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The Faithful will flock to the Little Flower

Ross Ahlfeld explains how St Thérèse of Lisieux’s life remains an inspiration to Catholics

Sometimes it feels like there’s just so much I don’t fully comprehend around the process of how the saints journey along their path to official sainthood in our Church.

I don’t really understand why some are apparently fast tracked towards Canonisation, while others, having seemingly fulfilled all the required conditions, are stuck at the Beatification stage for decades and even centuries in some cases, for no obvious reason.

Most of all, I don’t get how so few lay people—who make up the majority of Christians throughout human history —only make up a tiny percentage of Canonised saints.


Becoming ‘irrelevant’

For many Catholics these days, the entire formal process of Canonisation has become slightly irrelevant.

It seems that if the faithful feel that a faithfully departed brother or sister is a saint, then they simply relate to them as a saint, based on the Church’s own understanding of the body of Christ.

I am a member of the Catholic Worker, and most of us don’t really require the Church to formally recognise our founder Dorothy Day as a saint, despite the Archdiocese of New York supporting her cause, since we already know she is one, via prayer and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

This is despite Dorothy’s often-explosive temper and personal character flaws.


Influence and sanctity

Despite this, I was delighted to learn that later this year the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux will come here to Scotland for veneration.

The life and writings of St Thérèse of Lisieux had a profound influence on Dorothy Day and subsequently on the entire Catholic Worker Movement.

Like Dorothy Day, St Thérèse was not perfect, however, none of these flaws detract from her authentic sanctity, rather, they enhance it.


Notable instances

One particular incident during Therese’s life is especially noteworthy: you may have seen the famous image of Thérèse dressed as St Joan of Arc and you may also be aware that the entire episode was a set up by an atheist journalist as to publically mock French Catholics in the press.

It’s said that this incident was a terrible humiliation for Thérèse.

I wonder, did Thérèse feel closer to God during those moments of failure, brokenness, and vulnerability.

Do we in our own lives? We are after all a people vindicated though Christ’s own humiliation on the cross.

For me, this harsh reality is far more preferable to the dehumanising hagiographic approach to saints that sees them only as grace-filled super Christians.


Modern interpretations

On the other hand, we should also be wary of modern interpretations imposed upon the saints.

Intepretatons which reduce their lives to either mental illness, cold rationalism or psychobabble which is dismissive of a simple faith fed on popular devotions and traditional Catholic piety.

More so, it seems that we’re very much in an age of historical reappraisal, with many of our old narratives and certainties fading away.

Old statues are being pulled down and questions are now being asked about the legacy and reputation of every historical figure.

As long as suffering Christians are being persecuted across the world, however, then I suspect that the popularity of saints like St Thérèse of Lisieux (above) will persist and transcend this recent trend toward denouncing our former heroes.


Appeal and inspiration

The reason I link St Therese to 21st century Christian persecution, is because a big part of her appeal is to be found in her absolute abandonment to God when we have nothing else to fall back on.

Just as her pain and her suffering late in her short life, provides inspiration to persecuted Christians everywhere.

All Christian communities are sustained and survive through an interconnection with the communion of saints.

From the Maronite Catholics in Lebanon and their relationship with St Charbel Makhlouf, to Byzantine Catholics and their special devotion to St Josaphat Kuntsevych in Ukraine.


Rachel Held Evans

Thinking about inspirational Christian women who’ve died far too young has reminded me of the wonderful Christian writer and blogger Rachel Held Evans, who tragically passed away after a short illness last week.

One of the things I admired about Rachel was her knowledge of, and respect for Catholic spirituality and the way in which she wrote about and quoted Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen.

In her fine book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel describes God’s Kingdom as being like ‘a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.’

For me, Rachel’s vision of the Kingdom and all those invited into it, is quite appealing.

Similarly—and despite Therese’s life in the Convent—her ‘Little Way’ appeals to us lay people because her sanctity was to be found in the small, mundane things of daily life.


Our saintly journey

Perhaps this is where our own journey to sainthood is to be found too, regardless of where our lives are lived out.

Could it be that the daily lives of struggling single parents, working Mums, workers on zero hours contracts, workers on minimum wage and late shift call centre and care workers have all been bequeathed a path to holiness via Thérèse’s Little Way? Yes, absolutely!

This is why thousands of ordinary folks come out whenever her relics are in town and this is why Scotland’s ordinary faithful will flock to honour the ‘Little Flower.’


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