My dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we gather with the Carmelite community to celebrate the feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
In their undivided attention to the Father’s word and in the beloved acceptance of that word, cloistered nuns are always with Jesus on the holy mountain, fixing their gaze upon him, shrouded in the cloud of God’s presence, they wholly cleave to the Lord.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was above all a Carmelite of the Eucharist. Her union with Jesus was total and intense and it was the inspiration of the prayer and outreach that she showed in her short life to God’s people that remains her legacy to us.
As you know Thérèse Martin was born in Alençon in Normandy on 2nd January 1873 and died on 13th September 1897. We know too that she was barely five years old when the family moved to Lisieux after the death of her mother and at the age of fifteen she entered the Carmel of Lisieux. For her profession she declared that she entered the Carmel, “to save souls and especially to pray for priests”.
Her dream of going to the missions was realised in her lifetime through the two missionary priests who were given to her as spiritual brothers. In her letters to them she explained the way of spiritual childhood, which God made her live in depth during the last years of her life; she drew them to walk by the same way.
During the life of each of us here and especially since her nomination as Doctor of the Church in 1997 we have been challenged to see her own little way as being inspired. We know that her particular inspiration and that of every Carmelite
“is ever seeking to find Jesus, to taste his presence, to enjoy his blessed gifts and also to entertain him, to offer him a loving welcome in the midst of a cold, disdainful world, engrossed in its own material affairs.
But the Carmelite contemplative is not merely hungering for spiritual ease or enjoyment in her seclusion, she is seeking Jesus and his gifts in order to communicate them to others. Charity and zeal for souls are the very breath of her life.” (Albert Power, S.J., The Maid of Lisieux, Pustet, NY, 1932)
As the basis of her own spiritual life Saint Thérèse expressed publicly that the Eucharist was an encounter with Jesus. To Thérèse Jesus was not only the Lord to whom one owed the most solemn reverence, but a living person inviting an intimate union. The Eucharist was her opportunity for the most direct encounter with him.
Four years before she entered Carmel Thérèse had already experienced the Eucharist as a bonding and she wrote these words of her first Communion: “I felt that I was loved and I said, ‘I love you and I give myself to you forever.’ There were no demands made, no struggles no sacrifice, for a long time now Jesus and Thérèse looked at and understood each other. That day it was no longer simply a look, it was a fusion; they were no longer two. Thérèse had vanished, as a drop of water lost in the immensity of the ocean. Jesus alone remained.” (A Story of a Soul, page 77)
Indeed, Thérèse’s relationship with Jesus was human and personal and it is because of this that she has been so attractive to many people searching for perfection and holiness. To develop that personal relationship with the Lord, in whom we live and are, is a gift that Thérèse has given to the Church. Her simplicity, her embracing of God’s way for her, self-effacing, self-abasing, has led to an attractiveness and wonder that have inspired many people to follow her.
I recall with great delight some years ago the visit of the relics of Saint Thérèse here and to the Cathedral and to many other places in Australia. In her life Thérèse longed to go to the missions, but entered Carmel to save souls. Her prayer for priests, her inspiration of simplicity and oneness with Jesus are a telling gift, which in her death have invited many souls to know the ever-greater intimacy that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist.
My dear friends, I urge you to continue that intimacy, to make of our chapels and churches places of holiness and prayer, to encourage others to do so because the same Jesus to whom Thérèse spoke and whom she loved is present right throughout the day.
May the inspiration of Saint Thérèse to be absorbed into Jesus prompt us to spend time in adoration, that like Thérèse our mind and heart will be one with Jesus, our deeds will then reflect him and we will draw others to him like a magnet.
May this great saint, who invites us to simple, profound, all- absorbing love, make us more one with him that we, each in our own small way, may be like our Holy Father, the Pope, who described himself as a simple labourer in the Lord’s vineyard, instruments of God’s designs for ourselves and those whom we meet.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.