A Treasured Love Story

Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book, St. Thérèse: A Treasured Love Story, is a compendium on the nature of practical sanctity.
by Catholic.net Staff Writer | Source:
Book Title: St. Thérèse: A Treasured Love Story
Publisher: Basilica Press (Irving, TX, 2007)
Author: Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Reviewer: Rev. Bernard J. O’Connor,
Official – Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches
Submitted: January 5, 2008

In his Encyclical, On Christian Hope, Pope Benedict XVI makes a striking appeal: that modern society stands in crucial need of martyrs (Art. 39). A martyr, according to the Pope, is a person whose love for Christ knows no boundaries. Theirs is a willingness to offer any sacrifice for Christ, including the giving up of their very life. What the Holy Father is in fact telling us is quite familiar to Catholic spirituality; namely, that heroic holiness can both renew the Church and witness persuasively for the Gospel before secular culture. And heroic holiness is an ideal meant for each of us!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s, St. Thérèse: A Treasured Love Story, is a compendium on the nature of practical sanctity. And the essence of that sanctity, the call to all Christians to become Saints, is the heart of a martyr. For just as the word ‘martyr’ literally refers to an acceptance of being “put to the test” in the continual struggle to be faithful, Bishop Sheen sees in St. Thérèse of Lisieux an exemplar of what it means to love God with a martyr’s love, which is to say with an unreserved passion, intensity, and fidelity.

The book is a sheer gem for the depth of its insight and clarity. I recommend it with profound gratitude, a synthesis of St. Thérése’s teaching, as with her belief that authentic joy and freedom are most realized when one acts upon a yearning to console God-in-Christ. By identifying with the Suffering Servant in His experience of excruciating external pain and internal anguish, St. Thérèse models what is entailed in that consolation. She would refuse her Divine Spouse nothing; her only desire being to be united with Him as He endures the many Calvaries which the contemporary world persists in afflicting upon Him.

A word of caution. Some prospective readers may wrongly assume that this book is best appreciated by the specialist in spirituality, especially since it is written about a Saint by an author who is himself a candidate for canonization. No. Nor should laity conclude that the book is less relevant for them because the text is based upon a series of sermons which Bishop Sheen preached in 1973 and for an audience which largely consisted of clergy and Religious. The occasion was “the centenary of St. Thérèse’s birth” (pp.8-9). Again, no. Because the combined genius of Bishop Sheen as a communicator and of St. Thérèse as an inspiration for simplicity and humility, effectively address the vocation of Everyman. Together, their wisdom reinforces Vatican II’s exhortation to the laity to resist passivity and to become truly active: “each according to his/her talents and knowledge and in keeping with the mind of the Church, in the explanation and defense of Christian principles and in the correct application of them to the problems of our times” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Art. 6d).

The book’s eleven chapters embody content which can be interpreted to suggest guidelines for growth in a holiness which is concretized through the experience of ordinary and regular events. How is such holiness described? Among its features:

(1) “the centrality of love” – This is basic to St. Thérèse’s ‘Little Way’, and is therefore also basic to the Gospel. We are to love God with “all our heart, soul and mind” (Mt. 22:37). By so loving Him we will be capable of loving all those, friends and enemies alike, whom He has created. (cf. Rev. J. Linus Ryan, O. Carm., p. 21)

(2) that chronological maturity is not a prerequisite to maturity in the spiritual life – Bishop Sheen was influence by the example of an 11 year-old Chinese girl who died while attempting to safeguard the consecrated Host from sacrilege (Rev. A. Apostoli, CFR, pp. 33-36)

(3) that we strive to relate our every action (e.g. study, work, rest, leisure) to our Blessed Lord (p.39)

(4) that we reject wanting to “settle down to mediocrity” (p.50) - Instead, we should aspire to “take (the) everything” that is involved in “want(ing) to be God’s” (p. 54).

(5) our refusal to become discouraged when God answers our hopes and petitions with “love’s delays” – For these are not His denial (p. 61).

(6) the realization that “the Holy Spirit (is) in your soul” – There He is our intercessor to enable our being the same for others (p.78). There He bids us to recognize that Christ is most pained by our neglect and forgetfulness (p.82)

(7) that love is the courageous and welcoming embrace of the Triune Person (p. 96) – But this surrender arouses forces which are intrinsically evil and destructive (p. 131). The diabolic is no mere myth or collective psychological projection.

(8) our being naturally capable of empathy, “a deep feeling of the pains of others” (p. 139) - We serve by “recognizing the gifts that we have” (p. 156) and by resisting any inclination to “rationalize our sins” (p. 162)

Holiness. St. Thérèse’s. Bishop Sheen’s. And our own – It flows from our response to the Sacred’s “plea” that even our Heaven will be spent in “doing good on earth” (p. 179).

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