Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux
Job 9:1-12, 14-16
Today is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, ranked with St. Francis of Assisi as the most popular saint in history. Therese led a quiet, cloistered life in the Carmel monastery of Lisieux, having entered the convent at the age of 15. She was bright but never went to a university. She barely traveled from her home, except for a brief pilgrimage to Rome where she boldly asked Pope Leo XIII permission to enter the Carmelites at such a young age (he told her to obey her superiors!). Yet Therese has been declared the patron of missions and was named as a "Doctor of the Church" by Pope John Paul II!
Although her life was lived in a small circle, Therese’s spirit enveloped the world. She had a profound sense of God’s love for her and was filled with the awe of God’s majesty that embraced the universe. She desired with all her heart to be a missionary of God’s love to the world through her life of prayer and dedication. Although surrounded by the sentimental piety of late 19th century France, Therese was eminently practical and genuine. Her famous "little way" emphasized that even the humble and ordinary tasks of life, done out of love, can be pleasing to God, a spirituality rooted in the gospel and the best of Catholic tradition.
The readings today were not selected specifically for the feast of St. Therese but their themes harmonize well with her spirituality. The first reading is from one of the soliloquies of Job. His friend Bildad has urged Job to ask God’s forgiveness since the calamities he is enduring must be a result of some evil done by Job. The entire message of the book of Job is a rejection of this kind of theology. Job knows that even the innocent suffer, a challenging mystery for faith. In this passage from chapter 9, Job affirms his great respect for God’s majesty and power-the one who can "remove the mountains before they know it" and who "stretches out the heavens and treads upon the crests of the sea". Yet this transcendent and all-powerful God is the very one that St. Therese knew also as a God of tender mercy and infinite love.
The reading from the Gospel of Luke underscores another dimension of Therese’s sanctity. As Jesus and his disciples were on their journey to Jerusalem, several would-be disciples come forward. One seems unaware that because of his mission the itinerant Jesus "has nowhere to rest his head." Jesus summons another man to "follow me" but this would-be disciple wants first to bury his father-certainly a solemn obligation in Judaism but Jesus makes the point that no priority can come before the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Yet another candidate for discipleship declares he will follow Jesus but must first say farewell to his family. Jesus again places commitment to the gospel above every other commitment, no matter how compelling. "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God."
St. Therese embodied the profound commitment to following Jesus revealed in today’s Gospel. The beauty of her life and teaching is that she showed how fidelity in everyday things done out of love can lead us to the Kingdom of God. St. Therese, Little Flower, pray for us.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.