This "retreat in a book" presents to the busy reader of today a perfect little tool to assist in translating from inspiration to action, the exquisite lessons gleaned from The Autobiography of a Soul.
“In Spiritual Childhood lies the secret of sanctity for all
the faithful throughout the whole world.”
“It is our special desire that the secret of Sister Thérèse’s
sanctity may be disclosed to all our children.” –Pope Benedict XV.
“We nourish the hope today of seeing springing
up in the souls of the faithful of Christ a burning
desire of leading a life of Spiritual Childhood.”
“We earnestly desire that all the faithful should study
her in order to copy her, becoming children themselves,
since otherwise they cannot, as the Master saith,
enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” –Pope St. Pius X
One day a novice, coming to Sister Thérèse for advice, said to her, “Oh, when I think of all I have yet to acquire.” “Say, rather, to lose,” was the answer—an answer alight with wisdom. Let us think that we have much more to lose than to acquire if we are to profit in Thérèse’s school, and learn, from her the science of holiness.
Year after year appear new books on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and, though none of them can be a substitute for the Autobiography, they have a useful service to perform in emphasizing and systematizing its teaching. Many readers of St. Thérèse’s book, carried away by its charm and naiveté, its poetry and simple beauty, seem to overlook its fundamental teaching. Whether they praise or blame it, therefore, they think it is sentimental and pretty, but forget the hard core of simple Gospel truth which it enshrines. They at once assume that the Little Way is a short cut and an easy path to heaven. St. Thérèse, who was so deeply imbued with Our Lord’s teaching, would have reminded them that the easy way leads to destruction, whereas the way that leads to heaven is narrow and strait. Simple and direct the Little Way is, but if anyone thinks it is easy, let him give it an honest trial, and he will find out his mistake.
There is nothing new about the Little Way; it is the way of the saints, it is the way of Our Lady, it is the way of the Gospels. Its characteristics are humility, trust, constant self-sacrifice, simplicity, and love. ‘What saint has ever gained his crown in any other way? It is based on Our Lord’s words: “Unless ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Spiritual childhood, then, is not a luxury of devotion; it is an obligation, an essential passport to entry into heaven. St. Thérèse has but emphasized the simplicity of the Gospel teaching and guided us away from the bewildering complexity, the difficult intellectualism, the multiplied divisions, the tabulated schemes and even the calculations of many so-called spiritual books. “Sometimes,” she wrote to a brother missionary, “when I read books in which perfection is put before us with the goal obstructed by a thousand obstacles, my poor little head is quickly fatigued. I close the learned treatise which tires my brain and dries up my heart, and I turn to the Sacred Scriptures. Then all becomes clear and lightsome. . . . I rejoice in my littleness because ‘only little children and those who are like them shall be admitted to the heavenly banquet.’ Fortunately ‘there are many mansions in my Father’s house.’ If there were only those—to me—incomprehensible mansions with their baffling roads, I should certainly never enter there.” As Cardinal Bourne put it, in words which at the time of the saint’s beatification were circulated throughout France: “She has banished mathematics from our faith.”
There is still need, then, for books like the present one to insist on the simplicity and Gospel truth of her message, and to point out what on a cursory reading we might miss.
As G. K. Chesterton writes:
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way . . .
So very simple is the road
That we may stray from it . . .
We walk bewildered in the light
For something is too large for sight
And something much too plain to say . . .
Go humbly, humble are the skies
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.
Fr. Liagre’s Retreat, here presented in an English dress, will be found to be a useful summary of the main lines of St. Thérèse’s teaching. It expounds them simply and shows how they must be at the basis of every truly spiritual life. Personally, we like especially the final chapter, but lovers of the humble little Carmelite will welcome the whole book and find therein abundant inspiration.
P. E. Hallett