The Little Flower — St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Sixth in a Series by Albert H. Dolan, O. Carm.

Comfort for Sinners from the Life of St. Therese

Saint Therese of the Holy FaceFear makes me shrink and benumbs me; my way is not the way of fear. The Lord is good and His Mercy endureth forever and ever, and it is my special mission to glorify His infinite Mercy. (Words of the Little Flower.)

"Comfort for Sinners"—this subject seems very strange; it would appear at first thought that there is no comfort for sinners in the sinless life of the sinless Little Flower. And yet there is a very great abundance of comfort for sinners in the Life of the Little Flower, as we shall see.

One of the difficulties felt frequently by those who wish to serve God well is the memory of their past sins. This consciousness of their past unfaithfulness is an obstacle to their spiritual growth and advancement; it acts as a barrier between them and God; it prevents them from coming close to God. Such souls lack confidence in God.

Time and again, both in and out of the confessional, we meet sinners who cannot be convinced that God will or can forgive them their sins. These souls also lack confidence in God.

Now it is precisely for her confidence in God that the Little Flower was most remarkable. There are some saints who were struck by the justice of God, who were almost overwhelmed by the thought of God's justice, by the thought of the rigorous judgment to which they would be subjected by God. Their way was the way of fear. Not so with the Little Flower. She tells us repeatedly that her way is not the way of fear, but the way of love, the way of confidence. "Fear makes me shrink and benumbs me," she says; "my way is not the way of fear—only with love can I go—and not only go, but fly forward on my way." In her Autobiography the Little Flower expressly undertakes to teach others—yes, to teach sinners—to have as much confidence in God as she had.

Hence since it is confidence in God that sinners lack when the memory of their past or present sin keeps them from God, and since it was confidence in God that the Little Flower practiced and preached all her life, we make the claim that there is an abundance of comfort for sinners in the life of the Little Flower. If we can only catch a little of her confidence, if we can learn from the Little Flower the secret of her confidence in God, then never again will the memory of our sins act as a barrier between us and God.

Let us then examine the words of our little Saint and learn from her that, no matter how numerous or black our sins have been, we can and should have confidence in God.

In the account of the Little Flower's virtues as presented to the Holy Father in petition for her Beatification, her virtue of confidence in God is the very first of her virtues mentioned. There are few pages in her Autobiography in which there is not some reference to the mercy of God, some very beautiful and poetic thought about God's mercy, some very striking way of impressing us with the mercy of God. But before we quote any of these passages let us remove a possible objection that might be in the minds of some. Some might say, "What is the use of emphasizing, for the comfort of sinners, the Little Flower's confidence in God; I too could approach God with confidence if I were sinless; her sinlessness is the secret of her confidence."

Little Flower

But no, my dear friends, the Little Flower expressly tells us that her sinlessness was not the secret nor the foundation of her confidence. These are her words, "If I draw nigh to God with love and trust, it is not because I have kept from mortal sin. Were my conscience laden with every imaginable crime, I would not have one whit less confidence; heartbroken and repentant, I would throw myself into my Savior's arms. He loves the prodigal son; I know His words addressed to Magdalen, to the adulterous woman, and to the woman of Samaria. Who could make me afraid? I know His mercy and His love; I know that once I had thrown myself into His arms all my numberless sins would disappear in an instant like drops of water cast into a furnace."

What great consolation is there in this passage for us poor sinners! The Little Flower would have not one whit less confidence, she says, if she were guilty of every imaginable sin; she would not be afraid. Do not hesitate, she tells us, on account of your sins, to come close to God; just be sorry and throw yourselves in His arms; trust in His mercy and at that moment all your sins will disappear like a drop of water cast into a furnace.

Oh, now that the Little Flower has told us that it is not because she was free from sin that she trusted in God so confidently; now that she has told us that she would have had equal trust in Him if she were like us, sinful; now we are more ready to listen to her beautiful thoughts, which all of us may make our own, about the mercy of God.

In a very remarkable passage freighted with consolation for sinners the Little Flower discusses the justice of God. She tells us, "I know that God is just and that His justice affrights many souls, but, instead of frightening me, His justice gives joy and confidence." Then she explains: "Because to be just means not only to show severity towards the guilty, but also to recognize our good intentions and our weakness. It gives me joy to think that God is just, because that means that He knows all our weaknesses and all the frailty of our nature and takes them into account."

What could be more comforting to sinners than to remember these words of the Little Flower just quoted, to remember that God's justice will not be exercised exclusively in meting out punishment for our sins, but also in making allowances for our weakness and frailty, as well as our good intentions? What could be better calculated to cure despair and to bring to the sinner hope and comfort than this wonderful thought of the Little Flower's—that even God’s Justice, to say nothing of His Mercy, will lead Him to make allowance for our frailty?

In another passage the Little Flower says that she found by experience the futility of trying to hurry matters in dealing with some souls; "For I have learned," she says, "that there are some souls for whom God waits with patient mercy, giving them light and strength by degrees." Maybe there is among our readers a soul who has almost surrendered to despair on account of repeated failure to make progress, but who will be comforted and inspired to hope by this thought—perhaps "God is waiting for him with patient mercy, giving His light and strength by degrees."

Family of the Little FlowerAnother passage full of consolation for sinners is one in which she tells the story of being given a task which she judged was beyond her strength. What was her course? She says, "I took refuge in God like a frightened child that hides its head on its father's shoulder and I begged Him to do the work while I remained in His arms." The task was easily accomplished, she said, "But had I done otherwise, had I confided in my own strength, I should have lost the battle.” Again what a lesson is here for us when we are frightened by the strength of our passions and by the weakness of our resolution; we need only fly to Our Lord, make ourselves little, beg Him to fight for us and all will be well.

Then the Little Flower goes on to elaborate the sureness of this expedient of making oneself little and flying to the arms of Jesus like a frightened child to the arms of a good father. "Oh, Jesus," she says, "if only I could make known thy wonderful condescension to all little souls. If Thou shouldst find a soul, however, poorer and weaker than mine, who was willing to surrender itself to Thee as I have described, Thou wouldst load that soul with more stupendous favors than Thou hast given me." The Little Flower had all of us, yes, even the worst of us, in mind when she penned these words. If we will but surrender without reserve to God, if we will make ourselves little and fly to Him and beg Him to work for us, God will load even the weakest of us with favors as great or greater, says the Little Flower, than those He conferred upon her.

St. Therese, in her Autobiography, asks, "What good earthly friend would refuse to forgive you, no matter what had been your offense, if you could whisper to him your heartbroken sorrow?" Would you have it in your heart to refuse to forgive one who had offended you, if he came to you humbly begging forgiveness and confidently relying on your merciful goodness? What mother would reject her son coming to her sobbing his repentance? And do you think, she says, that you or any earthly father or mother is more kind, more tender, more merciful than Almighty God? Will God be outdone in mercy by any of His creatures? Do you not know that God is infinitely more good and merciful and kind than you, or any earthly friend or mother or father?

Again the Little Flower, in one of the most beautiful passages of her Autobiography, compares the sinner to a baby trying to climb stairs, and she compares God to the baby's father watching his baby's efforts from the head of the stairs. The baby tries and falls back, tries again and slips back again, and the father watches pityingly, but the moment the baby realizes its helplessness and reaches out its arms for the father's help, the father descends with all speed and takes the babe in his arms and they mount together the impossible stairs. So, too, we sinners need only hold out our arms to God, making ourselves little and humbly acknowledging our helplessness, and God will come down to us, take us in His arms and we will mount together any stairs, no matter how impossible. An earthly mother never loves her child more, says the Little Flower, than when after some fault the child flies in tears to the mother's arms for forgiveness. So God never loves us better than when we, like helpless little children, go to His arms confidently relying on His goodness and mercy.

Little FlowerWe could go on indefinitely giving from the Autobiography of the Little Flower one passage after another in which she expresses in poetic language and beautiful comparisons the mercy and goodness of God, mercy so boundless that no sinner need fear to approach Him confidently; goodness so stupendous that no sinner need despair of becoming a saint.

But enough has been said to send home our point that there is an abundance of consolation for sinners in the sinless life of the sinless Little Flower. We have seen in quick succession a series of pictures presented to us by St. Therese; a picture of Mary Magdalen and of the prodigal son; a picture of a child in its mother's arms sobbing for forgiveness knowing well that she is already forgiven; a picture of a frightened child hiding its head on its father's shoulder and whispering its fear; a picture of a baby being taken from the stairs into its father's arms—all of them pictures of the sinner, humble and repentant, and on the other hand of Almighty God, kind and gentle and good and merciful. God is represented to us thus by the Little Flower to teach us that we must not fear to go to Him; to teach us where our place is, namely, in His arms—not sulking in the distance, afraid of Him, denying, by our fear, His goodness and mercy, but confessing, by our confidence, His love. That is our place—in God's arms—and there we must remain, conscious ever of our weakness. As long as we remain there whispering our helplessness, acknowledging our weakness, so long will we be safe and secure from any onslaught of temptation. But if we "grow up," that is, if we become, not little, but big, independent, relying on our own strength, forgetting to tell Him in prayer of our need of Him, if we thus "grow up," He will let us try our proud strength and we will fall.

But please God, we will not forget our weakness. Remembering our frailty we will, for that very reason, rely on the strength of God, our Father, and going into His arms we will remain there always.

Let us ask the Little Flower for that rose—the rose of unfailing and unforgetting confidence in and reliance upon God. Let us ask her to let fall from Heaven this rose, this little rose—of becoming and remaining little enough to go to and stay in the arms of Our Lord. Thus just as the Little Flower—little enough on earth to remain in God's arms—is now the playmate of the angels; so we, likewise—little enough to remain ever in God's arms—will one day be found with the Little Flower in the "nurseries of Heaven."

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