October begins with the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, patron saint of the missions. The same month ends with Halloween, or the Vigil of All Saints’ Day, soon followed by All Souls’ Day (Nov 2). On the surface, these three feast days may seem to have nothing in common, since mission may seem unrelated to death, but a closer look shows that both mission and death have a common denominator: Heaven. Mission, or “gospel”, is bringing good news to kind ears, good news of Heaven. Saints, too, are only saints because there is a Heaven. And since Halloween is the vigil of All Saints’ Day (and not to Christians a feast of the occult) Halloween celebrates Heaven.
There are ideas of how mission ought to be conducted that seem to exclude this simple and perennial standard. We are told that saintliness is too lofty a standard for us “ordinary” people; that we ought to give up the lofty goal (i.e., we are recommended to forget Heaven) and thoroughly wallow in the dirt… I don’t know how such missionary activities are supposed to solve the contradiction that sets in as soon as we start staring at that dirt, but I know that anything less than God’s promise of Heaven is a “tinkling cymbal” when I am faced with death. Emotions are rather fickle and empty to start out with. If I will be a Christian, it has to be because Christ Jesus accomplished something more than just “a good feeling”…
In the face of death and grief, words are futile; moreover, it seems they are insults to the depth of grief, being, as they are, unable to fathom and describe properly the degree of loss. Still, we seldom have much more to give than simple words of condolence. These words have a way of testing our faith in Heaven; the action of speaking reveals to us if there is something in our interior that corresponds to the words we are speaking. It is the heart, after all, that draws the line between sentimental, empty words and words of meaning and substance. The presence of Heaven—our hope and God’s promise to us—is felt in the moment; be it poignant or mundane.
Love lies like a seed in the heartache of loss, just waiting to spring forth. The strength of love is most visible in the face of death. God comes very close to me. Empty words or mental constructs cannot comfort me when my heart aches in pain that breaks my mind. The love of the Lord does comfort me, because it invites me to do the same as He: love. Heaven comes down to me, in the face of death, and He breaks the gates of Hell. This is not a matter of feelings, but a belief and a reality that there is something deeper and nobler to human kind, something common to all; namely, a heart. This heart is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
The ladder between Heaven and earth is our Lady, the spouse of the Holy Spirit. Unless She is invoked, I believe it is impossible to have the balance that keeps Heaven before our minds while we still remain actively loving on earth. Her presence is critical, because Heaven only makes sense when it is begun on earth, and reciprocally, life on earth only makes sense when it continues in Heaven.
St. Therese of Lisieux said, “I will spend my Heaven, doing good on earth.”
St. Therese was not satisfied with something less than sanctity. She strove for Heaven with her feet firmly on the ground, because she was rooted in trust of Jesus. There was nothing unrealistic, for want of a better word, in her approach to life on earth. What the reformation of Luther failed to do—give the Christian reason to trust without bounds—Therese’s faith did. This brought Heaven straight to her, still on earth. God is willing to visit and dwell in a heart that welcomes Him.
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” [reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians 2:19, Mass reading for Tuesday, October 21st 2014].
St. Therese was a transparent “little Mary” by following her “little way”. She held Jesus in her Heart like her Heavenly Mother had once carried Him under Her lovely Heart. She leaned her head against the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and she learnt its secret: “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.” [John 14:23]
I don’t think it is a coincidence that October is not only the month of our great mission saint, Therese of Lisieux, and the month with the “finale” of Halloween, but also the month of the Rosary. The rosary is a good means of missionary work. It brings us close to our Mother; we listen to her; we imitate her; we have Heaven on earth.
Those who think we ought to forget Heaven and focus on earth forget that the Christian vocation is to love. It is impossible not to do mission if we love. St. Therese of Lisieux lived a cloistered life, and yet she is patron of the missions. She loved passionately and purely, like Christ. This love purifies and enkindles love in others, and it brings God and Heaven to earth. Christ’s love is irresistible; it makes saints out of sinners. There is no need to fear it or hamper it. It is better to let it consume us.
“Jesus said to his disciples: I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” [Luke 12:49]