St. Therese put two titles to her name after she became a Carmelite nun. She’s pictured with those two titles in this photo. One was Therese of the Child Jesus, the other was Therese of the Holy Face. She wished to be known by these two titles: Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.
The titles came from religious experiences she had. The first occurred on Christmas day, 1886, when she was 13 years old. I commented on her experience of the Christ Child previously. Immediately afterwards, she writes about her experience of the Passion of Jesus. It took place one Sunday of the next year, when she was 14. Her description of the two experiences is found in chapter 5 of her autobiography.
Remember these are experiences of a young teenage girl, which reminds us God can come with his grace at any time in our lives, to any of us.
“One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground unnoticed. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls.
The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: “I thirst!” These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned with the desire to snatch them from the eternal flames.”
Therese went on to describe the conversion of a notorious murderer, Pranzini, who had just been condemned to death and refused to see a priest. She asked Jesus, “feeling that I myself could do nothing,” to be merciful to him. She had Mass offered for him, she begs God to be merciful.
Then, she reads in the newspaper that Pranzini just before he was beheaded took the crucifix from the priest at his execution and kissed it reverently three times and goes to his death. She knows her prayers are answered “Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!”
Look at her experience. She looks at the cross of our Lord and sees drops of his blood falling to the ground, like dew, unnoticed. Doesn’t this point to a forgetfulness of the mercy of God? St. Paul of the Cross would say “the world is falling into a forgetfulness of the passion of Jesus.” A forgotten source of strength, trust, hope and grace.
Therese is led to remember the passion of Jesus as a sign of the mercy of God. She hears the Lord’s words “I thirst,” not simply as an expression of Jesus’ physical thirst, but as expressing his desire to show love and mercy to all the world.
She experiences the power of this mystery, “I myself can do nothing.”
I’m preaching at St. Therese’s Church in Johnstown, PA, this week and I hear a good many here saying the same thing. “I myself can do nothing…Nothing about my kids or my grandchildren or myself for that matter. I’ve tried everything. I can do nothing. I’m worried about the world I live in, my country, my church and I can do nothing.”
Can we look at the Lord on his cross and hear his words, “I thirst.” Like Therese, perhaps “an unknown and very living fire” will take hold within us.