God Is Much Better Than You Believe
Confidence in God – to which are allied trust and abandonment – is the hallmark of Therese of Lisieux's spirituality of the Little Way. Writing to her cousin, Marie Guerin, who was suffering from scruples and unsure whether to receive the Eucharist, Therese encourages her not to hesitate to do so, because: “what offends [Jesus] and what wounds His Heart is the lack of confidence!" (LT 92). In other words: Jesus is hurt if we act as though his heart were not big enough, and full enough with love, to contain and embrace our miserable sins!
The basis of Therese's confidence in God was her understanding of God as Merciful Love. It is particularly this gospel understanding of God that is the foundation of her Little Way. This spirituality is pre-eminently biblical.
Therese's radical confidence in God's merciful love is strongly expressed in this bold statement – her very last – in Story of a Soul: “Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus' arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love…" (SS, p. 259).
Therese does not qualify her statement of confidence in God's mercy. Even though she admits to a privilege – that of having been preserved from “mortal sin" – she nevertheless does not look down in a condescending manner. Instead, she is filled with confidence in God's merciful love. Therese affirms that there is nothing we could possibly do that would prevent God from loving us and receiving us back into a relationship with him.
To Abbe Belliere who was dispirited about his faults and imperfections, Therese writes these words of consolation:
“[Jesus] has forgotten your infidelities now for a long time; only your desires for perfection are present to give joy to His Heart. I beg you, do not drag yourself any longer to His feet; follow that first impulse that draws you into His arms. That is where your place is, and I have learned, more so than in your other letters, that you are forbidden to go to heaven by any other way except that of your poor little sister" (LT 261).
So, Therese assures the dejected young man that Jesus has no memory of past faults: that is, he does not keep a ledger of a sinner's failures! She urges Belliere to drop the “heavy" load of past sins weighing him down and allowing him only to “drag" himself to Jesus' feet. If he does so, he will be able to follow the desire of his heart and to leap into Jesus' arms.
Later on, in the same letter, Therese says: “Ah! how little known are the goodness, the merciful love of Jesus, Brother!… It is true, to enjoy these treasures one must humble oneself, recognise one's nothingness, and that is what many souls do not want to do; but, little Brother, this is not the way you act, so the way of simple and loving confidence is really made for you" (LT 261).
“Jesus has forgotten your infidelities now for a long time; only your desires for perfection are present to give joy to His Heart."
There are many other consoling passages in her writings on the merciful love of God – perhaps none more beautiful than these words to her sister Leonie, which illustrate well Therese's childlike confidence in God:
“I assure you that God is much better than you believe. He is content with a glance, a sigh of love… As for me, I find perfection very easy to practise because I have understood it is a matter of taking hold of Jesus by His Heart… Look at a little child who has just annoyed his mother by flying into a temper or by disobeying her. If he hides away in a corner in a sulky mood and if he cries in fear of being punished,
his mamma will not pardon him, certainly, not his fault. But if he comes to her, holding out his little arms, smiling, and saying: 'Kiss me, I will not do it again,' will his mother be able not to press him to her heart tenderly and forget his childish mischief?… However, she knows her dear little one will do it again on the next occasion, but this does not matter; if he takes her again by her heart, he will not be punished…" (LT 191).
Here, Therese is inviting Leonie to have confidence that God is easily pleased by our tokens of love. And so she encourages Leonie to behave towards him like a child who is confident of its mother's love. This means recognising that nothing the child could possibly do will ever lead the mother to abandon it. In a certain sense, the mother is hostage to her child: it has only to turn to its mother with loving sorrow, and she is rendered powerless — won over by love for her child.
To “take Jesus by the heart," an expression of Therese, means precisely to be little and poor, confident in his merciful love — to trust and abandon ourselves to God, on our journey to him.
From Holiness For All: Themes from St Therese of Lisieux, by Aloysius Rego OCD