On 15 October 2023, Pope Francis published an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “C’est la confiance” (It’s confidence) in memory of St Therese of Lisieux, patron saint of the YCW and other Specialised Catholic Action movements.
“It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to love,” was St Therese’s phrase that inspired the title of the exhortation.
These words summed up “the genius of her spirituality and would suffice to justify the fact that she has been named a Doctor of the Church,” the pope said.
In his exhortation, Pope Francis retraces the steps by which his predecessors came to recognise the extraordinary value of Therese’s spiritual witness.
Beginning with Pope Leo XIII, who allowed her to enter the convent at the age of 15, he moves on to Pius XI, who proclaimed her a saint in 1925 and in 1927 patron saint of missions.
Seventy years later in 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1997.
“Finally,” Francis recalled, “in 2015, I had the joy of canonising her parents, Louis and Zelie, during the Synod on the Family.” More recently, I devoted one of my weekly General Audience talks to her.”A missionary soul’s love for Jesus
In her cell, the Saint from Lisieux wrote: “Jesus is my one love.” Analysing her spiritual experience, Pope Francis noted that her encounter with Jesus “summoned her to the mission,” so much so that she did not conceive “her consecration to God apart from the pursuit of the good of her brothers and sisters.”
“I feel that the more the fire of love burns within my heart (…) the more also the souls who will approach me (poor little piece of iron, useless if I withdraw from the divine furnace), the more these souls will run swiftly in the odour of the ointments of their Beloved, for a soul that is burning with love cannot remain inactive,” she said.
The “little way” way of trust and love
“One of the most important insights of Therese for the benefit of the entire People of God is her ‘little way’,” Pope Francis writes, “he path of trust and love, also known as the way of spiritual childhood. Everyone can follow this way, whatever their age or state in life. It is the way that the heavenly Father reveals to the little ones (cf. Mt 11:25).”
In the Story of a Soul, Therese tells how she discovered the little way: “I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am, with all my imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new”.
To describe that way, she uses the image of an elevator: “the elevator which must raise me to heaven is your arms, O Jesus! And for this, I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.” Little, incapable of being confident in herself, and yet firmly secure in the loving power of the Lord’s arms.
This is the “sweet way of love” that Jesus sets before the little and the poor, before everyone. It is the way of true happiness. In place of a Pelagian notion of holiness, individualistic and elitist, more ascetic than mystical, that primarily emphasizes human effort, Therese always stresses the primacy of God’s work, his gift of grace. As a result, she could say: “I always feel, however, the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint, because I don’t count on my merits, since I have none, but I trust in him who is Virtue and Holiness. God alone, content with my weak efforts, will raise me to himself and make me a saint, clothing me in his infinite merits.”
What counts for Therese then is God’s action, grace, not personal merit, because it is the Lord who sanctifies.
“It is most fitting, then, that we should place heartfelt trust not in ourselves but in the infinite mercy of a God who loves us unconditionally and has already given us everything in the Cross of Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis, C’est la confiance (Vatican.va)