Saint Therese Teaches Us to Love
October 1, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux
Reading (1 John 4:7-16) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:25-30)
In the first reading today, we hear from Saint John that we are to love one another. He speaks all about love and how love comes from God and that anyone who loves is in God, and if we love we know God and God knows us. Now the problem, if we ask ourselves, “Do we really know God?” is that most of us would probably say “no”. Have we ever really experienced the depth of God? Probably not. If that is the case, then there is only one reason: because we do not love the way that we are called to love. It is not that we do not love at all, but that we do not love with the fullness of our being.
Most of us do not love with the fullness of our being because we are not willing to be vulnerable enough; we are not willing to open our hearts because that requires a risk. The risk, of course, is that you could be hurt – you could be rejected, you could be violated, you could be abandoned – and all of us in our lives somewhere along the line probably have been. Because it hurts, we are afraid and we refuse to open our hearts. In our heads we can say, “But this is God. He isn’t going to hurt me and He isn’t going to reject me or abandon me, so why am I afraid?” It is because we are so terrified that we are going to get hurt at the deepest level that we refuse to open our hearts. Now, in refusing to open our hearts to God, what we are then doing is refusing to love the way God created us to love; therefore, we keep ourselves at a distance from God. We do not know Him because we do not love Him, and therefore we plod along in our daily lives loving God to some degree but not with the fullness of our being.
So what Saint Therese teaches us is what she calls her “Little Way”. Her Little Way is simply one of love; all you have to do is love. Saint Augustine basically made the point sixteen hundred years ago when he said, Love, and do what you will, because as Saint Paul says, Love never wrongs the neighbor. If we love we will not sin because love always seeks the good of the other. But the point Saint Therese is making is that if you want to be a great saint it is very simple. We can read some of the saints and all the extraordinary things they did with all the penances and all the struggles, and then we look at Saint Therese and she says, “No, it is a very simple way, a little way – and it is just love.” It is exactly what we were created for, so it is not something which is difficult for us, it is not something which is beyond us, but it is the very fulfillment of our being. It is why God made us.
But in order to do that, as Our Lord makes clear in the Gospel, we have to become like little children. What do little children do? They love; they trust; they have complete confidence; they are simple. That is what we are called to be like, to have that kind of trust and confidence and simplicity when it comes to God Who loves us, God Who is love. We are afraid because we think that if we open up, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, something is going to happen. Do we really think that God is going to violate us? Do we really think that He is going to hurt us? This is the confidence that Saint Therese would be talking about, to have absolute confidence even to the point almost of what would seem to be audacity; but it is simply saying, “If God is my Father and He loves me, then if I love Him I can have absolute confidence in Him because He has promised that He will do all of these things for those who love Him.”
So we see that what Saint Therese is asking of us is to open our hearts, to go deeper, in fact to plumb the very depths of our being, and in so doing to find true happiness, the joy that we really desire. And that is a joy that Our Lord promises us He is going to give to us because it is His joy. If we give ourselves entirely to Him and we receive His gift entirely to ourselves, then He will live in us in His fullness and His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete. That is what He promised if we would become like little children. This is where He says that His yoke is easy and His burden light. When you love somebody, it is not a difficulty to struggle for them, to suffer for them, to offer yourselves for them, to reach out to help them, to do anything for them, because love makes it easy, it makes it sweet. There is nothing that is more beautiful or pleasant, and there is nothing that is more natural to us.
But the devil, in his vile way, has seen to it that most of us have been hurt, and hurt badly somewhere along the line. Therefore, we refuse now to trust God; we refuse to be as little children in the arms of God; we refuse to have the confidence and the simplicity that we need in order to do what we were created to do. That is exactly what Satan wants. He wants us to shut down; he wants us not to love; he wants us to be like him. Unfortunately, that is the trap most of us fall into. If we can say with Satan, “I will not serve,” that means “I will not love,” that means “I will be caught up in myself; I will look out for me; I will not be vulnerable; I will not put myself on the line because I’m afraid.” That is the work of the devil.
The work of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is to open our hearts, to be vulnerable. Look at the Cross. His heart is completely exposed; His arms are wide open; His side has been pierced; He is totally vulnerable and He gives Himself completely in love to each one of us. When you look at that Cross, can you really think that He is going to hurt you when He loves you so much that He would endure that? For Him, that was easy, and it was sweet because it was done out of love. That is exactly what we learn from this wonderful little saint who gave herself entirely to God and was willing to offer herself as an oblation. She is not a cutesy little saint – she is an extraordinary woman who teaches us that if we want to be saints it only requires one thing, and that is to love, to become like a little child and to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, which is exactly what Our Lord has commanded us. In that way, we find the fulfillment of our being, we find the perfection of what life is to be, and we will be filled with the joy of Jesus Christ, and in us His joy will be complete.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.