Saturday, October 1, 2011

Becoming Little

Today's the feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, the co-patron of the Apostleship of Prayer. As Providence would have it, the Gospel for Saturday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time (Luke 10: 17-24) is perfect for this saint.

72 of Jesus' disciples have just returned from a mission trip. They're filled with joy and tell Jesus: "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." Jesus shares their joy but then cautions them that they should not be so thrilled in the power they have nor in their accomplishments and success in ministry. He says: "Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven." He tells them to find their security not in what they do but in who they are. They are to exalt not because they have accomplished great things (that can feed their pride) but because they are children of the Father. This is where their identity is to be grounded, not in anything external.

Then Jesus goes on to pray: "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike." This is Therese who never went to college and who lived, from the age of 15 until her death at 24, in a cloistered Carmelite convent. In 1997 Blessed John Paul II named her a Doctor of the Church. Clearly her wisdom came not from books (except for the Scriptures) and classes but from God who reveals heavenly things to the childlike.

When Therese looked at the great saints--ascetics and apostles, martyrs and theologians--she did not see herself among them. She felt that she could not follow their way to perfection. So God inspired in her a new way. She wrote: "I wish to find the way to go to heaven by a very straight, short, completely new little way." Then, reflecting on all the new inventions of the 19th Century, she decided to seek an elevator that could take her to heaven. She wrote: "I too would like to find an elevator to lift me up to Jesus, for I am too little to climb the rough stairway of perfection." What could serve as her elevator to Jesus? His own arms: "The elevator which must raise me to the heavens is your arms, O Jesus! For that I do not need to grow; on the contrary, I must necessarily remain small, become smaller."

Centuries earlier another saint, the cousin of Jesus, put it another way: "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3: 30). This goes absolutely against the grain of a world that wants to "super-size" everything, including the human ego. St. Therese reminds us that smaller is better.

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