of view, it offers a general view of Thérèse's doctrine (ch. 7), a synthesis of her theology (ch. 8), and a study of the sources of her teachings (ch. 9). The impact of Thérèse of Lisieux is examined from three different perspectives: the acceptance and presentation of her doctrine by the magisterium of the church (ch. 10), its spread and influence (ch. 11), and finally the importance of her doctrine for the Church and world of today (ch. 12). The final chapter of the Positio highlilghts the "eminence"of the doctrine of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (ch. 13). It concludes with the transcripts of the letters proposing the doctorate from episcopal conferences and ecclesiatical and lay personages. A selected bibliography (130 pages) is also included, as well as the opinions of the five theologians chosen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the two by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. There is also an iconographic appendix that shows Thérèse as teacher and doctor.
After studying the Positio, the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the Causes of Saints, along with the Consistory of Cardinals, gave their approval that our sister could be declared Doctor of the Church. Pope John Paul II, as we said, agreed to the proposal, announcing it to the Universal Church at the end of the International Gathering of Youth in Paris.
II. Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor for the Third Millennium
8. To speak of the third millennium is to speak, in the first place, of time and the action of God. He manifests himself and works within human events. Teresa of Jesus told us, "It is always a suitable time for God to grant great favors" (Foundations 4, 5). Two thousand years of Christian history are about to conclude. In celebrating this historical event, "It is certainly not a matter of indulging in a new millenarianism, as occurred in some quarters at the end of the first millennium; rather, it is aimed at increasing sensitivity to all that the Spirit is saying to the Church and to the churches (cf. Rv 2:7 ff.), as well as to individuals through charisms meant to serve the whole community. …Despite appearances, humanity continues to await the revelation of the children of God, and lives by this hope."1 God calls us today, as he did yesterday and will always, to construct our personal and community existence through a reply that is free and responsible.
9. With regard to the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, God has awakened in the Church the awareness of a need for a new evangelization in order to respond to this special time of grace, and to renew faith, hope, and love by centering them on Jesus, who is the only Savior and center of history. He reveals to us the true face of God and helps us discover the presence and action of the Spirit in people and in the world.
History, our world, is the place where the saving presence of God is at work and the place where the responsibility of persons lies. "The church emphasizes the importance of history as the place in which God manifests himself. …But it is precise to say as well that the Church understands that time, liberty, and history are the place in which mankind constructs human existence. Both need to be present, not in an incommunicable parallel, rather in a dialogue, which, on God's part, is gratuitous and initiates and, on the part of mankind, is open to transcendental meaning."2
The time of new evangelization is also a time of great trials and challenges for the world. We cannot separate these two things. The Gospel of Jesus, confided to the Church to be proclaimed and realized in the world around us, challenges us by its content and all that is in contrast with it. The Gospel throws its light on these challenges and claims our total attention. Leaving aside the constancy of it, let us direct our words solely to the demands presented to us directly in the field of evangelization itself.
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A) Demands of the New Evangelization
10. To make the proclamation of the Gospel ring out requires following in the direction pointed out by the encyclical Redemptoris Missio: witness, proclamation, communion, and service.3 It is useful to keep these in mind in order to understand the heart and relevance of the message of Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church.
11. To evangelize is not to transmit a doctrine but an experience transformed into life. This experience is precisely what is shared: "Something which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have watched and touched with our own hands…we are declaring to you…so that you too may share our life" (1 Jn 1:1-3). At the threshold of the third millennium the world to which we must give witness is largely one of unbelief and injustice. Christians are called to "always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Pt 3:15). The question is how to make this hope and witness clearly intelligible. It must lead the faithful to revise their personal lives and the way they participate in the Church because: "People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories."4 "The evangelical witness which the world finds most appealing is that of concern for people, and of charity toward the poor, the weak and those who suffer,"5 along with a commitment to peace, justice, and human rights.6
12. As well as witnessing by their lives, Christians fulfill their evangelical missions by proclaiming the good news of salvation: Christ has died and is risen, and he has transformed us into sons and daughters of God; he has set us free from the slavery of evil, sin, and death. We must proclaim the love of God, our Father, who calls us to union with Him. The good news is addressed to all. There are some areas that need our particular attention in our day: big cities tend to foster individualism, anonymity, cultural disintegration, pluralism, and indifference. Young people in particular need to be evangelized. They are the future of the world. There is also urgent need to proclaim the Gospel among the masses of non-practicing Christians. Of perennial importance is the need for a first proclamation to those who have never heard the Gospel or who do not know Christ.
13. "God, however, does not make men and women holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring mankind together as one people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness."7 with these words the Second Vatican Council stressed that faith is lived in community, that the fruit of evangelization and the action of the Spirit is the creation of fraternal communities forming the new family of God. The coming of Christ manifests itself in this communion. "By this we know that we have passed from death to life (cf. 1 Jn 3:14)…and from communion there emanates a source of great apostolic energy."8 Communion comes about as a result of faith and the sacraments of faith which lead us to a koinonía, open to all, especially to those who believe in Christ through an ecumenism that is active and in solidarity. Communion demands a sincere and fraternal dialogue.
14. Faith needs to be expressed in deeds because in Christ Jesus "only faith working through love" (Gal 5:6) has value. To serve God and people is the best proof of love. Christian diakonía is nothing else than following Jesus who "came not to be served but to serve" (Mt 20:28), and who lived among us "as one who serves" (LK 22:27). From the beginning, Christian service has been notable towards the poor, the outcasts, and the suffering. For this reason, at the threshold of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter "Tertio Millenio Adveniente," did not hesitate to state: "Indeed, it has to be said that a commitment to justice and peace in a world like ours, marked by so many conflicts and intolerable social and economic inequalities, is a necessary condition for the preparation and celebration of the Jubilee."9
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B) Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Doctor for the Third Millennium
15. We should begin by first saying a word in connection with the tradition or spiritual patrimony that nourished the experience and doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux. Carmel-the "desert" where she wanted to go with her sister Pauline--is the soil in which she sank her roots from early years. It must be said she "lived" Carmelite spirituality with the precocity that marks all her "career as a giant" a long time before she read it formulated by St. Teresa and, above all, by St. John of the Cross. We see a profound harmony in the vocation of Thérèse that cannot be explained simply by her reading their writings. It is much more the fruit of the Spirit, which, along with her vocation to Carmel, makes her a true daughter of Teresa and John and helped her to live a similar, yet clearly defined, spiritual experience that was confirmed and enriched through her contact with the experience and doctrine of Teresa and John.
16. By examining Thérèse of Lisieux's experience and delving deeper into her teachings, which have a universal and timely quality, we are able to understand that aspect of her experience and doctrine which makes her a teacher and doctor in the Church as it contemplates its evangelical role for the third millennium. Her doctrine can be summarized in the words: God's Paternal and Maternal Love.
Guided by the Spirit, she was led to understand the revelation of God's merciful love, which summarizes the whole of the Gospel. God is love who reveals himself to the poor and humble. God who is love invites us to live in communion with him and with others and to serve our brothers and sisters as Jesus did in order to bear witness to the good news and proclaim it.
Doctor of the Experience of a God Both Merciful and Near to Us
17. The rediscovery of the paternal-maternal face of God was the starting point of a new path to holiness that our sister trod, especially from 1894, as she experienced more and more her own weakness. Jesus showed her, as she says, that the road to follow is that of surrender to God with the confidence of a child sleeping fearlessly in it's Father's arms:
Whoever is a little one, let him come to me. So speaks the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Solomon. This same Spirit of Love also says: For to him that is little, mercy will be shown. The Prophet Isaiah reveals in His name that on the last day…As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees they will caress you. …Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude.10
This experience of Thérèse of Lisieux is one of a God who is both Father-Mother; who has love even for the unjust and evil (cf. Lk 6:35); who knows what we need before we ask; who forgives our sins and asks us to forgive; who protects and looks after us (cf. Mt 6:8-9, 14-15, 26). Here we see the change from fear to confidence. We stand before God as sons and daughters before a father and a mother. God makes everything work together for our good, even our deficiencies and faults. Getting to know a God who is both Father and Mother requires the heart of a child that chooses to remain small:
What pleases [Jesus] is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy. … It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love.11
God's initiative is at the root of every Christian vocation. Responding to God's invitation, those who are called trust in God's love and give their life unconditionally, consecrating everything, present and future, to God, abandoning it all confidently into his hands. All this is of capital importance in Christian spirituality for the third millennium.
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Doctor of the Experience of God's Love Expressed in Communion and Service
18. Experience is the key in a technical and scientific world. Everything must be experienced, seen in some way. Christian spirituality is no exception to this trend. Experience and testimony are fundamental in the Christian life, being particularly important today when we see a reaction against an exaggerated intellectualism in matters of faith and religion. Despite the danger of subjectivity and a certain spiritual infantilism, this search for experiences cannot be rejected out of hand. Spiritual experiences are a source of knowledge and of a deeper revelation of God.
Thérèse of Lisieux is a teacher of an authentic experience of God that contains within itself a commitment to following Jesus. She teaches us about the experience of contact with the Word of God, the meaning of the community that Christ communicates to us and the necessity of giving a real response guided by love.
19. Spirituality in the church today tends to stress the communion of all in Christ and in the Spirit. We need to place all the gifts we have at the service of the community of believers. The main lines of the experience and doctrine of St. Thérèse can be clearly seen in this dimension of today's spirituality of evangelization. She lived for the Church, the Body of Christ. She desired to live all possible vocations in the Church so that she could bear witness to the Gospel and proclaim it to the most distant places on earth until, while meditating on chapters 12 and 13 of the first letter to the Corinthians, she discovered her vocation and mission in the church: "Jesus, my Love …my vocation, at last I have found it. …My vocation is love! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized."12
20. Thérèse strongly centered her life on God as the only absolute. She conversed with him in prayer that took into account the needs of her brothers and sisters. Inspired by this encounter, she devoted herself to others and lived her vocation for the salvation of the world. In Manuscript C, Therese gives a precious direction for an authentic spirituality committed to the new evangelization:
Just as a torrent, throwing itself with impetuosity into the ocean, drags after it everything it encounters in its passage, in the same way, O Jesus, the soul who plunges into the shoreless ocean of Your Love, draws with her all the treasures she possesses. Lord, You know it, I have no other treasures than the souls it has pleased You to unite to mine.13
Thérèse was convinced that the authenticity of our love for God is demonstrated in the quality of our love for others. This conviction has truly influenced the spirituality of our century, particularly in the area of commitment to evangelization. Her experience and doctrine have taught Christians that the dimension of fraternal love opens us to ever new and wider horizons, like the concentric ripples in a pond set in motion by the impact of the love of God. The first circle reaches those nearest us. The wider circles embrace the whole of humanity. Confidence and surrender to God, our Father-Mother, are in Therese of Lisieux the source of fraternal charity and the apostolate. They give love expression by the way they seek to share with all the good news of salvation.
Thérèse of Lisieux translated into life the Gospel's demand for service to those of least importance in the world's eyes and those who are poorest. In them we discover the face of Christ (cf. Mt 25:31-45). God reveals himself to them in a special way (cf. Mt 11:25-27). We must be ready to give our lives for others in the service of God, like Christ, who asked the Father to take away, if possible, the chalice of suffering, but who nevertheless clearly accepted his Father's will and desired to fulfill it.
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Doctor of the Evangelical Path to Holiness
21. In the conclusion of his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, which explains the permanent validity of Christ's missionary mandate, John Paul II states:
The call to mission derives, of its nature, from the call to holiness. …The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and mission. …The missionary spirituality of the Church is a journey towards holiness.14
Thérèse of Lisieux transformed this doctrine into a lived experience. As a result, she was proclaimed Universal Patroness of the Missions, together with the great apostle Saint Francis Xavier. Her experiential doctrine is of great relevance to the new evangelization. She entered Carmel to reach holiness by means of the contemplative life: "God made me understand my own glory would not be evident to the eyes of mortals, that it would consist in becoming a great saint."15 From the beginning she was convinced that she entered Carmel not to flee from the world, but to enter it more profoundly. Her spiritual experience was not a search for a refuge from a hostile world, but a conscious offering of herself as a martyr.
22. "Today a renewed commitment to holiness …is more necessary than ever. …It is therefore necessary to inspire in all the faithful a true longing for holiness, a deep desire for conversion and personal renewal in a context of ever more intense prayer and of solidarity with one's neighbor, especially the most needy."16 Therese of Lisieux admirably unites holiness and mission within her own personal vocation. Her authentic contemplation commits her to evangelization. Thus, she unequivocally proposes a Gospel way of witnessing to the good news and of proclaiming it in response to the challenges of modern times.
By emphasizing that the heart of holiness is love, Therese helps to close the gap between contemplation and action, because love unites both. She entered the contemplative life to become more effective in her apostolic life. In this way, she revolutionized the relationship between asceticism and mysticism. She emphasized the kind of asceticism that consists in evangelical self-denial lived one day at a time. For this reason, she preferred service to others more that corporal mortification: welcoming others, understanding them, forgiving them, being helpful, and standing in solidarity with them. These are great practical lessons in spirituality for the new evangelization.
Doctor of Personal Wholeness
23. Thérèse of Lisieux, like anyone else, was subject to the human condition. From a psychological viewpoint, [we can say that] she underwent a liberating process that led her both to accept herself, and also maturely to accept her own limitations.
The internal tensions, spiritual wounds, and all sort of other influences at work in our world make it hard for people to become fully persons. Thérèse of Lisieux, too, was shaped by her family, social, and religious environment with its limitations and imperfections. She learned to accept them, and, in doing so, she liberated herself from them to become, with God's grace, a free person: one who discovered the faithful and merciful God of Jesus Christ. Therese teaches us to profit from everything so that we may grow and mature, both as human beings and as Christians.
24. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face struggled to overcome all that hindered her from being herself. On the way to human maturity, she experienced trauma at the death of her mother. It deeply affected her.17 Her love for God, and friendship with him, awakened in her a liberating process that enabled her to use all these influences to achieve personal wholeness.
Her fourth through fourteenth years were a painful period in her life. She had problems in school where she felt some were antagonistic toward her. Then her sister and second, mother, Pauline, entered Carmel. As a result of this separation, she became seriously ill. It was a psychosomatic illness. Later on she was tormented by scruples.18
All these sufferings were due to her hypersensitivity: "When I began to cheer up, I'd begin to cry again for having cried."19 She lived trapped in a vicious circle, not knowing how to escape.
It was not until Christmas Eve, 1886, that she was healed of her hypersensitivity and began to walk in the way of love and of surrender to Jesus. From this time on, she was free of those interior bonds, able fully to enjoy life and to take pleasure in studies, in contacts with others, in nature and travel, and other good things.
25. Family and social problems torment many men and women today and cause them anguish and anxiety about the future. Thérèse of Lisieux shows them how to welcome into their lives the love of God and love for others and, by doing so, turn to their advantage the fear caused by the uncertainties of the day. Knowledge of a God who is a merciful Father and who surrounds all of us with his love and providence brings us peace and joy. Thérèse presents to a world sick with fear and anguish the therapy of love of God and confidence in him and of service and commitment to others. She has discovered the profound truth that a merciful God wants to give himself fully to all those who open themselves to him, and she has passed that truth on to us.
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Doctor of Faith for an Unbelieving World
26. The relevance of the doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux to atheism and unbelief is very plain to see. The Second Vatican Council, in analyzing contemporary atheism, indicated that the word "atheism" covers quite different realities:
For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that people can assert absolutely nothing about God. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. …Again some form for themselves such a fallacious ideal of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. …Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world.20
Through Thérèse of Lisieux's spiritual experience, God desired to speak tangibly to the world of unbelief. She struggled with her faith in the midst of a world that, in the name of science and rationalism, denied the existence of God and turned to atheism.
27. In today's world nonbelievers are different from those in the time of Thérèse. Having experienced the collapse of atheistic and materialistic systems and the frustration of modern life, agnostics and those who are simply indifferent are searching for something that will give meaning to life. They experience vaguely a call to an absolute that could fill their existential emptiness and satisfy their aspirations.
Thérèse of Lisieux directly confronted anguish in the face of death. The atheist's questions about the existence of God and of an afterlife became her problem when, in her trial of faith, she was suddenly submerged in an abyss of anguish and there experienced the distress of nothingness. She was deprived of what she calls "the joy of faith"; she could not "enjoy this beautiful heaven on earth."21 She entered a place of deep darkness that surrounded her and threatened to overwhelm her. She seemed to hear the darkness say: "You believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness."22
28. In the midst of this situation, Thérèse of Lisieux was able to keep her faith and love alive. Her experience of the dark night of purification transformed her so that she was in real and fruitful solidarity with those drowning in the sea of unbelief. Before she experienced the trial of faith, she could not accept that there were people who did not believe: "I was unable to believe that there were really impious people who had no faith. I believed that they were actually speaking against their own inner convictions when they denied the existence of heaven." After her painful experience, she was convinced of the opposite: "During those very joyful days of the Easter season, Jesus made me feel that there were really souls who have no faith"23
Submerged in the most profound darkness, Thérèse did not stop loving the One in whom she trusted. She fought the fight of faith while living in the darkness of unbelievers. This drama made her understand that God wanted her lovingly to offer her own sufferings for unbelievers, to eat with them the bread of affliction, and to sit with them at the table of sinners.24
Many have testified eloquently to conversions to the faith after reading what Thérèse went through. They have discovered in her writing the true face of God. Her words were a beacon as they searched for God in the darkness and amidst temptations to unbelief. Her message has proven its timeliness for those who are estranged, who disbelieve, or who are indifferent.
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Thérèse of Lisieux the Woman, Doctor of the Church
29. The experience and doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux gain special significance in our day when new horizons are opening up for the presence and action of women in society and in the Church. Women are called to be "signs of God's tender love towards the human race,"and to enrich humanity with their "feminine genius."25 The young Carmelite of Lisieux accomplished both things in her life. We can see this clearly in her writings.
Thérèse of the Child Jesus transmits her spiritual experience with an engaging feminine style that is direct and intimate. Despite the expectations of her times, she manifested her Gospel conviction on the equality of men and women and the importance of mutual collaboration as disciples of Jesus. We can see this especially in her letters to her missionary brothers with whom she shares her human and spiritual experiences. She does not hesitate to express her point of view on theological issues and Christian experience. She writes about her concept of God's justice, the way of spiritual childhood, and trust in divine mercy.
30. Her femininity, like that of Teresa of Jesus, resulted in greater commitment to the Gospel and to overcoming all the prejudices that emarginated women of her times. Thérèse of Lisieux knew from experience what it was to be a woman in society and in the church at the end of the 18th century. In manuscript A, she tells us clearly and humorously what she felt during her trip to Rome before entering Carmel:
I still cannot understand why women are so easily excommunicated in Italy, for every minute someone was saying: "Don't enter here. Don't enter there, you will be excommunicated!" Ah! poor women, how they are misunderstood! And yet they love God in much larger numbers than men do; and during the Passion of Our Lord, women had more courage than the apostles since they braved the insults of the soldiers and dared to dry the adorable Face of Jesus.26
Her womanhood, which she expressed with the freshness and sincerity of a free person, led her to a reflection on the Gospel: the emargination of women makes them participate more closely in the mystery of Christ who was despised at his passion. "It is undoubtedly because of this that He allows misunderstanding to be their lot on earth, since he chose it for himself. …In heaven, He will show that His thoughts are not men's thoughts, for then the last will be first."27 Jesus made women the first witnesses of his resurrection.
31. Today as areas for greater participation in society and church open up for women, they can find encouragement in Thérèse of Lisieux to live as John Paul II said, " a culture of equality between men and women." Again Hans Urs von Baltahasar noted, on the occasion of the celebrations for centenary of Thérèse of Lisieux's birth, that she opened the whole field of theology to feminine reflection: "The theology of women has never been taken seriously nor integrated by the establishment. However, after the message of Lisieux, it must finally consider it in the present reconstruction of Dogmatic Theology."28
This corresponds to what the postsynodal document Vita Consecrata presents as new perspectives for women in the Church: "In the field of theological, cultural, and spiritual studies, much can be expected from the genius of women, not only in relation to specific aspects of feminine consecrated life, but also in understanding the faith in all its expressions."29
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32. God surprises us anew with this sister of ours. In her he breaks so many patterns of human logic in a way that calls attention to his own gratuitous initiative in choosing those he wants. God seeks to realize his works and manifest the greatness of his power and action in those who open themselves confidently to his merciful love as they accomplish his will.
With the proclamation of the doctorate of St. Thérèse, the Lord confirms what the Old Testament states and the New Testament restates in its fullness: that God communicates himself to the simple, giving them his wisdom and revealing to them the secrets of his life and workings throughout history. In effect, as the book of Wisdom told at the threshold of Christ's coming: "Length of days is not what makes age honorable, nor number of years the true measure of life; understanding, this is grey hairs; untarnished life, this is ripe old age. Having won God's favor, he has been loved. …Having come to perfection so soon, he has lived long" (Wis 4:8-10, 13). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, full of joy in the Holy Spirit, proclaims a divine logic so very different from ours: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, for that is what it has pleased you to do" (Lk 10:21-22).
33. The Lord, Father of all light, from whom comes all that is good, all that is perfect (cf. Jm 1:17), has given Carmel yet another gift with Thérèse of Lisieux's doctorate. It is a free gift that demands a response of love and generous commitment to our vocation and mission in the Church and in the world. May our sister Thérèse of Lisieux obtain for us from the Lord the grace to be his collaborators in bearing witness and proclaiming the good news to our brothers and sisters of the third millennium. May we be authentic followers of Jesus, in communion with Mary, the first one to receive the joyful news of salvation and who proclaimed it with the joy of one who has discovered that God gives himself freely to the poor, humble, and simple.
Rome, 1 October, 1997
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[Ed. -The Latin titles refer to conciliar or pontifical documents. No English translations are indicated in this letter. The references to works of St. Thérèse include both the sources in the French critical edition (Éditions du Cerf and Editions Desclée de Bouwer, 1996) and in the translation by John Clarke from ICS Publications, Washington.]
1. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 23.
2. A. Olival, Jr. "Una reflexâo sobre to tempo; sentido do tempo milenar," in Rumo ao Terceiro Milênio (Sâp Paulo, 1997), p. 30.
3. Redemptoris Missio, cf. 41-60.
4. Ibid., 42.
7. Lumen Gentium, 9.
8. Perfectae Caritatis, 15.
9. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 51.
10. Manuscript B, 1r-v. [Story of a Soul, trans. By John Clarke, Washington: ICS Publications, 1977, p. 188].
11. Letter 197 to Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart, September 17, 1896. [General Correspondence, Washington, ICS Publications, 1982., vol. 2 pp. 999-1000.].
12. Manuscript B, 3v [p. 194, ICS edition].
13. Manuscript C, 34r [p. 254, ICS edition].
14. Redemptoris Mission, 90.
15. Manuscript A, 32r [p. 32, ICS edition].
16. Vita Consecrata, 39.
17. Cf. Manuscript A, 13r [p. 34, ICS edition].
18. Ibid., 39r [p. 84, ICS edition].
19. Ibid., 44v [p. 97, ICS edition].
20. Gaudium et Spes, 19.
21. Manuscript C, 7r [pp, 215, 216, ICS edition].
22. Ibid., 6v [p. 211 ICS edition].
23. Ibid., 5v [p. 211, ICS edition].
24. Ibid., 6r [p. 212, ICS edition].
25. Vita Consecrata, 57.
26. Manuscript A, 66v [p. 140, ICS edition].
27. Loc. cit.
28. Quoted by G. Gaucher in "Actualité de Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux," in Thérèse de Lisieux et les Missions (Kinshasa, 1996) p. 127.
29. Vita Consecrata, 58.
published on the web with permission April 8, 1998
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