Mass of Thanksgiving for the Family of St. Therese
Archbishop of Portland in Oregon John G. Vlazny
Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Portland
March 6, 2010
This morning we gather here at Our Lady of Sorrows Church to celebrate with the good members of the Family of St. Therese of the Child Jesus as they give thanks to God for their official recognition as a private association of the faithful. The common norms for God’s people in the Catholic Church allow for associations of the faithful which are distinct from institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life. In such associations, like the Family of St. Therese, members strive with a common effort to foster a more perfect life. They may also devote themselves to works of the apostolate, such as initiatives for evangelization, works of piety or charity and those which animate the temple order with the Christian spirit. In their statutes, the members of this family state that their purpose is to love the Lord, the Good Shepherd, and to come to him through the little way of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.
In following the example of St. Therese, all the members aspire to display complete trust in God’s mercy, to be humble as children before God, to raise their minds and hearts to God continually, to perform their daily tasks of the love of God and neighbor, to promote the little way of St. Therese, to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy, to be obedient to the Supreme Pontiff and the lawful spirit of the church, and to be involved in the activities of their parishes.
Today we celebrate this Mass in honor of their patroness, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, with hope in our hearts that, like their saintly patroness, they will be truly pleasing to God and faithful partners in the church’s evangelizing mission. St. Therese, often described as the “little flower of Jesus,” was devout from her childhood and by special permission she entered the cloistered Carmelites of Lisieux in France at age 15. Her approach to God was a reflection of the spiritual childhood that has been described for us in today’s reading. In other words, she placed her total trust in the Lord.
The relationship of Therese with God and with others was one of simple love and tenderness. We fight our battles with all kinds of argumentation and sometimes a mean-spirited disposition. She fought her battles with prayers, not with works. She was responsible for the conversion of many people and she still is today. She teaches us that when hearts are closed we should try to open them to love, not fire.
As far as the world was concerned, Therese did not have much to show for her time on earth. Her final words as she gazed at the crucifix were, “Oh, I love Him. My God, I love you.” For her, God was everything. She was nothing. She described herself as “a little flower who would tell simply what God has done without trying to hide her blessings.” Her little way greatly impacted Catholics spirituality. Her autobiography entitled, “The Story of the Soul” taught this “little way” of holiness to generations of people. It gives us some practical insights about living close to Jesus.
The gospel message we just heard was the inspiration of the spirituality of St. Therese and hopefully will be the inspiration for the members of her family gathered together today. Jesus speaks the very same words to us again when he says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
The life story of St. Therese has been received within many cultures. Her autobiography has been translated into over 50 languages and dialects. Her doctrine of spiritual childhood has modeled the paschal mystery. You give yourself to life, to people, to tasks and to responsibilities with loving care. In that process you will learn much about yourself and others. The convictions of Therese are models for those of you who choose to follow her little way. They are worth mentioning as we prepare for the gift of the Eucharist here this morning.
First of all, Therese models for us a spirituality which finds its foundation in God’s holy word. She loved the psalms, the readings of the prophet Isaiah and the letters of St. Paul. She memorized many passages and pondered them often in prayer. Today’s second reading was one of her favorites, St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. She had wanted to be a martyr, a missionary, a doctor of the church, a warrior like St. Joan of Arc, even a priest. But in pondering today’s reading from Paul, she found that love was the greatest of all virtues. And so she set for herself this goal, “I will be love in the heart of the church.”
Her second conviction was rooted in the community life which she shared with her sisters. Living in community can often be challenging. So it was for Therese. It was hard to get along with some of the sisters. But she decided to love the least lovable ones with all her heart and soul. She said she wanted to be a Good Samaritan reaching out to roadside casualties. A smile or good word was the least she could do for any of her sisters. The Family of St. Therese also seeks fulfillment of their baptismal consecration in giving themselves away generously. Like Therese, they know that love cannot stand up straight without the companionship of justice.
Finally, Therese was also convinced that in order to be church one had to be in mission. She herself, together with St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary, is one of the official patrons of the church worldwide missionary efforts. She knew that all of us are called upon to be good news and to make good news for others. Her mission was working for the salvation of souls. I remember visiting Lisieux two years ago and I marveled how this young woman, living in a remote village of Normandy and cloistered in a Carmelite convent truly made an impact on the church’s missionary endeavors, wherever they have occurred. When she chose to center everything about her life in love, she truly believed that it made all the difference in the world. We too should be similarly expansive and generous in our efforts to be agents of God’s saving grace for people everywhere, not only within our own families or acquaintances.
Today, then, the Family of St. Therese, thanks God for his loving and providential care of our heavenly Father. I, for my part, thank all of you for your prayers and good works in the service of the church and for your personal and communal embrace of the spiritual childhood of St. Therese. You have heard God’s call to discipleship in your hearts and you respond generously and faithfully. We ask the Lord to help more and more people in today’s world to hear his call and to give their hearts to this loving God. Pope Pius X called Therese “the greatest saint of modern times” when she was canonized in 1925. In this Eucharist and every day of our lives, let us honor her memory by offering her own final prayer, “Oh, I love him, my God, I love