St Therese: Mission to the world

Sr Kathleen McGarvey, OLA Provincial Superior, shared on the 8th night of the SMA Novena in Blackrock Road, Cork. The following is an edited version of Sr Kathleen’s presentation.

I find it both interesting and challenging that we are asked to reflect not on mission to the world, but mission to Our world! Many questions came to my mind as the implications of using the word ‘Our’ but I will focus on only two.

The first question I wish to reflect on is who are we referring to when we say ‘our’? Every day, through the television, our homes are filled with images of thousands of people flooding into and across Europe, fleeing their homes because of violence. As a result, there is much heated debate at all levels about where is our world and where is their world and who has a right to enter and live in what or which part of the world. Governments debate and even we ourselves debate: how should we respond to these people, should we welcome refugees, will the migrants take our jobs, will they bring Islam and maybe even ISIS to our country, can we trust them… While we debate, many die and of course much suffering continues.

On this question, I imagine Therese would remind us that the world belongs to God, it does not belong to any one of us. Therese knew most of the Bible by heart and she often sang the psalms, such as psalm 24: “the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and all its peoples”; or psalm 89: “the heavens are yours, and yours also the earth, and all that is in it”.  

As we know, what has made St Therese a doctor is her simple Science of Love. No doubt Therese would also tell us is that God has entrusted the world into our hands, the hands of all human beings, and wants us to live as one family caring for one another in this our one world. As Therese herself learnt, and wrote in the Story of a Soul, the way to be happy in this world is “to forget self always” (Chapter IV). In a letter to her cousin, Marie Guerin, Therese wrote: “I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else.” She said, “without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing”. She said: “When one loves, one does not calculate”. In a tough situation such as that presented by difficult Sisters in Therese’s case, or migrants and refugees in our case today, Therese reminds us to see Christ in the other, love them even if we find it difficult to love them, and then we will be able to respond to their need as we would to that of Christ.

Whether we speak of mission to our world in terms of going abroad such as to Africa or Asia or whether we speak of mission to our world in terms of opening our doors to receive foreigners such as Africans or Asians here, in both cases Therese offers one answer, and that is to Love. The world is not our world but it belongs to God. God has entrusted it to all of us, and God asks us to love one another as God loves us, to love especially those we find difficult to love, such as the stranger or the Muslim, the migrant or the refugee.

The second big question presented by Our World today refers to all creation. Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Laudato Sii, reminds us that the world, our common home, is not just the home of all human beings but the home of all creation. Using the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Pope tells us that the world, the earth, is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. The Pope cautions us that with our way of life today, especially here in this part of the world where we are used to what he calls ‘exacerbated consumption’, we are doing great damage to the environment and all creation is crying out. He says we have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth, our very bodies are made up of its elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters”, and he reminds us that the cry of the earth is the cry of the poor.

I don’t understand much about the eco-system or how it functions. When we look at ecological disasters we can say, this is beyond me! However, the climate change that we see, the often recurring natural disasters, as well as the fact that the majority of the world’s population is still poor and hungry, all remind us that our world is crying out. Pope Francis tells us that this is the responsibility of all of us and he calls us all to be more responsible stewards of our common home. He says that care for the earth is made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. He invites us to come back to the simple attitude lived by St Therese, to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship (LS 230). St Therese had a great appreciation of nature. It is not by chance that she is known as the Little Flower, and that she promised that from heaven she would let fall a shower of roses, spending her heaven doing good upon earth. In living our mission to our world, may we learn to do our little bit as more responsible stewards of creation knowing that it is the little way, the little gestures and actions, that really bring change.

We are reflecting tonight on Mission to our world, and I think this moves us also to reflect on our mission, on the fact that mission to our world is the responsibility, not just of the SMAs or the OLAs, but of all of us. One of St. Therese’s most basic insights is that every person is called to be a saint, and to be a saint she believed one must be missionary, one must be filled with love of Christ and want to share this love with all other people.

This evening, and throughout this whole novena, as we look to St Therese for inspiration and pray through her intercession, may we also pray that she fill us with an ever renewed and ever real love of Christ. May she give each of us the grace we need so as to be missionary in whatever small or great way we can, both at home and abroad. May she teach us to love the stranger, especially those who are fleeing violence in today’s world and are in need of a home. May she teach us to see God in all creation and to be attentive to our use of creation, which is our sister and our mother, knowing that in this way we are caring for all those who share this world with us, both today as well as in future generations.

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