Be witnesses to Mercy !
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
Archbishop of Vienna (Austria)
October 1st, 2011
On the 17th of August 2002, the blessed Pope John Paul II dedicated this" Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy ". In his/her/its homily, the big Pope said words that, without exaggeration, must be considered as his testament. I take the liberty to mention two excerpts of his homily. They represent the "Portico", the door of entry of our Congress, here, in this place, where the blessed Pope pronounced them :
Today, therefore, in this Shine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled : from here there must go forth "the spark which will prepare the world for his final coming" (cf. Diary, 1732).
This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness ! I entrust this task to you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to the Church in Kraków and Poland, and to all the votaries of Divine Mercy who will come here from Poland and from throughout the world. May you be witnesses to mercy ! (Homily of August 17, 2002)
The Pope’s words constituted a strong impulse to convene the" first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy" that was held in Rome from the 2nd to the 6th of April 2008 and which we evoke with much gratitude.
It is under these same words that we can place the "second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy", to which Cardinal Dziwisz invited us. Let’s thank, today in advance, him and all those who helped him. The Cardinal knows the “Pope of Mercy” better than anyone. His testimony is precious to us !
These congresses should promote the apostolate of Mercy all over the world. The delegates and participants came here from all parts of the world, to look in this source-place for the strength and the encouragement of God’s Mercy, to be witnesses of Mercy.
We look for witnesses of Mercy. In these days of congress, we will hear strong and moving testimonies. The first witness, the blessed Pope John Paul II already spoke. We will hear a lot of other things about him. The second witness is inseparable of this place, Jesus’ little "secretary", S. Faustina. Her Way will be described by competent people, much better than I would.
This day of grace proposes a third witness. We celebrate today “the greatest saint of the modern times”, as Pope Pius XI described her : the little Thérèse of Lisieux.
Thérèse’s mission was to lead the “little souls” on ”the little way" to Heaven. ("It is confidence and nothing else than confidence that must lead us to love". letter 197,45). May she lead us, now and in what follows, towards the confidence in Jesus-Mercy ; may she teach us to say and to live our personal "Jezu ufam Tobie."
I invite you thus to turn with me towards the little Thérèse. She will show us the “Way” of confidence, as the access to the divine Mercy.
Three experiences of Jesus’ Mercy
In her Autobiography, Thérèse mentions three experiences, which taught her her personal call and her mission : the “grace of Christmas", Jesus’ picture on the cross, and the murderer Pranzini, her "first child".
Thérèse who was, as a child, extremely and nearly pathologically sensitive, experiences at Christmas 1886, just before her 14th birthday, her "complete conversion", precisely the day when Paul Claudel receives the gift of his conversion at Notre-Dame de Paris.
After Christmas matins, her Dad passes to her an unhappy remark. All fear that Thérèse will break out in tears, seized as she is by her extreme sensitivity. But "Thérèse was no more the same at all. Jesus had changed her heart (Ms A, 45 r°)." Instead of moaning, she was happy. Retrospectively, she recognizes that in this she got a grace, which would determine her life :
"On this night of grace, the third period of my life began—the most beautiful of all, the one most filled with heavenly favours. In an instant Our Lord, satisfied with my good will, accomplished the work I had not been able to do during all these years. Like the Apostle I could say : "Master, we have laboured all night, and have taken nothing." (Luke 5:5). More merciful to me even than to His beloved disciples, Our Lord Himself took the net, cast it, and drew it out full of fishes. He made me a fisher of men. Love and a spirit of self-forgetfulness took possession of me, and from that time I was perfectly happy !" (Ms A, 45 v°, Autobiography 95-97)
The "grace of Christmas" is for her totally personal, but also totally intended for the others. In Thérèse’s, as in Faustina’s life, all is at the same time completely personal and completely apostolic. The more God’s love grasps her, the more she becomes apostolic. Her personal experience becomes for her the central part of her teaching : the "little Way", that she should offer all “little souls".
The small victory on oneself becomes for her the Way that permits her to understand the mystery of Christmas : "In this night, in which he made himself weak and suffering, he made me strong and courageous. " (MS A, 44 v°) Yet at the same time, she understands that it is Jesus who makes all ("Jesus himself took the net"). Thérèse feels the "desire to work for the conversion of the sinners" ; however she doesn’t attribute anything to herself.
Thérèse describes for us the second experience, immediately after the "grace of Christmas ". She deepens the discovery of her vocation :
“One Sunday, closing my book at the end of Mass, a picture of Our Lord on the Cross half slipped out, showing only one of His Divine Hands, pierced and bleeding. I felt an indescribable thrill such as I had never felt before. My heart was torn with grief to see that Precious Blood falling to the ground, and no one caring to treasure It as It fell, and I resolved to remain continually in spirit at the foot of the Cross, that I might receive the Divine Dew of Salvation and pour it forth upon souls. From that day the cry of my dying Saviour—"I thirst !"—sounded incessantly in my heart, and kindled therein a burning zeal hitherto unknown to me. My one desire was to give my Beloved to drink ; I felt myself consumed with thirst for souls." (Ms 45 v°)
Jesus’ redeeming love, who lets his blood be poured for her, opens out in her a fire, a "thirst of souls", that corresponds to Jesus’ thirst on the cross. We discover here once more what draws the heart of Thérèse’s teaching. The divine love, which goes down, causes Thérèses self-dedication, which is fully personal and fully universal. So Thérèse finds her personal vocation and her ecclesial vocation at the same time. Like Mary and with her, she should be at the foot of the cross, in order to belong to Jesus completely and to the heart of the Church. The more her vocation clears up, the more she lives in "synergy" with the Church, with Mary, with the unique Saviour. However, there is no doubt : it is Jesus who makes it all. Her mediation at the cross doesn’t add anything to Jesus’ work, and yet it is imperative, so that Christ’s blood may join all men.
A third experience is immediately located after the grace of Christmas and the "I am thirsty " experience : the conversion of the murderer Pranzini. The text is of such a vigour, of such a vitality of faith, that I want to mention it fully. This is powerful testimony of the confidence in God’s Mercy.
"Just then I heard much talk of a notorious criminal, Pranzini, who was sentenced to death for several shocking murders, and, as he was quite impenitent, everyone feared he would be eternally lost. How I longed to avert this irreparable calamity ! In order to do so I employed all the spiritual means I could think of, and, knowing that my own efforts were unavailing, I offered for his pardon the infinite merits of Our Saviour and the treasures of Holy Church.
Need I say that in the depths of my heart I felt certain my request would be granted ? But, that I might gain courage to persevere in the quest for souls, I said in all simplicity : "My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy ; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me." My prayer was granted to the letter. My Father never allowed us to read the papers, but I did not think there was any disobedience in looking at the part about Pranzini. The day after his execution I hastily opened the paper, La Croix, and what did I see ? Tears betrayed my emotion ; I was obliged to run out of the room. Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, and the executioners were already dragging him towards the fatal block, when all at once, apparently in answer to a sudden inspiration, he turned round, seized the crucifix which the Priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord’s Sacred Wounds three times. . . ." (Ms A, 45 v° - 46 v° ; Autobiography 97-99)
The certainty, that fills Thérèse, is unshakable : "I had such a great trust in Jesus’ infinite Mercy !" The sign, that Thérèse receives, reinforces her in her vocation :
" I had obtained the sign I asked for, and to me it was especially sweet. Was it not when I saw the Precious Blood flowing from the Wounds of Jesus that the thirst for souls first took possession of me ? I wished to give them to drink of the Blood of the Immaculate Lamb that It might wash away their stains, and the lips of "my first born" had been pressed to these Divine Wounds. What a wonderful answer !
After receiving this grace my desire for the salvation of souls increased day by day. I seemed to hear Our Lord whispering to me, as He did to the Samaritan woman : "Give me to drink !"3939John 4:7. It was indeed an exchange of love : upon souls I poured forth the Precious Blood of Jesus, and to Jesus I offered these souls refreshed with the Dew of Calvary. In this way I thought to quench His Thirst ; but the more I gave Him to drink, so much the more did the thirst of my own poor soul increase, and I accepted it as the most delightful recompense." (Ms A, 46 v°, autobiographic Writings 99)
Thérèse is already in the heart of her vocation. How one cannot be grasped by the words of this 22 years nun ? Pranzini, her "first child !" What her " little doctrine", the Way of spiritual childhood, of trust without limit in the merciful love will become, she felt it, while obtaining Jesus’ “merciful judgment”, for “her child", from her Crucified, from his redeeming love ; a merciful judgment for which she hoped with a theological certainty, which is not going to fall in hell. The substance and the incentive of this certainty, it was only Jesus, Jesus solely !
2 The merciful God. The heart of her representation of God
The "little Way" is that of the dedication to the merciful love ; it will always "remain the way of the love ". Thérèse puts the accent strongly on it, when she displaces the accent from God’s justice toward the merciful love. She is quite conscious of this displacement, and she feels that she is called by God’s grace, to announce this mission, this Way. At the end of the A Manuscript, she says it expressly :
"After so many graces, may I not sing with the Psalmist that "the Lord is good, that His Mercy endureth for ever" ? It seems to me that if everyone were to receive such favours God would be feared by none, but loved to excess ; that no one would ever commit the least wilful fault—and this through love, not fear. Yet all souls cannot be alike. It is necessary that they should differ from one another in order that each Divine Perfection may receive its special honour. To me, He has given His Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love." (Ms A, 83 v°)
And to show immediately, how God’s justice is to be contemplated "through his infinite Mercy", she adds :
"What joy to think that Our Lord is just, that is to say, that He takes our weakness into account, that He knows perfectly the frailty of our nature ! Of what, then, need I be afraid ? Will not the God of Infinite Justice, Who deigns so lovingly to pardon the sins of the Prodigal Son, be also just to me "who am always with Him" ?" (Ms A, 83 v°-84 v°)
This knowledge of God, as infinite Mercy, illuminates her whole life, her prayer and her action, her so simple convent life and her ecclesial mission with its world-wide dimensions. Her "doctrine" is only song and praise for "what God’s love made for her " (Ms A, 3 v° ; C, 3 v°) ; however, she knows, that she has this mission, to transmit what she received.
The basis of her teaching is here : everything in God’s plans, God’s projects, finds its sense and its reason in the infinite Mercy : the work of creation and the plan of salvation. Is it not precisely here that we find one of the reasons –the reason - of Thérèse’s universality ? Indeed, what astonishing and obvious reality : she is loved in all circles and all cultures. We will come back to it. May it be allowed to us, since now, to express our opinion on this matter : Thérèse revealed with an irresistible strength the fascinating beauty of the merciful love. Because she radiates this with her whole being, she seems so winning.
"Jesus is my only love". (inscription on her cell) Thérèse’s christocentrism
Her doctrine has a unique and precise content : "Only Jesus ". Her knowledge of God, her love for" God’s love" has a unique and precise content : "Whoever has Jesus, has everything." (One of her poems)
"Jesus’" name is omnipresent in Thérèse’s writings. Whereas we can find "Christ" less than 20 times in her writings, “Jesus" appears more than 1600 times. "He is the sun, that illuminates all" (Fr.-M. Léthel). In Jesus, her only love, Thérèse finds all : the whole divine life of the holy Trinity, the whole creation, the Church, the last things. Let’s try to sketch in some poor lines what is much more abundantly available in Thérèse.
One would have to linger long with her most important prayer, the" consecration of herself as an offering to the merciful love of God" of June 9th, 1985. She first addresses the whole Blessed Trinity, to speak then especially to Jesus, but always in a trinitarian perspective :
"O my God, O Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to love Thee and to make Thee loved—to labour for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls here upon earth and by delivering those suffering in Purgatory. I desire to fulfil perfectly Thy Holy Will, and to reach the degree of glory Thou hast prepared for me in Thy Kingdom. In a word, I wish to be holy, but, knowing how helpless I am, I beseech Thee, my God, to be Thyself my holiness." (Pri 6 ; Autobiography 280)
S. Thérèse repeats in her prayer : "I feel in my heart infinite desires" : the love, with which she wants to love God and which she wants to bring to others, is merely the love, with which God loves her in his Son, in whom he gave her everything (see Rom 8, 23) :
" Since Thou hast loved me so much as to give me Thy Only-Begotten Son to be my Saviour and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. Gladly do I offer them to Thee, and I beg of Thee to behold me only through the Eyes of Jesus, and in His Heart aflame with love." (Pri 6 ; Autobiography 280)
The famous definition of love, that Thérèse submits ("To love means to give everything and to give oneself" - PN 54/22), first applies to God, who gave us everything, to his Son, and to the " infinite treasure of his merits ".
4 Size and poverty of the creature
We approach the heart of the message of Thérèse’s “little teaching" : the paradox of her smallness, of her poverty, of here nothingness on one hand and the size of her love, of her infinite desire on the other hand. It is the paradox of her fully simple audacity, of the treasure of her poverty.
Thérèse lives in a rare degree of knowledge, in a total dependence of creature towards the Creator. Because she knows, she is created and contemplated by the Father "through Jesus’ Holy Face and in his burning heart of love, she lives her dependence of creature through the Son’s divine relation to his Father. Her whole doctrine of spiritual childhood, her offering to the merciful love, her spiritual poverty finds its "place" in the eternal filiation of the incarnated Word. Her audacity comes from the fact, that Jesus is for her "my loving Bridegroom" and that everything that is his, belongs to her.
So at the end of the C Manuscript, she dares to appropriate herself Jesus’ words in his priestly prayer to the Father ; after having mentioned it for a long time as being her prayer, she asks :
" Perhaps it is daring, but, for a long time, hast thou not allowed me to be daring with Thee ? Thou hast said to me, as the Prodigal’s father to his elder son : "All I have is thine." And therefore I may use thy very own words to draw down favours from Our Heavenly Father on all who are dear to me." (Ms C, 34 v° ; Autobiography 271)
This audacity corresponds to her poverty. The more she feels poor, the more she dares to request :
"I am but a weak and helpless child, yet it is my very weakness which makes me dare to offer myself, O Jesus, as victim to Thy Love. In olden days pure and spotless holocausts alone were acceptable to the Omnipotent God. Nor could His Justice be appeased, save by the most perfect sacrifices. But the law of fear has given place to the law of love, and Love has chosen me, a weak and imperfect creature, as its victim. Is not such a choice worthy of God’s Love ? Yea, for in order that Love may be fully satisfied, it must stoop even unto nothingness, and must transform that nothingness into fire." (Ms B, 3 v°)
The “ little Way" - way of theological life
Thérèse wants to teach through her “little Way", that Christian life is above all a theological life, a life of faith, hope and charity. Yes, but it is necessary to become poor, to live at a divine level ; it is necessary to love ones poverty, ones nothingness ; it is necessary to free oneself of everything that is not God, so that God may be God in our life, so that he "may transform this nothingness into fire, so that we may love him with his own love. This is what Thérèse tells Sister Marie du Sacré-Cœur, while explaining her the B Manuscript :
" Dear sister, do you not understand that to love Jesus and to be His Victim of Love, the more weak and wretched we are the better material do we make for this consuming and transfiguring Love ? . . . The simple desire to be a Victim suffices, but we must also consent to ever remain poor and helpless, and here lies the difficulty : "Where shall we find one that is truly poor in spirit ? We must seek him afar off," says the author of the Imitation. He does not say that we must search among great souls, but "afar off"—that is to say, in abasement and in nothingness. Let us remain far from all that dazzles, loving our littleness, and content to have no joy. Then we shall be truly poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to seek us however far off we may be, and transform us into flames of Love. . . . I long to make you understand what I feel. Confidence alone must lead us to Love. . . ." (Ms B, 3 v°)
To believe, to hope, to love, only for this motive : because God is God. It is the great teaching of the little way. So Thérèse brings us a doctrine, which is new in nothing. Yet she has got a gift and a vocation, to say it in a new way. She says in fact that the christian life is a real transformation : "He is going to transform us in flame of love !" Maybe we find here one of the most urgent necessities of the Church today : to remember the divine, theological dimension of the christian life : "No more I am living, but Christ is living in me."(Gal. 2, 20) Thérèse discovers always more clearly that she won’t be able to find nor to go this path of divine life and "divinisation", if not by the grace of God, and only if she always grows more in the confidence of spiritual childhood, in her self-giving in Jesus’ arms, in the offering of herself to the merciful love. Thérèse’s “spiritual childhood" is thus a life of a child of God, moved by God’s Spirit. (see Rom 8, 14)
An "ecclesiology of Mercy"
An essential element of Thérèse’s doctrine is her perspective on the mystery of the Church, as it emerges in the B Manuscript. What Thérèse lives for herself, she lives it inseparably for the church. The happy discovery of her own vocation, to be the love in the heart of the Church, is the ecclesial actualization of her discovery of the merciful love and the little Way : the Church as « sacramental mystery » (as the Vatican Council will say), depending fully on God’s love, who acts efficiently in all singular vocations ; because there is at the same time fundamentally an identification with the love, an influence of the Spirit of love , who accomplishes its work through all his instruments.
The consequences of this "ecclesiology of the merciful love" are important, as much for the nature of the Church as for her mission. To actualize the Council Vatican II, it is fruitful to read newly the idea of the "sacramentality" of the Church (LG 1) in the light of Thérèse’s ecclesiological perceptions.
First, it is a renewal of sense, concerning the essential poverty of the Church, whose only light is Christ and whose action is instrumental and" sacramental ", in total dependence on the grace of salvation of God, who is Love. This Church receives itself continually from God, and it is here "by love of life" ; it is a Church of saved and redeemed people, that is hanging by the thread of Mercy ; a Church, that cannot attribute, nor even the spiritual goods, to itself ; a Church that, with Jesus, goes to the table of the sinners, to ask with them the prayer of the publican : to "speak in the name of her brothers : Have mercy on us, Lord, because we are poor sinners !… Lord, send us back justified. "(Ms C 6 r°)
To sit down at the" table of the sinners" without the least trace of judgment or sentence, but in the attitude of Jesus and of the Father full of mercy, who sent him, this is Thérèse’s attitude, who knows how she is herself object of God’s Mercy, which precedes us. It is also the attitude of the Church, who loves the sinners with Jesus’ redeeming love. The conclusion of the C Manuscript expresses all this with a rare vigour :
"And it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten. I leave the Pharisee to go up, and full of confidence I repeat the humble prayer of the Publican. Above all I follow Magdalene, for the amazing, rather I should say, the loving audacity, that delights the Heart of Jesus, has cast its spell upon mine. It is not because I have been preserved from mortal sin that I lift up my heart to God in trust and love." (Ms C, 36 v°)
Finally this "ecclesiology of Mercy" is missionary to the highest degree. But Thérèse knows, that only love attracts and that the real moving strength of the missionary action is the fire of love :
"I asked Jesus to draw me into the Fire of His love, and to unite me so closely to Himself that He may live and act in me. I feel that the more the fire of love consumes my heart, so much the more shall I say : "Draw me !" and the more also will souls who draw near me run swiftly in the sweet odour of the Beloved. Yes, they will run—we shall all run together, for souls that are on fire can never be at rest." (Ms C, 36 r°)
The "ecclesiology of the merciful love" would not be complete without a last word on the "lever" of prayer, that "lifts the world from the fishing rods" and without which Thérèse would not have become the Patron of the missions of the universal Church :
" Give me a lever and a fulcrum on which to lean it," said Archimedes, "and I will lift the world." What he could not obtain because his request had only a material end, without reference to God, the Saints have obtained in all its fulness. They lean on God Almighty’s power itself and their lever is the prayer that inflames with love’s fire. With this lever they have raised the world—with this lever the Saints of the Church Militant still raise it, and will raise it to the end of time." (Ms C, 36 r° - v°)
Already so much has been said about Thérèse’s actuality. Here, at the conclusion we need to say something of the actuality of Thérèse’s teaching.
A first observation imposes itself : Thérèse is universal : her person and her little Way of confidence, of the spiritual childhood (one cannot separate her person of her "Way") found an astonishing and absolute reception and they still find it. Her influence has an effect everywhere, on so and so many people of every origin, culture and even religion. How "to explain" this phenomenon ?
I think that it is about the same thing with Thérèse as with the whole christian mystery : one must take them both "literally", with the utmost « realism ». In Christ’s promises, there is nothing neither exaggerated nor fanatic, all is perfectly real. Thérèse’s strength consists in that : in her, Jesus’ promises found a quite simple Yes, fully confident, without restriction.
"Because of my weakness, you enjoyed, Lord, to fill my small childish desires, and you want today, to fill other desires, bigger than the universe… "(Ms B, 3 r°)
"To me He gave his infinite Mercy… "(Ms A, 83 v°)
With the whole strength of the theological faith, that has God same as object and motive, Thérèse believes that Jesus accomplishes his infinite desires according to his promises ; desires that he himself has set down in Thérèse’s heart. I think that there is no other explanation to the practically irresistible attraction Thérèse exerts everywhere in the world, if not what she says at the end of the C Manuscript :
"Simple souls cannot understand complicated methods, and, as I am one of their number, Our Lord has inspired me with a very simple way of fulfilling my obligations. One day, after Holy Communion, He made me understand these words of the Canticles : "Draw me : we will run after Thee to the odour of Thy ointments." O my Jesus, there is no need to say : "In drawing me, draw also the souls that I love" : these words, "Draw me," suffice. When a soul has let herself be taken captive by the inebriating odour of Thy perfumes, she cannot run alone ; as a natural consequence of her attraction towards Thee, the souls of all those she loves are drawn in her train. Just as a torrent carries into the depths of the sea all that it meets on its way, so, my Jesus, does the soul who plunges into the shoreless ocean of Thy Love bring with it all its treasures. My treasures are the souls it has pleased thee to unite with mine ; Thou hast confided them to me." (Ms C 33 v° - 34 v°)
Thérèse’s essential message is the following : to live the divine life, faith, hope, charity with an extraordinary realism, with a child’s total confidence today, in the lowest details of the daily life, this is a Way, open to all, attractive for "many little souls ".
What attracts the "little souls" as much as many sinners, to Thérèse, it is the context, in which one doesn’t feel judged by her. One feels on the contrary loved, without receiving the least reproach. At the time of the "masters of suspicion", it exercises a surprising and irresistible attraction.
With Thérèse, the human being discovers himself as" capax amoris ", as loved and capable to love. There is not anything, which raises the human being better, could heal and make him happier, than the development of this capacity. As the experience shows, the meeting with Thérèse, often triggers, especially in young people, the blooming of the strengths of human heart and the discovery of happiness, brought by selflessness and self-dedication as an answer to the meeting with the merciful love.
Thérèse reminds the Church, that it is called to direct this divine gaze of love and mercy toward every human being, together with Jesus. So Thérèse only has the "privilege" of this unique love ("I cannot imagine any bigger love to me, than the one by which you are pleased to waste so much to cover me with gift. "Ms C, 34 v°), just to ask Jesus "to love those you gave to me, as much as you loved me, without any merit on my part."(Ms C, 34 v°) What gives to Thérèse’s message so much strength is her firm confidence that God’s Mercy expresses itself especially when it must descend in depth, to show its size, without measure, in the deepest weaknesses.
Our time and the Church today has an urgent necessity of sure masters, of spiritual directors. We are convinced that, by God’s merciful love, Thérèse has been given to our time, to hoist us to the authentic life by her example and intercession.