Saint Teresa leads us back to the Fatherhood of God and throws a new light on the oldest of Catholic truths. With childlike directness she sees that since Almighty God is her Father and she his little child, their relationship must be a relationship of love.
God is love, and we have been created by his love solely to love him and be loved by him. As we have seen, we must love our heavenly Father in the supernatural order in the same way as a little child loves its earthly father in the natural order.
In the natural order the love of a little child for its father is simple, unquestioning, spontaneous and direct. As it looks at its father it goes straight to the only thing that matters – love. His love is everything to the little child, and in return for it the child can give only one thing, its own love; but in giving that it gives all, for it is the love of his child alone which satisfies a father’s heart.
In the supernatural order, Saint Teresa’s love for her heavenly Father possesses these very characteristics. It was unthinkable to her that she, the little child whom her heavenly Father had created solely to love him, should not at every moment of her life be enveloped in his love. Putting aside all his other attributes, she goes to the one thing that matters, her heavenly Father’s love. “To me He has manifested His Infinite Mercy and in this resplendent mirror I contemplate His other attributes. There, each appears radiant with love – His Justice perhaps more than the rest.” To Saint Teresa that love was everything: “My little way is all love.” And to that overwhelming love there could be only one reply: “O my God, I know it, love is repaid by love alone. Therefore I have sought and I have found, how to ease my heart by giving Thee love for love.” “I know of only one means of arriving at perfection, love.” “He is in such need of love.” “Jesus, I would so love Him, love Him as He has never yet been loved.” “I have no other desire unless it be to love Jesus to folly.”’ “Jesus, if the desire of Thy love be so enthralling what joy must the eternal possession of it be?”
The word “love” is so often used for something merely emotional or sentimental, that we hesitate to use it in connection with our religion. Saint Teresa rescues us from this false reserve, and puts the word “love” again upon our lips in its true meaning.
In the midst of us cold and grown-up lovers, with our love hardened by the difficulty of life, dulled by its dreary routine, stilted by convention, and fettered by human respect, God has placed Saint Teresa, to rescue us from all that is false in our concept of love and lead us back to that simple, direct, spontaneous love which, in the depths of our souls, we really long for.
As we enter the crypt of the basilica at Lisieux, we find ourselves beneath the great arch which spans the entrance to the nave. At the base of one side of the arch are written these words of Scripture: “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) On the other side, are the words of Saint Teresa: “There is but one thing to be done here below: to love Jesus and to save souls for Him that He may be more loved.” Thus does she make the words of Scripture live again, words which we have known from childhood, but whose meaning for that very reason has lost much of its significance.
It may be urged that a love of such simple directness as Saint Teresa’s is possible only for special souls, gifted with extraordinary supernatural graces, and that therefore it is not within the compass of the ordinary person. But Saint Teresa’s life was not distinguished by anything spectacular. Her way, as she used to say, was very ordinary, fashioned through the normal means of grace common to us all. The extraordinary thing in her life was her simple fidelity to those means of grace.
Let us then examine the source from which this love came. An analogy from the natural order will help us here. Whence does a little child derive its power to love? Entirely from its mother. To its mother’s love it owes the capacity to love which exists within its own heart. To her it owes its existence, with all its faculties of loving; and as it looks upon its mother’s love, its own faculties of loving are quickened into action, its being goes out in love to its mother. In other words, the little child loves its mother because the mother first loved the little child.
If we put this into the supernatural order it gives us an exact picture of our relation to God. Of ourselves we cannot perform a single act of supernatural love; for this we depend entirely on our Father. We love God because he first loved us. Leaving aside his other attributes, Saint Teresa concentrates on this, and her gaze is carried by her simplicity beyond the horizon which limits the outlook of those who are no longer childlike; she sees beyond the complexities of earth which confuse and blur our vision. To her the overwhelming fact was that she had been loved by her heavenly Father from all eternity; that from all eternity God had ordained that she should be created just to love him; that his love for her was from everlasting to everlasting.
Along the ceiling of the crypt at Lisieux there is a scroll on which we find these words of Jeremias: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee.” (Jeremiah 31:3) Those words were especially dear to Saint Teresa, because of the simplicity with which they express this eternal truth. With the audacity of a child she makes the words of Our Blessed Lord her own: “I dare to borrow Thine own words, Thy prayer, on the last night that saw Thee still a traveller on this earth: ‘Father, Thou hast loved Me before the creation of the world’.” It is this clarity of vision which gives a timeless stability to her Way. Those who follow it know that they are always supported by the everlasting arms.
Meditating on the plan of our Redemption as it unfolds itself in time, again Saint Teresa goes straight to the motive which underlies it all – the love of the Father, which existed from all eternity. The motive is not God’s anger on account of sin, nor God’s anxiety that his justice be satisfied; the motive is this – ”God so loved”. “God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) As she looked with the eyes of a child upon the mysteries of our faith – Bethlehem, Calvary, the Resurrection – she saw only her Father’s love.
When we approach the Gospels under the guidance of Saint Teresa, this truth stands out afresh. The words of Our Lord which, through their familiarity, have largely lost their meaning for us, are seen as if for the first time, and in their full significance.
“The Father loveth the Son and sheweth him all things which himself doth.” (John 5:20) “The Father loveth the Son: and he hath given all things into his hand.” (John 3:35) “As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love... as I also have kept my Father’s commandments and do abide in his love.” (John 15:9-10) “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. And he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)
These words came from the lips of Our Lord on the eve of his Crucifixion. The task of the world’s Redemption lies before him, the network woven by sin is enveloping him, the cruel suffering of the Passion is awaiting him, yet in the midst of all this he is talking only of his Father’s love, and far from being ashamed to speak of it in the simplest of terms, he lets us see that to make known that love is the one desire of his Sacred Heart.
This longing of Our Blessed Lord to love and to be loved was, to Saint Teresa, the revelation in time, the outpouring on earth, of that love with which she had been loved before the creation of the world. Throughout her whole life, no matter how complex her problems might be, she was never to cease to speak of this love.
But this Divine Love is not something which she is to follow merely by the force of example; it is to exist in her very soul. She goes directly to the supreme words uttered by Our Lord that evening: “If anyone love me, he will keep my word. And my Father will love him: and we will come to him and will make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
Here was the supreme gift of the Father’s love – nothing less than the indwelling of the Trinity in her soul, for, where the Father and the Son are, there also is the Holy Ghost. Her soul was the tabernacle of the Trinity, and she was a partaker in the Divine Nature itself. She was to share in the love with which the three Divine Persons love one another mutually and eternally. She was to live by the life of the Godhead, and love with the love of the Godhead. Did not Our Lord pray to the Father on that same night: “...that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26) “O Trinity,” she cries, “Thou art the prisoner of my love.” Writing to her sister she says: “He comes and, with Him, come the Father and the Holy Ghost to take possession of our souls.” The very life of Christ in her soul was the source of all her power to love the Father with a love worthy of him. Meditating on this she says: “O my Saviour, it is Thou whom I love; it is Thou who drawest me so irresistibly to Thee, Thou who, descending into this land of exile, wast willing to suffer and to die in order to lift up each single soul and plunge it into the very heart of the Trinity, Love’s eternal home.”
All this we know. The genius of Saint Teresa is that she invests it with the spontaneous freshness of a little child.
She looks upon her Mother, the Church, in the same way. To her the Church is, as the Mystical Body of Christ, above all, the shrine of her Father’s love. We have seen that, to Saint Teresa, the whole burden of Scripture is the sending of Jesus by the Father that he may dwell in the soul of his children to restore all that had been lost through the Fall. Similarly, to her, the Church exists for one purpose only, to convey to each individual soul the life of Christ and his power to love.
It was this life that the Church bestowed upon her at her baptism, making her a child of God, a partaker in the Divine Nature, and heir to heaven. Of this new life, when lost by mortal sin, the Sacrament of Penance was the restoration, and the Blessed Sacrament was the food by which this life was ever nourished. To her the Church was, above all, her Mother, nourishing her with supernatural life and love, restoring her to her Father, and opening the way finally to her home in heaven. To her no other glory of the Church can compare with this – that the Church is the shrine of her Father’s love for her, that love which has existed from all eternity.
To this vision of the Church’s purpose she will respond with one desire: to co-operate to the utmost with the gift which is offered to her. Her response will be love. “I love my Mother, the Church, and I bear in mind that the least act of pure love is of more value to her than all other works together. But does this pure love really exist in my heart? Are not my boundless desires mere dreams, mere folly?” And what is her answer? “As I meditated on the Mystical Body of Holy Church, I could not recognise myself among any of its members described by Saint Paul, or was it not rather that I wished to recognise myself in all? Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that, since the Church is a body composed of different members, she could not lack the most necessary and most nobly endowed of all the bodily organs. I understood, therefore, that the Church has a heart, and a heart on fire with love. I saw, too, that love alone imparts life to all the members, so that, should love ever fail, apostles would no longer preach the Gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. Finally, I realised that love includes every vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal, reaching down through the ages and stretching to the uttermost limits of earth. Overcome with joy, I cried out: ‘ O Jesus, my Love, my vocation is found at last – my vocation is love.’ I have found my place in the bosom of the Church, and this place, O My God, Thou hast Thyself given to me: in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love.”
But all this she can be, and do, only because she is the child of the Church. Of herself she can do nothing. She owes everything to her Mother. “I am a child of Holy Church. I do not ask for riches or glory, not even the glory of heaven: that belongs by right to my brothers, the Angels and the Saints. My glory will be but the reflection of the radiance that streams from my Mother, the Church. I ask for love. One thought is mine henceforth, dear Jesus, it is to love Thee.”
Sublime though this expression of her love for Christ may be, she does not stray from reality. Never for one instant does she take her hand from ours, for the source of this love is common to us all, the supernatural life which throbs throughout the Mystical Body, and the means by which she proves this love lies ready to hand for every one of us. “How shall I prove my love, since love must prove itself by deeds? I, the little one, will strew flowers. That is the only means of proving my love.” These flowers, however, are made up of petals which cost dear; her expression is not mere poetry. “I will let no little sacrifice escape me, not a look, not a word. I will make use of the smallest actions and do them all for love.” Daily sacrifices, every glance, every word, every single action, is to be a means of expressing and augmenting her love: that is the true meaning of her “flowers.”
When the ordinariness of these means of sanctity weighs heavy upon her, in her frailty she turns to her Mother, the Church, to help her to do what she cannot if, do alone. “Of what avail to Thee are my flowers and my songs, dear Jesus?... Of what avail? I know well h that this fragrant shower, these petals of little price, these songs of love from a poor frail heart like mine, will nevertheless be pleasing to Thee. They are but trifles, it is true, yet Thou wilt smile on them. The Church Triumphant, stooping towards her child, will gather up these scattered rose-leaves, and, placing them in Thy divine hands that they may acquire an infinite value, will shower them on the Church Suffering to extinguish the flames, and on the Church Militant to make her triumph.” Here we have that mingling of the poetic and the real that is so truly a mark of childhood. And it is precisely for this that Almighty God has given us Saint Teresa – to invest the ordinary things of life, the actions we perform each day, our minor sacrifices; our words, our looks, with a supernatural value which makes them effective throughout the whole Mystical Body, while our hearts beat with the very love of Christ its Head.
So Saint Teresa rescues us from the dullness of life by making all drudgery divine. She touches all our activities and, however drab they may be, turns them to gold.
For her as for us, the supreme source of this love is the Blessed Sacrament. From the world’s point of view there is nothing but the appearance of bread, as simple and ordinary as the simplest and most ordinary things in life: yet it is God. Day after day Christ is there to remind us that it is through the simplest and most ordinary things that he comes to us and desires that we should go to him. From the Blessed Sacrament Saint Teresa learnt the reality and condescension of Our Lord’s love. “O my Saviour, Thou ascendest into light inaccessible, yet Thou dost remain in this valley of tears under the appearance of a small white Host in order to nourish our souls with Thine own substance. Let me tell Thee that Thy love runs even unto folly. Before such folly what wilt Thou but that my soul should leap up to Thee?” These words show us clearly that Saint Teresa’s life of supernatural love was not based on emotion. Its source was the Blessed Sacrament; and the means by which that truth was grasped was faith, not feeling. Here too, we can follow her, for we have at our disposal this same source of supernatural life. “O Bread of exiles, Host sacred and divine, it is not I that live, my life comes all from Thee.”
So Saint Teresa has been given to us as a model in touch with the life we have to live, given to us as an example of what we can become if we faithfully correspond to all Christ is offering us through his Mystical Body, the Church. Saint Teresa is a perfect child of God, because she is a perfect child of the Church.