Halfway through the first meeting of the synod on the future of the Church, the pope calls for trust. Through the voice of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), on the very day of the feast of Thérèse of Avila, Francis proposes a “small way” for the mission: “One of the most important discoveries of Thérèse, for the good of all God’s people, is his “little way”, the way of trust and love, also known as the Way of spiritual childhood. »
A spiritual treasure
On July 17, 1896, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face had only one year left to live. She wrote to her superior, Sister Marie of the Sacré-Cœur, who was none other than her older sister Marie Martin: “It is trust and nothing but trust that should lead us to love,” she wrote. It is trust, such is the title of the apostolic exhortation published by Pope Francis on October 15, 2023. If he did not retain the date of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thérèse Martin (January 2, 1873) nor of the centenary of his beatification (March 19, 1923), it is, he said, “so that this message goes beyond this celebration and is understood as part of the spiritual treasure of the Church. »
Dedicated to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, the exhortation takes up the spiritual journey of the little Carmelite who died at the age of 24, revealing all her pastoral relevance: “Her genius is to lead us to the center, to the essential, to the most essential, insists the Pope. Theologians, moralists, thinkers of spirituality, as well as pastors and each believer in their environment, we must still collect this brilliant intuition of Thérèse and draw the consequences, both theoretical and practical, both doctrinal and pastoral, both personal and community. It takes audacity and inner freedom to achieve this. »
In four parts, it takes the reader from the discovery of the Teresian spiritual message to lessons for the government of the Church. Based on the reading of History of a Soul, the Pope underlines “the way [de Thérèse de Lisieux] to consider evangelization by attraction and not by pressure or proselytism. » In a paragraph entitled “Grace frees us from self-referentiality”, the pope continues: “Faced with a Pelagian conception of holiness, individualist and elitist, more ascetic than mystical, which places the emphasis above all on human effort , Thérèse always emphasizes the primacy of God’s action, of his grace. »
Growing in holiness
A reading with quietist overtones that the pope immediately tempers: “Justified freely by sanctifying grace, we are transformed and capable of cooperating through our good actions on a path of growth in holiness. » And who other than Thérèse of Lisieux can better embody this vocation of small steps towards holiness, the Norman Carmelite anticipating addressing God in these terms: “I will appear before you empty-handed”.
From Thérèse of Lisieux, we still remember this impulse: “In the heart of the Church, I will be love”. As the synodal debates continue, how can we be surprised that the Pope, in a very political reading, recalls this cry: “It is not the heart of a triumphalist Church, it is the heart of a loving Church , humble and merciful (…) Such a discovery of the heart of the Church is also a great light for us today, so as not to be scandalized by the limits and weaknesses of the ecclesiastical institution, marked by obscurities or sins,” Francis insists.
Go to source
On several occasions, he returns to his first apostolic exhortation (2013): “In Evangelii gaudium, I insisted on the invitation to return to the freshness of the source to emphasize what is essential and indispensable. I believe it is appropriate to resume and re-propose this invitation. » A way also, for the pope, to respond to his opponents, through the voice of a simple Carmelite, nevertheless a doctor of the Church: “She shows by her words and by her personal journey that, even if all the teachings and norms of the Church have their importance, their value, their light, some are more urgent and more structuring in Christian life. This is where Thérèse put her eyes and her heart. »