John Paul II, Proclaims St. Therese Doctor of the Church

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St. Therese

Doctor of the Church


It was at about this time that the young Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face (her name in religion which sums up her vocation) discovered the way of spiritual childhood after years of searching. It was to change her life. She received the grace of a deeper understanding of God's paternity which is nothing but Merciful Love (expressed in his incarnate Son, Jesus). Christian life is nothing other than living as a child of the Father ("as sons in the Son"), starting at Baptism and continued in absolute trust. "If you do not become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven", says Jesus (Mt 18:3).

She had written that she wanted to be "a priest, a deacon, a prophet, a doctor (of the Church), a missionary, a martyr"... in a word, everything. She had discovered that her vocation was to be "Love in the heart of the Church", her Mother.

"I came (to Carmel) to save souls and especially to pray for priests" (Ms A, 69 v°)

"Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by Saint Paul, or rather I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was BURNING WITH LOVE. I understood it was Love alone that made the Church's members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES.... IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL ! Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out : "O Jesus, my Love.... my vocation, at last I have found it.... MY VOCATION IS LOVE ! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place. In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized."
(Ms B, 3v°)

In 1970, a decisive event took place : Pope Paul VI declared two women Doctors of the Church : Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Sienna. It was a considerable event, and unfortunately we still haven't drawn the conclusions it implied, twenty-seven years on. At the time, some asked : "What about Thérèse ?"

Saint Thomas of Aquinas shows that there are two ways of speaking of God : the speculative way, which he used, and also the metaphorical way. For historical reasons, women have mostly used the latter. Two centuries later, Teresa of Avila also said she knew nothing. She was even threatened by the Inquisition. She was also saved by Dominicans and Jesuits who showed that she wasn't mad but that she had a contribution to make. There was much strong anti-feminine prejudice. Women were considered 'ignorant', they had no voice. Joan of Arc suffered the consequences...

But speculation is not the only way of speaking about God and of contributing insights and intuitions to Theology, as Balthasar said. He insisted especially on the fact that women have gone further in the discovery of Mercy, which lies in the heart of God's mystery.

Thérèse found the meaning of the Trinity, the meaning of the Incarnation, the bond uniting the Father and the Son. She rediscovered the Church, a place of communion and love where the Holy Spirit comes first. She opened up a new way to sanctity for all, even the poor, as long as they trust in God. Because Hope is a fundamental virtue for our world. She returned to a Marionology announcing that of the Second Vatican Council, to a Virgin Mary who had faith and who followed her Son - from the Annunciation to Calvary.

Despite her inadequate training and lack of resources for studying and interpreting the sacred books, Thérèse immersed herself in meditation of the Word of God with exceptional faith and spontaneity. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit she attained a profound knowledge of Revelation for herself and for others. By her loving concentration on Scripture - she even wanted to learn Hebrew and Greek to understand better the spirit and letter of the sacred books - she showed the importance of the Biblical sources in spiritual life, she emphasized the originality and freshness of the Gospel, she cultivated with moderation the spiritual exegesis of the Word of God in both the Old and New Testaments. Thus she discovered hidden treasures, appropriating words and episodes, sometimes with spiritual boldness, as when, in reading the texts of St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor 12-13), she realized her vocation to love (cf. Ms B, 3r°-3v°). Enlightened by the revealed Word, Thérèse wrote brilliant pages on the unity between the love of God and the love of neighbor (cf. Ms C, 11v°-19r°) ; and she identified with Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper as the expression of her intercession for the salvation of all (Ms C, 34r°-35r°).

Thérèse of the Child Jesus is not only the youngest Doctor of the Church, but is also the closest to us in time, as if to emphasize the continuity with which the Spirit of the Lord sends his messengers to the Church, both men and women as teachers and witnesses to the faith. In fact, whatever changes can be noted in the course of history and despite the repercussions they usually have on the life and thought of individuals in every age, we must never lose sight of the continuity which links the Doctors of the Church to each other : in every historical context they remain witnesses to the unchanging Gospel and, with the light and strength that come from the Holy Spirit, they become its messengers, returning to proclaim it in its purity to their contemporaries. Thérèse is a Teacher for our time, which thirsts for living and essential words, for heroic and credible acts of witness. For this reason she is also loved and accepted by brothers and sisters of other Christian communities and even by non-Christians. (...)

Today, the 19th October 1997, in St. Peter's Square, filled with faithful from every part of the world, and in the presence of a great many Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, during the solemn Eucharistic celebration I proclaimed Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face a Doctor of the Church

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