Saints are an antidote to the poisons of their times, G.K. Chesterton once wrote. They reveal what’s wrong with the world in which they live and counteract that poison by their own lives. Mother Theresa, for example, saw a world poisoned by its neglect of the poor. She not only pointed out the evil but did something about it.
Padre Pio is another example. He’s a reminder that the denial of God present in a human being poisons human life itself. God is present in people, Padre Pio reminds us.
This Saturday is the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. What poison does she counteract? For one thing, her promotion of the spirituality of childhood opposes the current belief that we are self sufficient and can do anything we please. No, we’re not bigger than God.
Does Therese also counter the poison of unbelief? A recent poll from the Pew Research Center sees a dramatic rise in America since the 1950s in the numbers of those who describe themselves as “religiously unaffiliated.” Almost a quarter of Americans (4 out of 10 young people) now see themselves in this category, the majority describing themselves as unbelievers.
Unbelief is growing in America.
Therese had a “clear” “living” faith most of her life, but she was plunged into a darkness in her last days, a darkness she saw connected with the problem of unbelief. God permitted her to be “invaded by the thickest darkness,” she said, and “the thought of heaven, up to then so sweet to me, was no longer anything but a cause of struggle and torment.”
“Your child, however, O Lord, has understood Your divine light, and she begs pardon for her brothers. She is resigned to eat the bread of sorrow as long as You desire it; she does not wish to rise up from this table filled with bitterness at which poor sinners are eating until the day set by You. Can she not say in her name and in the name of her brothers, “Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!” Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus! if it is needful that the table soiled by them be purified by a soul who loves You, then I desire to eat this bread of trial at this table until it pleases You to bring me into Your bright Kingdom. The only grace I ask of You is that I never offend You!” (Manuscript C, chapter 10)
Sharing the darkness of those living in unbelief, Therese prays in their name, “’Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!’ Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus!” Therese saw her “struggle and torment” linked to unbelievers “ not enlightened by the bright flame of faith.”
Mother Theresa seems to have had a similar experience of the darkness.
Must other believers today share that experience of darkness, that “dark night”, in different degrees or different ways, so that “those not enlightened by the bright light of faith may one day see it shine?” It seems so.