The Saints Choose Their Friends
Many years ago, while reading the biography of Père Jean-Baptiste Muard, the founder of the Benedictine abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire, I came upon a line that so struck me that I have never forgotten it. Père Muard said something like this: “It is not we who choose this saint or that to be our friend; it is, rather, the saints who choose those whom they wish to befriend. The saints choose us, and this, in the light of God’s wisdom and providence.”
The Object of Her Affection
We, poor, struggling sons of Saint Benedict, have not, then, to ask why we have chosen Saint Thérèse among our special friends in heaven. We have, instead, to ask why Saint Thérèse has, in fact, chosen us as the object of her attention and affection. The answer is written, I think, in the mysterious journal of God’s gracious Providence. There are, nonetheless, a few indications that lift a corner of the veil on God’s hidden designs, and they are worth pondering.
To Believe in Love
The first of these has to do with the fundamental grace of Saint Thérèse: it is a holy boldness. It is the audacity that comes from the absolute certainty of being loved. In us, just as we are, Thérèse sees men called to believe that we are loved. She sees men called to hope even in the face of things that threaten to drag us down into the pit of despair. The work of Saint Thérèse is precisely this: to help souls, especially those marked by some kind of suffering — Love’s signature — to believe that they are loved, and never to lose hope. “We know and believe the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16).
The Holy Face
Out of this faith in the Love of God grows an immense confidence, a boldness in the Holy Ghost that authorizes even the weakest and most miserable soul to see in the Child Jesus, a brother; and in the Holy Face of the suffering Jesus, the traits of a beloved friend, the gaze of the Divine Bridegroom. This identification with the Child Jesus and, even more, with the adorable Face of the Suffering Jesus, makes the friends of Thérèse bold and full of confidence in their relationship with the Father.
For us who are called to be Benedictine Adorers, the Face of Jesus, the Child and the Immolated Lamb, is hidden and, at the same time, revealed in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. It is by tarrying before Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face that we begin to see ourselves as the Father sees us. “Since you loved me so much,” says Thérèse in one of her prayers to the Father, “I beg you to look upon me only through the Face of Jesus.”
The second reason why Thérèse may have chosen us as the object of her affection and attention has to do with her zeal for the sanctification of priests. Thérèse had no illusions about the virtues of the clergy; as a fourteen year old girl on pilgrimage to Rome she witnessed firsthand the the weaknesses and compromises of the priests surrounding her without, however, becoming scandalized or jaded by them.
She writes in her autobiography:
Having never lived close to [priests], I was not able to understand the principal aim of the Reform of Carmel. To pray for sinners attracted me, but to pray for the souls of priests whom I believed to be as pure as crystal seemed puzzling to me.
I understood my vocation in Italy and that’s not going too far in search of such useful knowledge. I lived in the company of many saintly priests for a month and I learned that, though their dignity raises them above the angels, they are nevertheless weak and fragile men. If holy priests whom Jesus in His Gospel calls the “salt of the earth,” show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid? Didn’t Jesus say too, “if the salt loses its savour, wherewith will it be salted?”
Later on, when, in the course of the examination before her profession, Thérèse was asked why she had come to Carmel, she said, “I came to save souls and especially to pray for priests.”
When Love Enters In
In us, dear sons, Thérèse sees men with great aspirations, men with hearts made to love, men with love to give in adoration and in reparation, men ready to father souls, with a special tenderness for priests caught in the webs of sin and vice. “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5:14). Thérèse, in her own way, says to each of us that our limitations—be they physical, psychological, or moral—are not an impediment to love, but a way to love. Every wound of ours, every chink in the armour of our self-styled virtue, is an opening to Love, a portal through which Divine Love penetrates into places within us that would, were we not so wounded, remain sealed off to Love.
Thérèse says that the calling we have received is to be love, love in the heart of the Church, a love that adores, a love that makes reparation, a love that keeps Love company in the Sacrament of Love. She tells us not to give in to discouragement. She invites us to be confident and to go forward, trusting that the Lord Himself, like a mighty warrior, is with us and has taken up our cause or, rather, made His cause our cause.
Thérèse Has Things in Hand
Six years ago, in October 2011, we made a novena to Saint Thérèse, asking her to find us a house and property suitable for the development of our monastic community. She led us to Silverstream, where still stands a little church (now redundant) built and dedicated to her in 1952. Saint Thérèse accompanied us and delivered us safely to the house the Lord had reserved for us. Saint Thérèse identifies with what we are doing here because it is a Work of Love and of reparation to Love, in the heart of the Church.
My Friendship With Thérèse
If I may speak personally for a moment, allow me to say that Thérèse has known me and followed me around for a very long time, for many years. There exists between us one of those life-long friendships capable of weathering every storm, of enduring long periods of silence, and of responding at a minute’s notice to a cry for help.
The Fire of Love
It seems to me that we are being invited to work with Saint Thérèse for the souls of priests. Our aim is to give back to priests the taste for Love, so that they will burn with Love and spread the fire of Love to those around them and to the whole Church.
Before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus
This a great Work, and not a little daunting, but our role in it is very simple. We are to adore for those who do not adore, and to represent our brother priests — especially the weakest among them, and those who have fallen from their priestly dignity — before the Eucharistic, the merciful, the compassionate Face of Jesus. Our Lord waits in His tabernacles for those with whom He chose to share the glory of His priesthood to return to Him, and to tarry in His presence.
Nothing to Fear
If we remain faithful to this mission of ours, we will have nothing to fear. We have only to go forward in the certainty that we are immensely loved and that nothing will be able to snatch us away from the Love that possesses us, and that has marked us with Love’s Seal.
Love: Our Beginning and Our End
Saint Benedict says, in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule, that at the summit — or the bottom — of the twelve steps of the ladder of humility we will arrive at that love of God, which, being perfect, drives out all fear. The summit of Benedictine life is a holy freedom in love; it is the security of the child who knows, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he is unconditionally loved; that if he falls, Love will pick him up again; that if he hurts himself, Love will heal his bruises and bind up his wounds; that if he is obstinate and slow to understand, Love will wait for Him with an inexhaustible patience; and that if he trusts his life to Love, he will not be disappointed in his hope. To all of this, to the entire teaching of Saint Benedict’s Little Rule for Beginners, Saint Thérèse says a heartfelt “Amen,” for in it she recognizes her own Little Way. Let us follow it without fear, for it begins in Love and leads to Love. Amen.