Pope Francis declared the extraordinary Jubilee as a Holy Year of Mercy with a firm conviction that in our times in which humanity is facing unprecedented crisis, “the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy.” in his homily during the penitential service in Saint Peter’s Basilica, in which he declared the holy year of mercy, Pope expressed his wish that the “whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.” I think, of course, Holy Year of Mercy is a favorable time to share a few thoughts on how Therese made possible and fruitful the mercy of God to the world in which she lived.
Divine Mercy in Theresian Spirituality
Compassion is so central to the spirituality of St. Therese that she literally begins and ends her autobiography in praise of God’s merciful love. She writes in the Story of a Soul: “It is you, dear Mother, to you who are doubly my Mother, to whom I come to confide the story of my soul. The day you asked me to do this, it seemed to me it would distract my heart by too much concentration on myself, but since then Jesus has made me feel that in obeying simply, I would be pleasing to him; besides, I’m going to be doing only one thing: I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally: “The Mercies of the Lord” (Ps. 88:2)….”
Compassion for Therese was never a concept that she came into contact in Bible and Christian theological texts, rather was her fervent experience. She practiced mercy in her day today life, especially in her life at Carmel. Her letter to Sr. Maria of the Sacred Heart bears testimony to this. She writes: “I am speechless to explain the happiness in my soul caused by Thy mercy. Those are really to be experienced and shared.”
Compassion is the framework through which Therese recognized God. Francoir Formart suggests that the heart of Theresian Spiritualityis Divine compassion. God = Compassion taught St. Therese. This Theresian vision of God has its profundity and depth even today in the context where we understand God only in terms of punishment and sin. We are deeply affected by an atmosphere which is still tainted by the vision of an avenging God, We fear about divine justice and suffer badly from scruples. We believe that God always punishes us when we sin. We associate God closely with purity and impurity and think that God is for the qualified. Even at this hitech age when biblical as well as theological disciplines have attained rapid progress we still do relate with God as a distant figure, who is full of laws and rules. We fail to grasp the depth of His compassion due to a paralyzing fear of God. Our brain has grown much enough, so large enough to contain God not definitely our hearts. Let us consider an example. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the parable of Jesus at Therese loved most. By taking this parable she explains to novices about divine mercy. She taught: “Like the prodigal son it is better to confess our sins to God than to human and it is enjoyable to get his pardon.” How do we interpret this parable? We teach that just like the prodigal son repented we must do.
In response to our spiritual sickness, in this year of mercy we have the Theresian vision of God as compassion. St. Therese teaches us the solution to our spiritual fear. She teaches us in her little way of spiritual childhood that none of us is perfect that we all need the Father’s mercy. God the Father loves us and never tires of being merciful with us. Therese wrote in her Story of a Soul: “If I had committed all possible sins, I would still have the same confidence, because I know so well that this whole multitude of offenses is nothing more than a drop of water in a blazing furnace, the furnace of the Father’s merciful love. Following the biblical tradition, when people entered religious life, they took a new name to signify their new call from God. When she entered the Carmelite Monastery to give her life to God, Marie Francoise Therese Martin took the religious name “Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face”. In the history of the Church Infant Jesus and Holy face are the two metaphors used to denote Divine Compassion. Therese by adding these two metaphors to her name meant to signify her mission and how God’s mercy was working in her.
In spite of her poor health, austerities of the stern Carmelite rule, tuberculosis and the sufferings caused from her community, Therese walked like the mercy of God. Before she died, St. Therese said that she will spend her heaven doing good on earth and praying for God’s mercy is the greatest of all the roses she showers down from above. We know that she is interceding for us now for this very grace. Let us receive it.
Fr Renny Paruthikkattil CST