Tag Archives: Therese of Lisieux

Saints of the Missions

October is the month of the missions in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis proclaimed that this year we would celebrate an extraordinary month of missions to recall the hundredth anniversary of an apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XV, Maximum Illud, which opened up a new understanding of mission.

What I found most refreshing in this one hundred year old letter is the way the pope sought to separate missionary activity from any type of nationalism or colonialism.

“the true missionary is always aware that he is not working as an agent of his country, but as an ambassador of Christ”

Pope Benedict XV praised the work of sisters in missionary countries and also called for others to collaborate in mission. In addition, the pope wanted to see the development of local clergy as an important part of missionary activity.

In our diocese, parishes sent out missionaries to other parishes in the deaneries. Our parish, Dulce Nombre de María, sent about fifty to the parish of Corquín, at the other end of our deanery. I had it easy and went to the US for the mission week.

IMG_0647

But, to help myself pray and reflect on the missionary vocation of every Christian I complied a calendar of saints, blessed, and holy persons who died or celebrated their feast day in October.

But what is most interesting is that the month begins and ends on the feast days of two persons who never went to the missions but are linked to mission.

October 1 is the feast of the cloistered Carmelite sister who died at the age of 24. Saint Thèrése of Lisieux is the patron saint of missions. She wanted to go to the Carmelite foundation in Indochina (Vietnam), but was unable. Yet she prayed for missionaries and had a missionary spirit.

October 31 is the feast of the Jesuit brother, Saint Alfonso Rodríguez, who spent forty years as the door-keeper of the Jesuit house of studies on the island of Majorca. During his time there he was a spiritual guide for Saint Pedro Claver, the Jesuit who spent forty years in Colombia especially serving the slaves brought by the Spaniards to the port city of Cartagena. He owed his mission to the inspiration and advice of Saint Alfonso.

Missionary activity is so often thought of as going to another place, especially exotic lands, to preach the Gospel and, at least today, to witness to the Good News of Jesus for the poor. But Saints Thérèse and Alfonso show us the importance of being a witness to the Gospel wherever we are.

As Pope Francis has often noted, in Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, 120

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization… The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.

The saints show us the way.

My calendar of October saints with quotes can be found here: OCTOBER saints

Unworthy yet graced

Last Sunday’s readings reflected a sense of human unworthiness.

Isaiah protests (Isaiah 6:1-8),

I am a man of unclean lips.

Peter protests (Luke 5: 1-11),

Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man.

Even Paul protests (15: 1-11).

[I am] not fit to be called an apostle.

Is this just a reaffirmation of a faith that crushes people, that keeps people down by promoting a low self-esteem?

It might seem so. But, when I look at myself honestly, I realize that I am inadequate, I am not complete, I am not perfect.

I often have the illusion that I should be able to do it all, to do it always right. But reality often hits me in the face.

I cannot.

But, for we who believe in a God who became flesh for and with us, this is not the final word.

God sends an ember to cleanse the lips of Isaiah. Jesus calls Peter to follow him, to get up off his knees and go forward.

But Paul puts it most clearly and succinctly:

By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace in me has not been useful, not been sterile, not been in vain, to no purpose, empty.

Dorothy Day once noted that “The sense of futility is one of the greatest evils of the day.”

But she realized that God worked with her, in her – and made of her smallest acts a sign of God’s love and grace.

Yes, she experienced “the long loneliness,” as she entitled her autobiography. But she also experienced the grace of God – which came to her in a special way with the joy of motherhood.

Recognizing our need of God and others, our dependence, can free us from dependency on ourselves and from the frustration of not being able to be perfect. It can open us to God’s love.

Last year, while reading a book by James Keating on the diaconate, I came across this quote:

[The deacon] is to receive an intimacy from God that makes him feel uncomfortable, because it makes him know that the love given by the Trinity to the alienated and the lonely is first given to him.

This brought me great consolation in the midst of a time when I was feeling a bit disconcerted and disconnected – alone. I felt a strong sense of both my sinfulness and God’s mercy. Not one or the other – both.

The next day I went to a Mass in the neighboring village. It was the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Later I found these words in one of her letters (#226):

I expect as much from God’s justice as from His mercy. It is because He is just that “He is compassionate and filled with gentleness, slow to punish, and abundant in mercy, for He knows our frailty, He remembers that we are only dust. As a father has tenderness or his children, so the Lord has compassion on us!”

This gives me great joy – and a great lesson to begin Lent.

God’s mercy and our shortcomings

A few weeks ago I came across this quotation from Thomas Merton, who died on December 10, 1968:

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”

I struggle with accepting my limitations, my sins, my inadequacies. It’s so much easier to pretend that I am not perfect, but good.

But Merton is suggesting that the start of our life of faith is remembering what is wrong with ourselves – but not stopping there.

If I don’t recognize where I am wrong, I can end up thinking I am right and everyone else to wrong. I can find myself taking on a “god complex.”

A few months ago, I ran across these words of St. Thérèse of Liseux:

How happy I am to see myself as imperfect and be in need of God’s mercy.

Reflecting on these words, which mirror Merton’s, I wrote in my journal that morning. (This is slightly revised.)

How hard it is for me to acknowledge my errors, my failures! How difficult it is for me when I’ve made a mistake, when I’ve not done something as well as I think I could. How reluctant I am to face someone , to talk with someone, when I’ve not done something well or put things off. I am afraid of looking bad.
But St. Thérèse remind me that my imperfections could very well be the path to letting God’s love and mercy touch my soul, transform me, bring me to conversion.

Recognition of our sins and shortcomings, of our imperfections and errors, can open us to the mercy of God.

That too is at the heart of the Jesus prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the Living God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

A cloistered missionary

Love is my vocation!
St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Sister Thérèse of the Holy Child, the Little Flower, a cloistered Carmelite nun who died at twenty-four in an obscure convent in Normandy, France, is an unlikely patroness of missions and missionaries.

Yet, this spunky young woman who entered the cloister at fifteen had a sense of mission that many of us in the mission field lack.

She had dreams of being a martyr, a missionary, even a priest – but knew that her vocation would be lived out in her convent – praying and doing the daily chores.

She wanted to join the new Carmelite convent in Hanoi, Indochina (now Viet Nam), but her ill health and tuberculosis would not permit such an endeavor. And so she prayed for the missions and corresponded with two priests missioned in Viet Nam.

But for her, the mission was the “little way,” the way of love in the midst of everyday activities.

“I applied myself above all to practice quite hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.”

Being a missionary doesn’t always mean being out there in the midst of desperately poor situations. It doesn’t mean always teaching or bringing the Eucharist to distant communities.

For me it means preparing materials for catechists, planning training sessions for catechists, meeting with catechists to plan the confirmation Masses, meeting with the pastor to plan events in the parish, driving seven hours each way to take some small coffee farmers to Tegucigalpa, checking out the Maestro en Casa education centers to get ready for the next round of scholarship applications.

It also entails washing clothes, getting the car checked and repaired, cooking meals, getting photocopies and buying supplies in the city for workshops, and more mundane activities.

But the question is whether I am doing this with love, whether the little things I do are suffused with love and a commitment to the poor. What am I doing and not doing to respond to the people here.

And so I am reminded of this quote of Dorothy Day, from her book on this saint, Therese:

“The significance of our smallest acts! The significance of the little things we leave undone! The protests we do not make, the stands we do not take, we who are living in the world.”

Mission and the Little FLower

Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, died at the age of 24 in a cloistered Carmelite monastery in northwest France. She had entered at the age of 15. Yet this cloistered nun is one of the patronesses of the missions.

It is true that she had a great admiration of Catholic missionaries in Viet Nam and had hoped to be transferred to a new Carmelite convent there.

But I think there is something more about her life and spirituality that speaks to mission.

She is known for her advocacy of “The Little Way,” the way of living out one’s love of God and neighbor in the quiet deeds of everyday life.

“I applied myself above all to practice quite hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.”

It may come as a surprise to many that one of her most ardent devotees in the twentieth century was Dorothy Day, the US Catholic advocate of the poor, the cofounder of the Catholic Worker, and advocate of justice and peace. Day even wrote a book on her life, Therese,  in which she noted:

The significance of our smallest acts! The significance of the little things we leave undone! The protests we do not make, the stands we do not take, we who are living in the world.

The work of being a missionary, even being a missionary in our homes and home towns, begins with faithfulness and love in the little things and in deep love and respect for others.

It is so easy, especially for me, to be caught up in the large schemes of mission or in the desire to get things done that I am not always attentive to the people around me or get annoyed when things do not go as I wanted.

In such cases I need to recall the witness of the Little Flower who, loving God and her neighbor, filled with a sense of mission, did not neglect to be lovingly attentive to those around her, even when they inadvertently splashed water on her as she washed clothes.

God wants us to love in the little things – so that from them our loving God can spread love to all God’s creatures.