Monday October 1, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux
Reading (1 John 4:7-16) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:25-30)
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. When she was canonized, the Pope said that she is the greatest saint of modern time. She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of many, many people so we need to consider what her teaching is. She was made a Doctor of the Church just a couple of years ago; this was a very unusual sort of thing. She is only the 34th person in the history of the Church to be made a doctor. Usually, those who are made doctors are people who have written tremendous amounts and they have elucidated various theological things. Saint Therese wrote a tiny, little book - her little autobiography - and it is simple as can be. So we wonder why she was made a Doctor of the Church, and why she is proclaimed the greatest saint of modern time.
It really has to do, first of all, with the simplicity of her doctrine. But it also has to do with the popularity of it. She is a Doctor of the Church because she has had such a profound influence on so many lives. And the reason she has had that kind of influence is because her doctrine is so simple. It is called "The Little Way"; what that means is that you are to do your daily tasks with the greatest amount of love, and you will become a saint. It is just that simple.
We try to make the spiritual life so complicated. We think that we have to do all these extraordinary things. And here is a young woman (she died when she was 24 years old, so she did not live very long) who was not complicated; she went into a Carmelite monastery when she was 15; she did not work great miracles; she did not do extraordinary things. She was just a young woman with the most intense and incredible love for God. Because she had that kind of love for God, so too, she had that kind of love for other souls. Burning with this love for God and for neighbor has made her this incredible saint.
Now, The Little Way, then, is something that can be applied to all of us. When we think about the saints, we often think about all their miracles and all the wonderful things that they did. But when we look at Saint Therese, we learn that all we need to do is be the best husband and father, the best wife and mother; whatever your tasks happen to be in life, it is to do it in the best way that you can. But it is not merely a matter of doing it in a perfectionist way; it is a matter of doing it out of love.
When we hear these readings that were given for her feast, we see that God has revealed to the merest children what He has hidden from the learned and clever. For those who try to make the spiritual life difficult, Saint Therese was able to bring it down and capsulate it and just simply say, "Love." That is all. If you do everything out of love, that is all that is required. It is very, very simple. But, of course, we make it difficult. We need to struggle against our own inclinations towards selfishness because that the opposite of love.
Then, we hear those beautiful words at the end of the Gospel: "Anyone who loves, God lives in Him, and He in God." What a beautiful thing: We are united to God because God is love. And if we are loving, then what happens is that the more we love, the more the soul is open so that God can not only fill the soul, but can actually radiate and live through the soul. That is what we want anyway, isn't it? To have Christ living in us and living through us so that we are living His life and He is able to live through us, that He is able to touch other people through us? All that it requires is love.
But love requires a great deal from us. It should be the easiest thing in the world for us, but sin has damaged us so badly that it is now very difficult for us to love. It is not a matter of having gushy feelings; love is a matter of dying to the self. Love is giving; it is pouring one's self out. It is never being selfish; it is not self-seeking at all, but it seeks only the good of God and of neighbor.
If we are willing to do the little tasks of our daily life (as mundane and tedious as they might be) with the greatest of love, they become the most extraordinary and most wonderful things in the world. And it will bring many souls to God and give Him the greatest glory because we are doing His Will, and we are doing it with His love. That is what we are supposed to do.
So the Lord invites us to come to Him with all of our burdens, all of the tedium of our daily lives, and to learn from Him, for He is gentle and He is humble. His yoke is easy; it is the easiest. His yoke is love. And so we are to learn from this little girl, the childlike one, what true sainthood is all about. True holiness - it is all summarized in one word and it is to be our whole life; that is, simply: Love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.