Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and the Heart of Jesus

After a long absence from the blog due to a lot of messing about and moving, it is fitting that I return to write some thoughts today on the feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Looking through the blog, I am surprised that I have actually referenced her! Shame on me.  On reflection, I think that my attitude to St. Thérèse  was not unlike my attitude to the Sacred Heart: I was never quite comfortable with the rather kitsch images which were everywhere when I was growing up.  Thérèse  was an immensely popular saint - but the images of her hardly communicate what she was all about.  Like the Sacred Heart, images of this truly great soul tend towards being very sentimental  - and she was in no sense a plaster saint.  Her 'story of a soul' and her poems, prayers  and letters are compelling and full of fire and energy.  This humble 'little flower' is rightly acknowledged as a doctor of the Church: she has much to teach us. And yet her message is simplicity itself: most of us a just little weak flowers.  We do not have stories like the great saints, mystics and martyrs: we do not grow into great majestic trees or tall plants in the God's garden.  No, most of us are small little souls who are, in comparison with the heroic saints, rather insignificant.  And yet we are loved and are called to live our lives in Christ.   And this is why she is a much loved saint: she is one of us. Like St David of Wales, she directs us to pay attention to the little things that we can all do - whatever our physical or mental abilities. We find Christ in all we do- however apparently small and insignificant.

Thérèse, of course, had a very intense devotion to the Sacred Heart. Of course, given the age she lived in ( 1873-1897) such a devotion was not unusual.  But, like Teilhard, her devotion was not of the conventional kind. She was not focused on the Sacred Heart as a devotion concerned with making reparation for sin, but like Teilhard, on the Sacred Heart as a symbol of God's love for her : she desired, above all things, to be united with this divine love. Thus the Sacred Heart was not just a symbol of the heart of Jesus wounded by sin, but  an absolute reality: God is love.  Thérèse wanted to be united with and lose herself in its fire.  Her devotion was not obsessed by sin, but focused on the reality and the enormity of God's love for her and all humanity. This is not to say that she was not concerned with sin, but that she saw the Sacred Heart as a 'furnace of love' which would consume and burn away sin.  As we read in one of her most well-known prayers.

O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.

O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfil perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity.


Her poem to the Sacred Heart, written in 1895, captures her approach to the Sacred Heart.  It is a poem which comes to mind when we reflect upon the image of St Mary Magdalen in the icon.


Beside the tomb wept Magdalen at dawn, —
She sought to find the dead and buried Christ;
Nothing could fill the void now He was gone,
No one to soothe her burning grief sufficed.
Not even you, Archangels heaven-assigned!
To her could bring content that dreary day.
Your buried King, alone, she longed to find,
And bear His lifeless body far away.
Beside His tomb she there the last remained,
And there again was she before the sun;
There, too, to come to her the Saviour deigned, —
He would not be, by her, in love outdone.
Gently He showed her then His blessed Face,
And one word sprang from His deep Heart’s recess:
Mary! His voice she knew, she knew its grace;
It came with perfect peace her heart to bless.
One day, my God! I, too, like Magdalen,
Desired to find Thee, to draw near to Thee;
So, over earth’s immense, wide-stretching plain,
I sought its Master and its King to see.
Then cried I, though I saw the flowers bloom
In beauty ‘neath green trees and azure skies:
O brilliant Nature! thou art one vast tomb,
Unless God’s Face shall greet my longing eyes.”
A heart I need, to soothe me and to bless, —
A strong support that can not pass away, —
To love me wholly, e’en my feebleness,
And never leave me through the night or day.
There is not one created thing below,
Can love me truly, and can never die.
God become man — none else my needs can know;
He, He alone, can understand my cry.
Thou comprehendest all I need, dear Lord!
To win my heart, from heaven Thou didst come;
For me Thy blood didst shed, O King adored!
And on our altars makest Thy home.
So, if I may not here behold Thy Face,
Or catch the heav’nly music of Thy Voice,
I still can live, each moment, by Thy grace,
And in Thy Sacred Heart I can rejoice.
O Heart of Jesus, wealth of tenderness!
My joy Thou art, in Thee I safely hide.
Thou, Who my earliest youth didst charm and bless,
Till my last evening, oh! with me abide,
All that I had, to Thee I wholly gave,
To Thee each deep desire of mine is known.
Whoso his life shall lose, that life shall save; —
Let mine be ever lost in Thine alone!
I know it well, — no righteousness of mine
Hath any value in Thy searching eyes;
Its every breath my heart must draw from Thine,
To make of worth my life’s long sacrifice.
Thou hast not found Thine angels without taint;
Thy Law amid the thunderbolts was given;
And yet, my Jesus! I nor fear nor faint.
For me, on Calvary, Thy Heart was riven.
To see Thee in Thy glory face to face, —
I know it well, — the soul must pass through fires.
Choose I on earth my purgatorial place, —
The flaming love of Thy great Heart’s desires!
So shall my exiled soul, to death’s command,
Make answer with one cry of perfect love;
Then flying straight to heaven its Fatherland,
Shall reach with no delay that home above.

St. Thérèse, now united with the Sacred Heart, pray for us as we make our little way towards our home above. 
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, our home lies deep in you.  

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