The Saint Thérèse Option: Be a Saint in Full
If you are ‘full of passionate intensity’, you can achieve victories for Christ, even in the most hidden corners of the world.
In a recent speech at the Napa Institute, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez observed that America, though founded upon Christian principles, was turning away from those ideals:
We face an aggressive, organized agenda by elite groups who want to eliminate the influence of Christianity from our society.
Our beliefs are now labeled as a kind of hatred or intolerance. Our Church institutions face lawsuits — for the ‘crime’ of still believing what Jesus taught. The ‘crime’ of not wanting to cooperate with practices we find immoral or dehumanizing.
Even with the rosiest of outlooks, it does a disservice to truth to disagree with the archbishop. In America, bakers and florists find themselves prosecuted and driven out of business because they wish to follow their consciences. Religious organizations are threatened with lawsuits if they fail to provide abortifacient coverage to their employees. Catholic hospitals are sued for refusing to provide abortions in their facilities. The First Lady of the United States is mocked for saying the “Our Father” in public—an unforgiveable sin in the eyes of a squeaky anti-Christian wheel endlessly demanding political grease.
The question is no longer whether our society is influenced by anti-Christianity; the question is: How do we respond to such an environment? Archbishop Gomez posits the question: “Are we going to shape our times? Or will we allow our times to shape us?” As an answer, he recalls the words of Saint Augustine: “Bad times! Troublesome times! This is what people are saying. Let our lives be good, and the times will be good. We make our times. Such as we are, such are the times.”
We make our times.
This is no platitude or careless misreading of history—saints make history by making their times. Why is that? What did these men and women do to claim a place in history—to make their times? From the practical perspective of our own lives, how can we be like them? Though the variables of their lives were unique, the constant of these saints was holiness—achieved through a passionate and inspiring desire for God.
Consider the case of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In her autobiography, St. Thérèse recognizes that each person decides how “much or little” they seek God—how much they desire God. As a child, Saint Thérèse exclaimed to God: “My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.” Even as a child, St. Thérèse understood that God desires saints in full. Do we desire to be those saints?
It seems that many of us choose to be saints by halves, and we console ourselves by observing that a saint by half is fifty-percent better than what many others are achieving. But Saint Thérèse presents a challenge to us, counseling us that half doing our will and half doing God’s will is not enough. Being and becoming a saint is difficult enough when you have a passionate and burning desire to become one; how hard must it be when your desire is lacking? Fifty-percent is the very definition of lukewarmness, and tepid souls don’t make their times.
In a hidden corner of the world, behind walls of solitude, without any fanfare, St. Thérèse made her times, and helped remake not only the world of her day, but the world of our own. Her life was a message of love and happiness to the world. Our answer today was St. Thérèse’s answer yesterday.
We’ve heard a great deal these last few months about various “options”—various ways of living out our faith in a hostile world, based on the lives and teachings of certain saints. Though the conversation has often tended toward the uncharitable, it is a valuable conversation to have. So you might call what I’m offering here the Saint Thérèse Option—choosing everything by choosing God.
It is passionate souls—for better or worse, for good or evil—who make their times. This era is no different. W.B. Yeats poetically commented about trying times:
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
If we are lacking in conviction, we have no one to blame but ourselves. But if we have that conviction, we can achieve victories for Christ, even in the most hidden corners of the world. If we have this conviction, we will withstand an anti-Christian culture, we will win souls for Christ, and we will make our times.