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 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus

of the Holy Face

Entries in pastoral letter to the Carmelite family (1)

Meditation on "Therese, a Doctor for the Third Millennium," the 1997 circular letter to the Carmelite Family about the proclamation of St. Therese as a Doctor of the Church


Statue of St. Therese near the entrance of the Lisieux Carmel

As we draw near to the 20th anniversary of the day (October 19, 1997) when Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Therese a Doctor of the Church, I invite you to reflect on the joint pastoral letter written by the general superiors of the two branches of the Carmelite family, Fr. Camilo Maccise, O.C.D. and Fr. Joseph Chalmers, O. Carm.  Because the letter is extremely rich, we will look at it in sections.  If you want to read the whole letter at once, you may do so, thanks to the Carmelites of Eldridge, Iowa, at "Therese: A Doctor for the Third Millennium."  I am most grateful to the nuns of the Eldridge Carmel for making this meditation feasible. 

The authors introduce their letter by evoking the Pope's announcement at World Youth Day, August 24, 1997, that he would name St. Therese a Doctor of the Church in October.  They then give a brief history of the movement and process of Therese's doctorate, and spend most of the letter reflecting on the significance for the women and men of our times of her being named a doctor.  Today, please meditate on their introduction: 

Dear brothers and sisters in Carmel:

1. Little over a year ago, we wrote to you to reflect upon the message of our sister, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, on the occasion of the centenary of her death. We had no idea then that we would be writing another circular letter about her so soon. This time it is to consider the meaning and significance of the title Doctor of the Church, which, as Pope John Paul II announced recently in Paris at the International Gathering of Youth, he will officially bestow on her in Rome on October 19, 1997, International Mission Sunday.

2. On the morning of August 24, at the closure in Paris of the International Gathering of Youth, the Pope described the character and doctrine of our sister and the motives for declaring her a Doctor after a "careful study" and many petitions received from the Universal Church. He called Thérèse of Lisieux a young Carmelite who was filled with the love of God, who offered herself completely to this love, and who knew how to practice love of neighbor in the ordinary things of daily life. She imitated Jesus as she sat at the table of sinners, his brothers and sisters, so that they would be purified by love, since her ardent desire was to see everyone enlightened by faith. She discovered, the Pope continued, that her vocation was to be love in the heart of the Church, and she walked the "little way" of children who take refuge in God with bold confidence. The core of her message is her child-like attitude, which can be proposed to all the faithful. "Her teachings, a veritable science of love," are the radiant expression of her knowledge of the mystery of Christ and her personal experience of grace. She will continue to assist the people of today and the future to understand better the gifts of God and to spread the good news of infinite love.

3. The Pope called her: "a Carmelite and an apostle, a teacher of spiritual wisdom for numerous consecrated and lay persons, patroness of the missions." He mentioned that she "occupies a place of primary importance in the Church, and that her doctrine merits finding a place among the most effective." He concluded by stating that he wished to announce the Doctorate of Thérèse of Lisieux during the gathering of the youth since she, a young saint, so close to our times, has a message particularly suitable for them. In the school of the Gospel, she leads the way towards Christian maturity for young people, "calling them to unlimited generosity and inviting them in the heart of the Church to be apostles and ardent witnesses of Christ's love." He prayed, along with the young people, to Thérèse of Lisieux that she may lead the people of this age along the way of truth and life. He ended his discourse with these words: "With Thérèse of the Child Jesus, let us turn to the Virgin Mary, whom she honored and prayed to with child-like confidence during her life."