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Letter of Pope Paul VI on the centenary of the birth of St. Therese of Lisieux, January 1, 1973, to the bishop of Bayeux

formal photograph of Pope Paul VI in white robe and zucchetto and elaborate red-and-gold chair.  The expression of his face is kind and humble

Pope Paul VI.  Photo credit: Catholic News Agency

Letter of Pope Paul VI 
to the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux
on the Occasion of the Centenary 
of the Birth of St.  Thérèse of the Child Jesus

In this year 1973, the centenary of the birth on earth of Thérèse Martin offers itself as a providential light.  How her nearness to God, the simplicity of her prayer, draws hearts to seek the essential! How her hope opens the way to those who doubt God or who suffer from their limitations! How the realism of her love elevates our everyday tasks, transfigures our relationships, in a climate of confidence in the Church! And, from the heights of Heaven, We do not doubt that Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus herself will not stop, in this jubilee year, accomplishing on earth the good she has promised. 

In our time, intimacy with God has become an important, but difficult, goal. 
In effect, we've thrown our suspicions on God; we've framed all our search for God as alienation; a largely secular world tends to distance itself from its source and from the divine purpose and focus solely on the existence and actions of human beings.  And yet the need for a prayer that is contemplative, selfless, and free makes itself felt more and more.  The apostolate itself, at all levels, must be rooted in prayer, united to the Heart of Christ; if not, it would dissolve into an activity that is related to the Gospel only in name.  Faced with this situation, Thérèse remains above all the one who believed passionately in the Love of God; who lived under his gaze in the smallest details of daily life, walking in his presence; who made her whole life a colloquy with the Beloved; and who found there not only an extraordinary spiritual adventure but also the place where she joined the wider horizons and communed intimately with the concerns and needs of the missionary Church.  To all those who today are searching for the essential, who sense the inner dimension of the human person, who seek the Spirit capable of creating true prayer and giving a theological value to their life, We invite them, whether they are contemplatives or apostles, to turn to the Carmelite of Lisieux.   Although she expressed herself in a language necessarily marked by her epoch, she is an incomparable guide on the ways of prayer.    

So today it is important to revive hope.  Many people have experienced harshly the limits of their physical and moral strength.  They feel powerless before the immense problems of the world, with which they rightly feel solidarity.  Their daily work seems to them overwhelming, obscure, and useless.  Also, illness sometimes condemns them to inaction; persecution spreads a suffocating fog over them.  Those who are more lucid are even more aware of their own weakness, their cowardice, their smallness.  The meaning of life can no longer be made clear; the silence of God, as some say, can be oppressive.  Some resign themselves passively; others focus on their selfishness or on their immediate gratification; others become hardened or rebel; still others finally despair.  To each and every one, Thérèse “of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face” proclaims: learn to rely not on yourself, whether on your virtue or on your limitations, but instead to depend upon the mysterious Love of Christ, which is greater than our hearts and which unites us with the offering of his passion and with the power of his Life.  She can teach us all to follow the “royal little way” of the spirit of childhood, which is the opposite of childishness, of passivity, of sadness!  Cruel trials within her family, scruples, fears, and other difficulties seemed very likely to thwart Thérèse’s development; she was not spared severe sickness in her youth; moreover, she experienced profoundly the night of faith.  And yet God made her find, in the midst of this very night, confident abandonment and ourage, patience, and joy--in a word, true freedom.  We invite all people of good will, especially the little and the humbled, to meditate on this paradox of hope.

Finally, We see as a highly desirable quality for our time the realistic integration into the Christian community where we are called to live in the present moment.  Many Christians have difficulty seeing how to reconcile concretely their personal development with the practical requirements of religious obedience or life in common; freedom and authority; holiness and the institution; the truth of relationships and charity; the diversity of charisms and unity; everyday realism and the “prophetic” challenge of the present .  .  . St. Thérèse found herself constantly confronted with such problems.  It would be pointless, of course, to look to her for a modern formulation of these issues, much less for systematic solutions.  But we cannot deny the luminous insights that informed her daily contacts with her Sisters--especially with the novices who were her companions--and her integration into the narrow confines of monastic life.  With the delicacy of her sensitivity, the clarity of her judgment, her desire to simplify, and her commitment to the fundamentals, we can say that she followed the Spirit, forged an original path, let her own spiritual personality blossom, and allowed many souls to achieve new  growth, each in its own way.  But to do this, she never strayed from obedience; she knew how to use with realism the humble means which her community offered her and which the Church put at her disposal.  Thérèse did not wait, before beginning to act, for an ideal lifestyle or a perfect community; instead, she helped to change things from within.  Humility is the space of love.  The value of our acts is measured by their price in love.  Her quest for the Absolute and the transcendence of her charity allowed her to overcome obstacles, or, rather, to transfigure these limitations.  It is with confidence that she identified herself right away with the essence of the Church, its Heart, which is not separated at all from the Heart of Jesus.  May she obtain today, for all her Catholic brothers and sisters, this love for the Church, our Mother!

Yes, by Thérèse’s example, through her intercession, We hope to receive great graces.  That the laity might enjoy the taste for the inner life, the power of unblemished charity, never separating their earthly work from the reality of heaven.  That religious men and women might feel strengthened in their total gift of self to the Lord.  That priests, for whom Thérèse prayed so fervently, might fully understand the beauty of their ministry in the service of divine Love.  And that young people, whose generosity or faith may falter today at the prospect of an absolute and definitive consecration, might discover the possibility and the price of such a vocation, near Thérèse, who stood ready even before age fifteen to renounce all that was not God, the better to devote her life to “loving Jesus and to making Him loved.  ” As she said on her deathbed, she did not regret having “surrendered herself to Love.”  God the Father is faithful; Jesus’ love will never fail; the Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness.  And our Church needs, above all, holiness.

  In expressing these wishes of an ardent heart, We encourage you,then, dear Brother bishop, to make every effort to ensure that the message of the saint of Lisieux is again proposed, meditated upon, and presented in a manner corresponding to the spiritual needs of our time.  We congratulate you on the welcome that your diocese prepares for pilgrims in the atmosphere of joy, simplicity, and reverence suitable to this religious event.  We urge priests, educators, and preachers to make her message the theme of their sermons, their catechesis, their retreats, their pilgrimages, and theologians also to examine the spiritual doctrine of St.  Thérèse of the Child Jesus.  It is a joy for Us to learn that many good publications are helping to draw still more attention to this holy soul, to give a profound echo of her spiritual journey, with the necessary respect for the authenticity of the facts and for the mysterious role of grace.  We also invite pilgrims of Alençon and of Lisieux to pray for our ministry as universal Pastor.  And to you yourself, to all those who seek to go farther into the way opened by St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and especially to the dear Carmelite nuns, We address, with our paternal encouragement, our Apostolic Blessing.  

Vatican, January 2, 1973

Paulus PP .  VI

[On the centenary of the birth of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, January 2, 1973, Pope Paul VI wrote this letter to Mgr Jean Badré (1913-2001), bishop of the diocese of Bayeux and Lisieux.  Mgr Badré served with distinction as a soldier in World War II; he was active in the French Resistance and was bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux from 1970 to 1988.  Pope John Paul II referred to this letter in his Apostolic Letter, "Divini Amoris Scientia," naming St. Therese a doctor of the Church. Please see the original letter in French on the Vatican Web site. 

I am happy to present the English translation of this letter in honor of the beatification of Pope Paul VI on Mission Sunday, October 19, 2014.  The translation is copyright 2014 by Maureen O'Riordan for "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway."  For more about the relationship between Pope Paul VI and St. Therese, please see my article "Pope Paul VI to be beatified on Mission Sunday, October 19, 2014; his bond with St. Therese of Lisieux"].

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