Homily on the optional suggested readings for Oct. 1, Memorial of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus (Is 66:10-14c; Ps 131:1bcde, 2, 3; Mt 18: 1-5)
“Unless you turn and become like children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.” The saint we celebrate today, St. Thérèse the Little Flower, understood and lived this teaching of our Lord.
Jesus himself explained what he meant; he goes on to say that it is childlike humility that we must imitate. Humility is not just a matter of recognizing our own limitations; it also implies recognizing and accepting the love and support that others offer to us. These are the exact sentiments expressed in our psalm today: first there is a recognition of our own limitations, and then it speaks of relating to God like an infant to its mother. We’ve all seen the beauty and peace of a child resting in its mother’s arms, full of trust and love; this is the attitude that Jesus teaches us to imitate. Surely it was the feeling of the children that He blessed and embraced in his own strong arms.
The first reading reinforces this message. It speaks of Jerusalem as a mother nursing and comforting her child. Jerusalem is much more than a city; in the Sacred Scriptures it often represents heaven, or is a symbol and foreshadowing of the Church, and both of these realities are ways of being with and in God, under His care and protection.
This is the way that St Thérèse lived and experienced God’s loving presence. She did not stand out in the convent for unusual supernatural phenomena or great tangible achievements. On the contrary, she lived her community life with simplicity and humility and great trust in and love for God, seeing herself as a child in God’s arms.
This path of childlike humility and trust led her to great holiness. She died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis, and was canonized 28 years later in 1925. Although she did not perform miracles in her lifetime, she is known to have obtained many miracles through her intercession after her death.
Becoming like a little child full of trusting humility is not easy for most of us. All too often we are the prey of our pride and presumption, with a sort of Pelagian belief that we are holy enough and wise enough to manage and merit our own salvation. Other times we tend to the opposite extreme: we are discouraged by our weakness and failings and conclude that we are not capable of holiness and that there’s no point in trying.
Today, let us ask St Thérèse to intercede for us, that we may be given the grace of being truly childlike in our souls, recognizing our limitations but also rejoicing and trusting in God’s infinite love and providence that accompanies us through all our tribulations, and promises to comfort us, make us flourish, and find in God our peace.