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Roger Duncan The Little Flower and the New Evangelization Thousands ofpeople in different parts ofthe world have been viewing and touching the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, "the Little Flower," as the new millennium dawns. As she has on numerous occasions been recognized as the special saint for our time,1 it becomes very important to understand more clearly how that is so, lest we miss her special importance for the new evangelization. Since she has been proclaimed a Doctor ofthe Church we would do well to acquaint others and ourselves with what she taught by word and example. Some people, reading her autobiography, and confusing the late nineteenth-century gift wrap with the gift itself, have not liked her very much. "A sugary little saint," or something to that effect, said James Agee, contrasting her with Theresa ofAvila. This kind ofmisunderstanding, by those who like the sugar and those who do not, must not be allowed to obscure her heroic apostolate ofthe radically new. Radically new? Of course there is nothing so new in authentic Church teaching that it was not in some way there from the beginning .2 "Innovation" in the wild sense tends to heresy and is at least irrelevant. By the radically new, however, I mean that which grows LOGOS 3:3 SUMMER 2ooo Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (? 873-1 897). Photograph, 189c. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France. Alinari/Art Resource, N.Y. THE LITTLE FLOWER AND THE NEW EVANGELIZATION up from the roots, and in the providence ofGod springs into flower at that point in history when the Church and humankind are ready for it. I do not mean here to cover all ofher teaching, all ofwhich is distinctive, original, and glowing with "new lights."3 I only want to direct attention to aspects ofher doctrine and practice that seem in danger ofbeing insufficiently noticed. Thérèse and the Modern World The Little Flower endured a spiritual darkness without consolation for several years at the end ofher short life, a darkness she describes in a distinctly modern accent. Great contemplatives have of course often spoken of an anguished desolation, a crucifixion of the self, experienced on the way to union with God. Thérèse knows this "Dark Night of the Soul" specifically as a temptation against faith, a temptation to atheism. Here she joins modern man, who has lost a comfortable cosmos and found a technological void. Modern people find it easy to question everything, including reason itself, which anyway offers no answers to why horrible things happen to good people . To many, God seems more inaccessible, more hidden, than ever. Vatican II "opened the doors ofthe Church to the world" to allow a two-way flow. The world penetrates the Church in such a way that the world's pain and problems—starvation, war, loss ofintellectual and faith perspective—are felt within the Church as she identifies with the world. These are our problems, we human beings, together . The Church in turn penetrates the world. She exercises political and social advocacy toward a more just society. She adjusts her global missionary activity witii increased sensitivity toward the variety of human goods and values expressed in alternate cultures (inculturation ) and with heightened respect for autonomy and process. She expects her lay people to perform a unique and indispensable role in humanizing and Christianizing every corner ofhuman work, technology , and culture.4 12LOGOS It is well known that St. Thérèse identified with the Church's missionary thrust. She always wanted to be a missionary and kept this global focus all her short life, finding astonishing ways to implement it. As one who was porous toward the world, however , she had to take in its darkness, its atheism. She had to endure it contemplatively. The Church knows that God's action in Jesus Christ makes it possible to negotiate Nietzsche's "death of God." For since the Incarnation all human beings have been touched irrevocably by Christ.5 This means, among other things, that when we think we have lost the connection with the Father we can find it again by looking closely at the human reality, turning...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 109-123
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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