Audio: Click here!
Fraternal correction - how we reach out in love to help our brothers and sisters to grow in love together - is never easy. Through the prophet Ezekiel today God calls us to this high demand of speaking the truth in charity to each other. We are demanded by God to help each other grow, to point out each other's faults. Marriages who have worked through difficult times know that this is never easy but truly always worth it. For the false sense of "keeping the peace" is nothing in comparison with true peace. Whenever I do marriage preparation with an engaged couple we always use a tool for discussion known as the FOCCUS Inventory. One of the fun questions to discuss is "I prefer 'keeping the peace' at all costs." I think this is fun because it can really spur true discussion: is "keeping the peace" really worth it no matter what? Is it better to be open about things that really are robbing us of peace and communion and could ultimately sow seeds of resentment? Indeed, there needs to be a balance between patiently enduring one another's shortcomings, and truly working for a peaceful communion that works together for a better way. It may not always be easy to discern, but let us allow the prophet today to remind us of that need to work for building up the kingdom of God in each other's hearts and souls. This goes for engaged couples, marriages, sibling relationships,, workplaces, and religious communities. If we are going to do this well, we need humility, love, and justice in a radical way, after the heart of Jesus.
In her own self-titled little way, Therese herself discovered how to help others to grow in their love. Knowing that Jesus did not call her to be a leader as a superior to the order of Carmel in Lisieux, and one of the youngest and newest members of her community, Therese tried to quietly infuse love into her daily encounters with people. "Jesus is my only love" she carved onto the wooden doorpost of her cell, or living quarters.
She spread her love over the halls of the convent and into the hearts of her sisters in community. God even gave her a couple special relationships with seminarians and eventually priests whom she took under her wing as pen pals and special recipients of her prayer. But for Jesus, and for Therese, that was not enough.
Marie-Francois-Therese (our patroness’ birth name, Mary-Francis-Theresa) fell ill April 1897 at the age of 24 coughing up blood for the first time, a tell-tale sign of tuberculosis. As a sickly infant whose lungs showed early signs of illness, this was the worst that the family could have expected. Her older sister, who at the time was abbess of the convent, asked Therese to keep writing more of her spiritual memoirs like she had ordered her (under holy obedience) a couple years ago to write childhood memories. Without much grumbling, Therese began the work that would be published a year after her death as "the Story of a Soul" and take France and the world by fire, the fire of God's love.
Her religious name was actually Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face. She wished to be humble and little like the infant king we adore at Christmas. But She also honored the holy face of Jesus that was modeled from the shroud of Turin and the ancient descriptions of Jesus. The Lord, whose face was disfigured by the fullness of love displayed in His Passion, was in these last months bringing to completion the plans He had for Therese: an invitation into the depths of self-emptying love.
Therese lived the humility of the child Jesus in her little way every day. And in the last six months of her life more than never, she experienced the love and justice of Jesus' Holy Face.
Saint Paul calls this love a 'Kenosis' - self-emptying. Jesus "emptied" himself, taking the form of a slave and then being obedient unto the point of death on a cross. If you look at the blood poured out, you could truly say Jesus emptied himself for us. Spiritually, the Holy Spirit is poured out from his open side into our souls. Therese embraced this self-emptying freely in her own Passion, her own suffering. And this was, in a mysterious way, how Jesus invited her to change the world. As Therese wrote her story of a sould and finished her carrying of the cross until September 30th, 1897 at around 7:20pm, just over 7 years into her religious life, she never would have imagined that her words would be read around the world still over a century later and touching the hearts of so many to grow in the love of God.
And that lesson of the fruitfulness of self-emptying and obediently accepting the will of God for her life is the greatest lesson the little flower gave us. Let us thank God for her birthday into heaven this day and ask her to continue to shower down roses upon us as we grow from her spiritual guidance. Saint Therese, little flower, pray for us!