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"Saint Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of Faith for an Unbelieving World" - October 9, 2017

A starry night near Lisieux; Photo credit: L'instantane Normandie

Doctor of Faith for an Unbelieving World


26. The relevance of the doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux to atheism and unbelief is very plain to see. The Second Vatican Council, in analyzing contemporary atheism, indicated that the word "atheism" covers quite different realities:

    For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that people can assert absolutely nothing about God. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. …Again some form for themselves such a fallacious ideal of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. …Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world.20

Through Thérèse of Lisieux's spiritual experience, God desired to speak tangibly to the world of unbelief. She struggled with her faith in the midst of a world that, in the name of science and rationalism, denied the existence of God and turned to atheism.

27. In today's world nonbelievers are different from those in the time of Thérèse. Having experienced the collapse of atheistic and materialistic systems and the frustration of modern life, agnostics and those who are simply indifferent are searching for something that will give meaning to life. They experience vaguely a call to an absolute that could fill their existential emptiness and satisfy their aspirations.

Thérèse of Lisieux directly confronted anguish in the face of death. The atheist's questions about the existence of God and of an afterlife became her problem when, in her trial of faith, she was suddenly submerged in an abyss of anguish and there experienced the distress of nothingness. She was deprived of what she calls "the joy of faith"; she could not "enjoy this beautiful heaven on earth."21 She entered a place of deep darkness that surrounded her and threatened to overwhelm her. She seemed to hear the darkness say: "You believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness."22

28. In the midst of this situation, Thérèse of Lisieux was able to keep her faith and love alive. Her experience of the dark night of purification transformed her so that she was in real and fruitful solidarity with those drowning in the sea of unbelief. Before she experienced the trial of faith, she could not accept that there were people who did not believe: "I was unable to believe that there were really impious people who had no faith. I believed that they were actually speaking against their own inner convictions when they denied the existence of heaven." After her painful experience, she was convinced of the opposite: "During those very joyful days of the Easter season, Jesus made me feel that there were really souls who have no faith"23

Submerged in the most profound darkness, Thérèse did not stop loving the One in whom she trusted. She fought the fight of faith while living in the darkness of unbelievers. This drama made her understand that God wanted her lovingly to offer her own sufferings for unbelievers, to eat with them the bread of affliction, and to sit with them at the table of sinners.24

Many have testified eloquently to conversions to the faith after reading what Thérèse went through. They have discovered in her writing the true face of God. Her words were a beacon as they searched for God in the darkness and amidst temptations to unbelief. Her message has proven its timeliness for those who are estranged, who disbelieve, or who are indifferent.

 - excerpted from Therese, A Doctor for the Third Millennium, the joint pastoral letter written by the Carmelite superiors general,  Fr. Camilo Maccise, O.C.D. and Fr. Joseph Chalmers, O. Carm., when Therese was named a doctor in 1997.  For the footnotes, please follow the link to the complete document.

Posted on Monday, October 9, 2017 at 06:40PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan | CommentsPost a Comment

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