“Here we see the importance of her invitation to a holy ‘abandonment,’” he wrote.
The message also recalled the great trial of faith the saint experienced during the last year and a half of her life, starting with the first symptoms of tuberculosis, the illness that would eventually take her life at the age of 24.
“Her account reveals the heroic nature of her faith, her triumph in spiritual combat with the most powerful temptations,” he wrote. “She felt herself a sister to atheists, seated with them at table, like Jesus who sat with sinners. She interceded for them, ever renewing her own act of faith, in constant loving communion with the Lord.”
“Even in her darkness, she experienced the complete trust of a child that finds refuge, unafraid, in the embrace of its father and mother.”
Lessons for the Church
Pope Francis’ letter also emphasized the Carmelite saint’s humility and her spiritual revelation that her “vocation is Love.”
“This heart was not that of a triumphalistic Church, but of a loving, humble and merciful Church,” he wrote. “Therese never set herself above others, but took the lowest place together with the Son of God, who for our sake became a slave and humbled himself, becoming obedient, even to death on a cross”
“This discovery of the heart of the Church is also a great source of light for us today,” the pope said. “It preserves us from being scandalized by the limitations and weaknesses of the ecclesiastical institution with its shadows and sins, and enables us to enter into the Church’s ‘heart burning with love’, which burst into flame at Pentecost thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
“It is that heart,” he continued, “whose fire is rekindled with each of our acts of charity. ‘I shall be love.’ This was the radical option of Therese, her definitive synthesis and her deepest spiritual identity.”
Pointing out the saint’s enduring relevance, Francis wrote that “in an age that urges us to focus on ourselves and our own interests, Therese shows us the beauty of making our lives a gift. At a time when the most superficial needs and desires are glorified, she testifies to the radicalism of the Gospel. In an age of individualism, she makes us discover the value of a love that becomes intercession for others.”
“At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she points out to us the little way,” he continued. “In an age that casts aside so many of our brothers and sisters, she teaches us the beauty of concern and responsibility for one another.”
“At a time of great complexity, she can help us rediscover the importance of simplicity, the absolute primacy of love, trust and abandonment, and thus move beyond a legalistic or moralistic mindset that would fill the Christian life with rules and regulations, and cause the joy of the Gospel to grow cold.”