October! A month of joy, with anniversaries of our Christian heritage! October 1st, the Protection of the Mother of God and St Therese; October 11th, the Council of Ephesus defined the Maternity of the Mother of God, in 431; October 13th, the Miracle of Fatima; October 15th, St. Teresa of Avila’s feast (she died in 1581); October 16th (this year), honors the Fathers of the 7th ecumenical Council, which safeguarded sacred Icons; and October 19th – 5th Anniversary of the canonization of Zelie and Louis Martin (parents of St. Therese).
Forty years ago an Eastern Orthodox scholar/theologian wrote: “Christianity is strange to people of today” because what is “popularized as Christianity is inaccurate” (“caricature” seems too strong). Nevertheless, reflection suggests that “Christian”, as a faith-identifying name, is now secondary to the particular “confession” to which one belongs. Reverend Olivier Clement believes that “Christianity as a dominant ideology has finally collapsed”; Christendom has been swept away. What is Christendom anyway? The Webster Merrimac Dictionary definition and a map illustration says of Christendom: “a worldwide body of Christians, namely Europe and North America when inhabited by Protestants and Catholics- who shared a common religious culture” - albeit with differences and names: Catholic; Anglican; Methodist; Baptist; Quaker etc. The current variety of names is commonplace but does tell a story: each new name (and new group) emerged as a breakaway, usually a division of friendship. Suddenly today we realize how long ago it was when pagan Tertullian said: “Behold how these Christians love one another.” Has the joy, the beauty of loving been lost? St Ignatius of Antioch and St Ephrem might figure out who we are but perhaps with more to say about our modern situation! Did Christendom/Christianity collapse because of mutual alienation or (to re-state the same) did a loss of respect leave us stranded in alienation?
The ascesis of Christianity was meant to be a deterrent to human freedom (indulgence). Today (2022) a new phenomenon! “Faith confessions” are silent, credibility has weakened, but new bonds of fraternity (political, philosophical) have gained momentum to enable absolute freedom for each person to do and choose as “I will”. Perhaps Christendom is dead. For sure “God is no longer Emperor of the World but Crucified Love.”
Therese to the rescue! If Therese of Lisieux is known for anything (besides roses) it is love, and the rose as love’s trademark. Therese was 14 years old when her love for God became a passion, an apostolate for the salvation of souls, sustaining her self-sacrifice until her death at 24. She describes the two-edged sword (so to speak) that pierced her heart - an image of the bleeding hand of Christ Crucified and His agonized cry: “I thirst”. Like Jesus Christ, she would bear the burden. Her program of self-denial to save the errant and sinful reflected the compassionate love of God the Father. When one is sure of being loved, trust is born, self-revelation is possible - almost consequential. God was sure of Therese’s love and returned it (so to speak) with a revelation of His own Divine Love – although the reality was the other way around: God acts first! At any rate, Therese was the recipient of God’s revelation of Himself- as the God of merciful love – revealed in Jesus Christ, crucified to pay the debt of sin, our sins, my sins. Sin is a reality to be acknowledged from birth to final judgment, so our lifelong journey of contrition is step #1 on the path to God; compunction becomes a coveted landing a on the stairway of return. Compunction includes grief or sorrow for our sinful condition and what we cost the Son of God. It is ongoing and deepens as love grows. Harping endlessly on sins might lead to unbelief in God’s pardon. But compunction seems always safe and balanced. Therese is similar to the Desert Fathers, and 4th century Abba Poemen, whose compunction brought him to intimacy with the Theotokos standing, weeping, at the foot of Jesus’ Cross. Whatever the century, the reality of our sinfulness and the mercy of God the Father and the Passion of Jesus Christ and the Love of the Holy Spirit poured into our souls in Baptism, should identify us with Therese. Therese stands out clearly, namely as the “little child of God’s Mercy” she was too little (humble) to be judgmental, and seems a near-perfect exemplar a true Christian who even today desires to be the soul of the world, our 2022 world (to quote St Maximus):
“The love that is of God is universal and ecumenical: it embraces all peoples, all places, all times. Perfect love…loves all men equally. It is this love that our holy Church imitates, and she desires that we believers should live in the same way. The overflowing of this love is our prayer for the city in which we live, for every city and country. Christian believers live in their own homelands, but as temporary visitors. They live on earth but behave as if they were in heaven. They love all and are persecuted by all... In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body as Christians are all through the cities of the world… Christians sustain the world.”