Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Letter of Counsel from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Lorenzo Di Credi 1459-1537
An Angel Brings the Holy Communion to Mary Magdalen
about 1510
Tempera on wood, 51 x 38 cm
Christian Museum, Esztergom

In a letter to her cousin Marie Guerin, Thérèse then aged only 15 years advised her about the necessity of frequent Communion.

Her cousin had confided in Thérèse that because of scruples and her conviction that she had greatly sinned, she would refrain from Holy Communion.

Pope Pius X after reading this letter declared it “most opportune”

It will be recalled that he was the Pope who made it possible for more frequent Holy Communion and for Communion for children.

Someone once described Saint Thérèse of Lisieux as “a religious prodigy”.

The letter would appear to give support to that view. How many spiritual advisors are able to deal with scruples in such a confident and self assured manner ?

The letter is dated 1888:
“Before you confided in me, I felt you were suffering, and my heart was one with yours. Since you have the humility to ask advice of your little Thérèse, this is what she thinks: you have grieved me greatly by abstaining from Holy Communion, because you have grieved Our Lord.

The devil must be very cunning to deceive a soul in this way. Do you not know, dear Marie, that by acting thus you help him to accomplish his end? The treacherous creature knows quite well that when a soul is striving to belong wholly to God he cannot cause her to sin, so he merely tries to persuade her that she has sinned.

This is a considerable gain, but not enough to satisfy his hatred, so he aims at something more and tries to shut out Jesus from a tabernacle which Jesus covets. Unable to enter this sanctuary himself, he wishes that at least it remain empty and without its God.

Alas, what will become of that poor little heart? When the devil has succeeded in keeping a soul from Holy Communion he has gained all his ends . . . while Jesus weeps! . . .

Remember, little Marie, that this sweet Jesus is there in the Tabernacle expressly for you and you alone. Remember that He burns with the desire to enter your heart. Do not listen to Satan. Laugh him to scorn, and go without fear to receive Jesus, the God of peace and of love.

"Thérèse thinks all this"—you say—"because she does not know my difficulties." She does know, and knows them well; she understands everything, and she tells you confidently that you can go without fear to receive your only true Friend. She, too, has passed through the martyrdom of scruples, but Jesus gave her the grace to receive the Blessed Sacrament always, even when she imagined she had committed great sins. I assure you I have found that this is the only means of ridding oneself of the devil. When he sees that he is losing his time he leaves us in peace.

In truth it is impossible that a heart which can only find rest in contemplation of the Tabernacle—and yours is such, you tell me—could so far offend Our Lord as not to be able to receive Him . . . What does offend Jesus, what wounds Him to the Heart, is want of confidence.

Pray much that the best portion of your life may not be overshadowed by idle fears. We have only life's brief moments to spend for the Glory of God, and well does Satan know it. This is why he employs every ruse to make us consume them in useless labour. Dear sister, go often to Holy Communion, go very often—that is your one remedy.”

The Letter quoted above illustrates some points made by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia  in which he proclaimed Saint Thérèse a Doctor of the Church:

“In the 266 Letters we possess, addressed to family members, women religious and missionary "brothers", Thérèse shares her wisdom, developing a teaching that is actually a profound exercise in the spiritual direction of souls ...

[S]he had the mission of making the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, known and loved; she helped to heal souls of the rigours and fears of Jansenism, which tended to stress God's justice rather than his divine mercy. In God's mercy she contemplated and adored all the divine perfections, because "even his justice (and perhaps even more so than the other perfections) seems to me clothed in love" ...

As it was for the Church's Saints in every age, so also for her, in her spiritual experience Christ is the centre and fullness of Revelation. Thérèse knew Jesus, loved him and made him loved with the passion of a bride. She penetrated the mysteries of his infancy, the words of his Gospel, the passion of the suffering Servant engraved on his holy Face, in the splendour of his glorious life, in his Eucharistic presence. She sang of all the expressions of Christ's divine charity, as they are presented in the Gospel ...

Thérèse of Lisieux is a young person. She reached the maturity of holiness in the prime of youth ... As such, she appears as a Teacher of evangelical life, particularly effective in illumining the paths of young people, who must be the leaders and witnesses of the Gospel to the new generations.”