The Thérèse ‘Phenomenon’

Reflections on a Pilgrimage.


Tom Ryan

On the Saturday of Easter weekend in 2002, one journalist opened her column with these words:

Why would 40,000 people turn out in Perth to see a box of old bones?  Why would hundreds of people drive from Kalgoorlie and Broome to see it, then sit through the night in a church keeping vigil?... In Melbourne, young people from around the diocese flocked into the cathedral… [1]

The international pilgrimage of Thérèse of Lisieux’s relics commenced in 1997 and has attracted huge crowds.  For example, fifteen million in Mexico and 75% of Ireland’s population of roughly 5 million viewed the relics.  In New York, Fifth Avenue had to be closed down when the reliquary was being brought to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

As many have already asked ‘Why this remarkable response?’  It has amazed even the most committed and sanguine of the organizers. Is it nostalgia for a lost past? Or does it point to a pathology in Catholic life seen, at its worst, as a form of ghoulish superstition?  I would like to make a case that we may have here an instance of a cross- section of Catholic believers [and others worldwide] tapping into an underground water-table in our Catholic memory.  Or alternatively, it is touching a nerve that is a sensitive reminder of something neglected, even forgotten. 

I would like to present an approach that complements Dr. Michael Whelan’s reflections given in 1997 on the occasion of the centenary of Thérèse’s death [2] .  Building on his thoughts as a fellow ‘pilgrim’ and on studies done in the intervening five years, I will attempt to address what one could call this Thérèse ‘phenomenon’ that has emerged around the ‘pilgrimage’ of her relics.  The spontaneous, consistent and widespread response of faith to Thérèse through her relics is not easily dismissed.  It cannot be attributed, in a reductive fashion, to the gullibility of ‘devoted Catholics’ prone to being easily led and manipulated by Church authorities.    

I would like to offer some thoughts on the significance of Thérèse and her spiritual doctrine firstly in its historical context and in relation to Vatican II, then in the context of the third millennium for the Church and for the postmodern world.

1.  Thérèse and her Spiritual Doctrine:  Historical Context and Significance

Thérèse’s Central Message

Firstly, as Michael Whelan rightly highlights, Thérèse’s basic stance and teaching is central to the Gospel:  it is God who does the work, God who ‘possesses’ us.  God, in Christ, loves each of us unconditionally.  The Gospel of Jesus begins and ends there.  This is at the heart of Thérèse’s ‘little’ way of spirituality and its appeal.  Associated with this is the central place she gives to the Scriptures.  Her love of and familiarity with the Scriptures are integral to her life and spiritual doctrine.  In fact, these are the first two facets in her ‘way’ that anticipate Vatican II. 

These two insights do not appear as particularly innovative for a Catholic in 2002.  But this was not the case in 1901 or even in 1950. Thérèse’s various writings, in particular the Story of a Soul mark a watershed in Catholic spirituality.  

In the past decade there have been some excellent critical studies of Thérèse’s autobiography, notebooks and letters. [3]   We have better access to the real person and her authentic spirituality. It is estimated that something like 7000 changes were made to her writings. [4]   Her sister Agnes, the prioress after Thérèse’s death, did alterations in very subtle ways in those places where Thérèse’s text diverged from the prevailing spirituality of the time, from Agnes’ own experience or from her expectations of what a saint should be.      

What were the qualities of that spirituality and of Agnes’ own experience?  They were essentially the qualities noted by Michael Whelan at the start of his article.  It was a French bourgeois spirituality, provincial in attitude, focused on retreat from the world, couched in sentimental, sometimes precious language, with a fearful spirit intent on placating a fearful God through sacrifice. [5] When Thérèse and her spirituality are filtered through this prism, Karl Rahner’s difficulties are very understandable. [6]

In reality, Thérèse’s life and writings centred on trust and confidence in the God of love.  What we find reflected in these revisions of her writings is the clash of two spiritualities.  We now can appreciate much better the true greatness of Thérèse. Guy Gaucher notes that at ‘…a time when soul-destroying Jansenism was still working havoc, when  narrow moralism threatened to reduce the image of God to that of a rigid lover of justice, she rediscovered the Gospel inspiration that God is Father, the Father of Jesus, who gave his Son who came for sinners, the poor, the little.  She dared to name him ‘Papa’, instinctively finding again the original ‘Abba’ of Jesus. [7]

It is important to acknowledge at the outset that Thérèse’s roots are in the school of French spirituality originating from the early seventeenth century.  She reflects both its main themes and inadequacies –God does the work, trust and confidence in the God of love and of love’s transforming power, the place of the Scriptures. Her revolution lay in restoring the gratuitousness of God’s love to the centre of a spiritual tradition dominated by the principle of getting a return on one’s investment.  Further, her originality is also found in breaking with the pessimism towards human nature found in the French school together with its associated rigorism [which had started to be mitigated earlier in the nineteenth century through the influence of St. Alphonsus and his teachings].

A Spiritual Path for Everyone

Secondly, Thérèse’s spiritual teaching meant that the path of holiness is available to everyone – to the ordinary person, in any walk of life, within daily life [another aspect of the French school].  Its core is the quality and depth of one’s love – from God, for God and for others.  Again, Thérèse anticipates the universal call to holiness articulated in the documents of Vatican II.  

Associated with this is fact that Thérèse’s holiness was recognized by popular acclaim.  Margaret Coffey points out that Dorothy Day said that it was the masses, the ordinary worker who proclaimed Thérèse a saint. 

At a time, she said, when holiness was no ordinary thing and when the common person was overwhelmed with feelings of ineffectiveness, Thérèse showed that holiness was a way open to everyone…It didn’t required grand or extreme gestures like the mortifications and acts of heroism of some of the great saints.  What Thérèse called her Little Way was a path down ordinary daily life paved with small gestures against vanity and pride, pessimism and self-absorption, and for love – of Jesus and, as she said ,’ souls.’ What’s more, Thérèse was certain that holiness – the pursuit of holiness – was a powerful spiritual force that could transform lives.’ [8]   

Jacques Maritain considered that Thérèse ‘put contemplation on the streets.’ [9]   Dorothy Day herself realized that here was a saint with a spirituality for the ‘masses.’  She took the French Carmelite’s writings and transposed, re-interpreted and applied the ‘little way’ as a spiritual method for social transformation for Catholic Workers. [10]

Reclaiming Authentic Mysticism

Thirdly, to expand further a point of Michael Whelan’s, Thérèse has helped reclaim a true understanding of mysticism.  Originally, Christian mysticism was seen as the encounter with God in a worshipping community.  Its meaning starts to be privatized with the split between spirituality and theology.  From the sixteenth century onwards, the word ‘mysticism’ started to connote ‘special people have unusual experiences.’  That would still be the most common understanding of the ‘mysticism’ and of a ‘mystic.’

With her theology of the ‘little way’ of love Thérèse, in effect, demythologized ‘mysticism’ and ‘mystic.’  If God and the divine love are unconditionally and continually offered as a gift, essentially what we are asked to do is to receive and be transformed by that love.  We have here the basis of mysticism which is really any conscious union of God with humans, initiated and sustained by God.  We cannot create or sustain it ourselves:  it is freely given and from God.  It is accessible by any person with faith, even if in a non-thematic form. It is this understanding of mysticism that leads an author such as William Barry SJ to remark somewhere that ‘a mystic, some say, is a special kind of person: rather every person is a special kind of mystic.’   

Thérèse Unifies Spirituality and Theology

Fourthly, while it is true that Thérèse does mirror the ‘unfortunate consequences’ of the past, she could be seen as one who initiates a recovery of an authentic understanding of the full Christian life that had been distorted for many centuries.  The split in theology and spirituality took the shape of the separation of the various disciplines within theology, i.e., systematic, moral, ascetical and mystical theology.  It meant a tragic divorce between theology and spirituality.  In other words, it was the split between the experience of God and the reflection and articulation of that experience in theology.  In essence, it meant a rift between the heart and the head, the personal and the public in the Church’s life and emerged in a dessicated dogma and in a self-absorbed spirituality. 

How did this come about?  There are a number of reasons. [11]   Here we will highlight just one suggested by von Balthasar, namely ‘the absence of men and women with the grace to unify theology and spirituality in their own lives.’ [12]   I would like to suggest that it is precisely this unity that Thérèse realises in her life and teaching. As Frohlich notes, the declaration of Thérèse as a Doctor of the Church ‘is a wake-up call to academic theology that it is time to rediscover the roots of doctrine in the radical living of Christian life.’ [13]   Her theology is built on, shaped and animated by her daily effort to live the Gospel, i.e., her spirituality. When this is combined with the instinctive and widespread response of the faithful to her person and spirituality then we can well understand why she has been declared a Doctor of the Church. 

Restored Proper Relationship of Mystical, Ascetical, Moral in Christian Life

Fifthly, Thérèse’s spiritual doctrine built on God’s love for us and our trust in that love implied a retrieval of an authentic mysticism as the foundation of the Christian life helped foster a move towards an integration of theology and spirituality.  This also entailed initial steps towards overcoming the separation between moral and ascetical theology (i.e., spirituality), a concern expressed by James Keenan and also by Michael Whelan. [14] In the process there was [perhaps unwittingly] a restoring of the proper relationship between the mystical, ascetical and moral dimensions of the Christian life. She helped initiate what was articulated later by Vatican II. How exactly? 

In the spirituality of Thérèse’s time, the beginnings and dynamic of the Christian life had been inverted and distorted.   The task of Christian living was to avoid sin by keeping rules, do penance, lead a good life and then we could earn God’s love. It was really Moralism of which Michael Whelan spoke.  Further, it involved an élitism where most faithful were at the basic level (moral), the devout moved towards perfection through the ascetical life and only a select few reached the mystical realm.

Thérèse’s experience, writing and influence started to reverse that process.  She blended in her own life those horizons of awareness, those dimensions of human experience that are explored and articulated in different theological disciplines but which had become divorced from each other. 

Ultimately, Thérèse embodied a retrieval of the authentic Christian spiritual path. Its grounding is in being loved by God and accepting that gift, then responding in a change in our beliefs, attitudes and values, which in turn produces the fruits of a good and virtuous moral life. This is a shift in that Vatican II articulated and that we have still to appropriate in our Catholic life.  

Antony Campbell sums up the difference in the two views when he asks ‘…does our basic attitude emphasize appropriate behavior as a condition for being loved by God or as a consequence of being loved by God?’ [15]

If she did nothing else beyond the first half of the nineteenth century, Thérèse made an important contribution to the Church’s life.  But her influence does not stop there.

2.  Thérèse and her Spiritual Doctrine:  Contemporary Significance

How does this tap into our Catholic memory or a touch a nerve for us today?

Nourishment of the Sensory, the Affective and Sense of Awe

In talking to people who went to Churches to view the relics [and often with a certain scepticism], or in reading the accounts of the relics in Morley parish in Perth or from a radio interview with Fr. Joe Linus Ryan in Ireland, there was the same response – prayer, devotion, reverence, sense of presence, awe.  Bishop Brendan Comiskey sees all this against the backdrop of Vatican II and its impact on the spirituality of the Irish people.  Consciously or not, the Council especially with its liturgical changes ‘jettisoned’ much of the ‘warm’, heart-centred’ qualities of a nation’s spirituality. [16]  

Such a view is not confined to Ireland.  In Australia and New Zealand too, much of the rich devotional life and practices [e.g., sodalities, devotions, Benediction, Holy Hours] disappeared.  The Charismatic movement was certainly a counter movement to this.  But overall, one can look back and see an impoverishment of the affective and sensory dimensions of Catholic faith in the past forty years.  Our five senses need to be stimulated and nourished.  We are embodied beings and the senses are the gateway to our emotional life.  Christianity in the Catholic tradition is highly sensate, embodied, sacramental, incarnational.

Is the response to Thérèse and her relics a reminder of this? Further, are reverence, awe and wonder qualities that we once cherished (perhaps too much so) but that we need to recover?  Have we domesticated God?  God is with us but God is also beyond us, is totally Other, immanent and transcendent.  And holiness is really to do with ‘otherness.’  There is something ‘other-worldly’ about a saint.  The person makes tangible, visible, even accessible the ‘otherness’ of God who is transforming a human being into the divine likeness. 

Institutional Church as Spiritual Centre

Secondly, are these events surrounding Thérèse and her relics a comment on the Church itself as an institution?  It is not just the plummeting numbers of regular Church-goers. There appears to be an increasing gap between the public leaders within the Catholic Church and the faithful that is as much about trust as it is about credibility. 

There is also, as Pope John Paul II has pointed out, the dark cloud of suspicion hanging over clergy in the light of sexual abuse and court cases.  This is aggravated by the distrust of institutions in general, by the effect of scandals within Churches, and by the evidence of systemic dysfunction and, at times, of flawed, if not irresponsible leadership. [17]  

People are justifiably calling for greater transparency in the Church. But more significantly they are crying out for spiritual nourishment, for contact with God and there are increasing numbers who do not see the institutional Church as the place to find it.  This is even true even amongst some of those who ‘believe and belong.’ 

Perhaps people are being drawn to where they sense it can be found and the Thérèse ‘phenomenon’ appears somehow to be an expression of this. Further, personal witness and testimony can be very powerful and can convince us far more effectively than logical arguments. We seek people who are transparently true to themselves, to what rings true as authentically holy. It is all the more important today that such models of holiness see their lives as needing the life and support of the Church and that without an ecclesial dimension, there is something wanting.

The Face of Holiness in a Democratic Age

Thirdly, people may, in a spontaneous, intuitive and inarticulate way, be drawn to Thérèse as offering a portrait of holiness attractive in our democratic age.  We have already noted this in terms of Maritain and Dorothy Day.  

Her consciousness of being at the same table as sinners highlights that she is ‘a part of’ not ‘apart from’ the struggle of people’s daily lives.  Hers is not an elitist spirituality or holiness.  As one author notes, she is deeply conscious of her weakness, but never daunted by it, “I’m resigned to seeing myself always far from perfect”, she says, “even glad of it.”  Weakness is not an obstacle, it is a stepping-stone. [18]

Again, for her, no one is beyond redemption.  This was epitomized in her experience where, at the last minute, Pranzini kisses the crucifix before his execution. This not only reinforces the breadth of God’s love and reassures us as believers.  It is prophetic today in an increasingly punitive society where certain groups or offenders are seen almost as compulsory objects of limitless revenge, or ‘infinite justice’. .

We see holiness in Thérèse mixed with humanity.  Both as a child and an adult, she could be impish, stubborn, hilariously funny, a mimic, but also sensitive, moody, and even went through a period of scruples. She sees herself at the end of her life as if she was only just beginning.  Being at a certain stage did not have any meaning for her. 

It was always a new start and that love was the key. 

Thérèse reminds us that ‘getting it all together’, that psychological integration is not the same as true holiness.  One can be psychologically flawed, even in some way underdeveloped, and yet be truly holy.  It all comes down to the quality of one’s love.  

Thérèse rises above the limits of her temperament and personality.  Ultimately, this has its roots in her sense of self which is built on being totally loved and valued by God.  She is then able to be fully open to what is truly real – about life and about herself.  She is able to hold together discordances and contradictions.  She has key moments of insight and conversion that shape her understanding of God, the Church, God’s action in the world and her own interiority. 

We see in her a trajectory of growth towards a faith that is personally appropriated, directed towards the real God (not one of her creation), and in which she responds in inclusive love to the claims of a wider and wider reality.  Most importantly, in the darkness of her last eighteen months, she is able to sustain a gaze and disposition away from self-concern. She is increasingly committed to love of neighbour, to solidarity ‘with the most abandoned and nothingness’ and that is confirmed in the ‘actual transformative effects of her life and writings after her death.’ [19]   This persistent self-giving love (a sharing in the kenosis of Christ) is the clearest indicator that her holiness was spiritually and psychologically authentic.

Frohlich argues that Thérèse’s theological insights are essentially ‘articulations of the religion and moral conversions she experienced in a life-conversation with Christian traditions’ and for that reason she is a ‘foundational theologian’ in the Lonergan understanding of ‘foundations.’ [20]

One could perhaps take this point a bit further.  Thérèse stands as a ‘foundational theologian’ in that she critically and creatively interrogates her spiritual experience in the light of the broader Christian tradition [especially the Scriptures and St. John of the Cross] and does this in a public manner.  Further, her ‘theology’, understood in terms either of its content, structure or development, is articulated in imaginal rather than in conceptual terms.   

Thérèse and Unbelief, Suicide, Narrative and Postmodern Sensibility

Michael Whelan rightly notes Thérèse’s gift of being able to identify with others. In particular, she felt herself as fittingly belonging at the table of sinners, especially because of the grace she received of truly experiencing what is was like to have no faith, to be ‘in country covered by a thick fog’, to know the confusion of ‘unbelievers.’ [21]

Thérèse’s voluntary association with sinners is motivated not just from her own feelings of identification with the ‘ungodly.’  It is also in imitation of, and in identification with, Jesus in the last months of her illness.  She does not want to pray for sinners in expiation. As a companion, she wants to be with them to pray in their name ‘Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners! [Luke 18:13].’ She accepted this darkness so that those without faith may have light. This is her compassion in a chosen task that is essentially co-redemptive. [22]   As one author notes, Thérèse ‘understands so well now that God’s love is less like the good soul praying for the wicked one and more like a love which participates with that soul in compassion.’ [23]

In the Story of A Soul, she sees this lack of faith as a loss that arises from ‘the abuse of grace.’  This wording seems to indicate the deliberate rejection of divine grace. [24] However, her comments are in response to her prior quandary where ‘I was unable to believe that there were really impious people who had no faith.  I believed that they were actually speaking against their own inner convictions when they denied the existence of heaven…’ [25]

The answer to this seems to do no more than confirm her original belief (i.e., that lack of faith was due to an ‘abuse of grace’ or going against ‘inner convictions’). Could one ask whether Thérèse is groping to take this further especially in her desire to be with others in compassion?  She does not have the theology to articulate and explain the situation of the person who responds to grace but not in Christian terms or through religious faith.  But if she is called to sit with ‘sinners’ who reject God, then, a fortiori, she would be open to understand the situation of those who ‘seek [God] with a sincere heart’ [26] or those who do not believe in God but for whom the Church prays ‘that they may find him by sincerely following all that is right.’ [27]  

If this is true, then it goes beyond deliberate resistance to divine grace.  It could broaden ‘impious people who [have] no faith’ to include those who are invincibly ignorant but in ‘good faith’. This is the modern situation of so many who live more by trust and hope than by religious faith. Such an interpretation is consonant with Thérèse’s increasing desire to share in the universal and inclusive love of God. In other words, seen from a contemporary perspective, the gift of wisdom working in Thérèse would emerge as a ‘sixth sense’ of compassion towards those who seek truth in the ‘traces’ that are ‘luminous’ [28] of the divine presence active yet hidden in the world.  Her familiarity with the table of ‘sinners’ would also embrace those who strive to live a good moral life and find the hidden God rather than the God articulated in conscious theism and religious faith.  

Secondly, Thérèse is acquainted with the increasing attraction to suicide present in today’s world (especially among the young).  Towards the end of her life, she confided that the pain of choking fits, haemorrhages and intestinal gangrene was ‘enough to make her lose her reason.  She asked her sister not to leave any poisonous medicines around her.’ [29]   She expressed her amazement that there were not more suicides among atheists and that ‘if I had no faith, I would have inflicted death on myself without a moment’s hesitation’ then with calmness adds ‘yet will I trust him.’ [30]

When we consider this pull towards self-destruction and despair still present in Thérèse not long before her death, it gives us a more realistic sense of authentic goodness and holiness.  There is no part of herself that she is not prepared to acknowledge, face and accept.  Further, we find here another dimension to the hope-despair tension discussed by Michael Whelan. It also exemplifies that Thérèse lives in and speaks from a state of paradox or ‘antinomy’ in which a person knows ‘the coexistence in the soul of two apparently opposed feelings: joy/suffering, obscurity/peace, and dryness/serenity.’ [31]

Thirdly, there are resonances between the texture and shape of Thérèse’s experience and that of postmodern sensibility, not only about God but about truth and value.  Lescher and Phan [32] explore the distrust of meta-narratives found in traditions [particularly religious] and also of scientific and logical models of rationality coming after the Enlightenment.  If claims to truth are no more than concealments of the will to power, or of domination through knowledge, or forms of manipulation, then one can only be suspicious and distrustful. 

 What will convince?  What will be a reliable source of truth and value?  Phan suggests that Rahner’s response is correct: ‘it must be shown that love, not power, is the light of knowledge.’ [33]   Phan he cites Anthony C. Thiselton’s comment that it is ‘A love in which a self genuinely gives itself to the other in the interests of the other (and) dissolves the acids of suspicion and deception.’ [34]  

It is an epistemology based on love that reveals and bears the truth.  It is embodied in Jesus Christ on the Cross, the witness and statement of divine love in utter powerlessness.  It is this epistemology that is at the heart of the life and writings of Thérèse.  It is foolish wisdom and …ultimately foolish wisdom is a gift, a revelation received in humility of mind and simplicity of heart. Only then it has the power to convince and transform, more effectively than the sword and rhetoric. [35]

Finally, we can pick up on a point made by Frohlich.  She notes that Thérèse’s contribution functions as a ‘classic’, in the sense defined by David Tracy.  Classics are texts, events, images, rituals, persons in whom we recognize ‘a disclosure of reality we cannot name but truth.’ [36] He goes on to say

We all find ourselves compelled to recognize and on occasion to articulate our reasons for the recognition that certain expressions of the human spirit so disclose a compelling truth about our lives that we cannot deny them some kind of normative status. [37]

Thérèse offers in her person a testimony pointing ‘to a kind of truth that is known only through complete immersion in particularity, yet which blossoms into a communion accessible to all without exception.’ [38]  

The search for meaning, beauty, God follows the path of engaging with the concrete, the present, the particular in ordinary life.   Thérèse epitomizes Von Hugel’s comment that, in our times, only the saint can resolve the antinomy between abstract reasoning that is transferable and repeatable but does not move us and the saint’s particular concrete experience which, though seemingly untransferable, indeed unrepeatable, ‘alone moves us and helps to determine our will…’ [39]   It is primarily the person of Jesus through the Gospels and, secondarily, realizations of Christian discipleship in individuals such as Thérèse that offer paradigms that motivate us, that shape our perceptions, dispositions and identity. 


Thérèse of Lisieux may have much more to offer the third millennium that one would expect from a Carmelite sister from a small, damp convent in Normandy.  From the tangle, sentimentality and limitations of her context and her person, there emerges a spirituality that retrieves the authentic and radical living of the Gospel.  It is grounded in and suffused by love, even in the face of the void and nothingness. Here are the building blocks of her theology. 

Further, in an age when God seems silent if not absent for so many, when meta-narratives are met with suspicion, Thérèse provides meaning and hope.  She does this by offering a narrative of a life built on love even amongst darkness, a life that transcends the particular and bears a truth that seems able to convince without suspicion or deception. Ultimately, it is this that may be at work beneath this ‘phenomenon’ triggered by the international pilgrimage of her relics.

[1] Angela Shanahan, ‘The saint comes marching in’, The Weekend Australian, March 30-31, [2002], 22.


[2] In preparing this article I mentioned it to Michael Whelan, a fellow Marist.  He sent me a copy of his talk of 1997.  I thought that his ideas certainly needed a wider audience and hence these companion pieces on Thérèse of Lisieux.

[3] Of particular importance are: J-F Six, Light of the Night.  The last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux (London: SCM Press, 1996).  Mary Frohlich, HM, ‘Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctor for the Third Millennium?’, New Theology Review, May (1999), 27-39.  Mary Frohlich, HM, ‘Desolation and Doctrine in Thérèse of Lisieux’, Theological Studies, 61 (2000), 261-279.  I would particularly like to thank Emeritus Professor Michael Jackson of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle, WA for his insightful comments and guidance in finding helpful sources for this article. I am also indebted to Dr. Michael Whelan SM and also to Professor Justin Taylor SM of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.

[4] According to Christopher O’Donnell, a Carmelite from the Milltown Institute in Dublin, in an interview in ‘A Shower of Roses’, Encounter, ABC Radio National, 27.01.2002.

[5] Frohlich notes that these qualities plus the privatized, ‘disconnected from theology’ aspects of Thérèse’s spirituality, lead some to see her as the ‘culmination of the unfortunate consequences of the widening split between doctrine and lived spirituality that began as early as the 13th Century and was thoroughly institutionalized after the Enlightenment.’ Cf. Frohlich, ‘Desolation and Doctrine’, 262.

[6] Nevertheless, Michael Whelan, in disagreeing with Karl Rahner, is in good company. There is John Paul II, of course. But also, von Balthasar sees Thérèse as ‘one of the great beacons God has lit for his Church at the threshold of the atomic age [and] central to the present day reconstruction of dogmatic theology.’  Abbé Combes sees her as ‘initiating one of the greatest spiritual revolutions in the history of the Church’ and Fr. Molinié, the great Dominican spiritual theologian sees her as ‘a saint we had to wait for to re-discover a spirituality fitting exactly the full dimensions of the Gospel.’  Guy Gaucher, The Spiritual Journey of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1987), 214.

[7] Gaucher, The Spiritual Journey of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, 215.


[8] ‘A Shower of Roses’, Encounter, ABC Radio National, 27.01.2002.

[9] Cited in Guy Gaucher, John and Thérèse: Flames of Love:  The Influence of St. John of the Cross in the Life and Writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (New York: Alba House, 1999), 149.

[10] J. Leon Hooper, SJ, ‘Dorothy Day’s Transposition of Thérèse’s “Little Way”’, Theological Studies, 63:1 (2002), 68-86Also Peter Casarella, ‘Sisters in Doing the Truth: Dorothy Day and St. Thérèse of Lisieux’, Communio 24 (Fall 1996), 469-498.

[11] This is discussed in my article ‘ “Speaking for Myself Personally” – Awareness of Self, of God of Others’ in The Australasian Catholic Record [forthcoming in July 2002].  Also Mark A. McIntosh, Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Malden, Mass.:  Blackwell, 1998), 6.   Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology (London: DLT, 1998).

[12] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord. Vol. VII, Theology: The New Covenant (South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press), 13.

[13] Frohlich, ‘Desolation and Doctrine,’ 262.

[14] James F. Keenan, ‘Towards an Inclusive Vision for Moral Theology Part 1: A Look Into the Past’, Pacifica, 12:3 (1999)), 251.  Also Michael Whelan, ‘The Mystical Heart of our Faith,’ Marist Messenger, October (2001), 43-45, where he discusses the mystical basis of our faith and that the mystical gives birth to the moral.

[15] Antony F. Campbell, SJ, God First Loved Us: The Challenge of Accepting Unconditional Love (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2000), 5.

[16] A Shower of Roses’, Encounter.

[17] Interestingly, ‘Restoring Trust’ is the title given by the Bishops of the United States to their effort to recover from America’s sex abuse scandal.  Cf. Catholic Telecommunications, April 26, 2002.

[18] James McCaffrey, ‘A saint for our season’, The Tablet, Oct. 19, (1996), 1350.

[19] Frohlich, HM, ‘Desolation and Doctrine’, 278.

[20] Frohlich, ‘Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctor for the Third Millennium?’, 34.  Lonergan sees ‘foundations’ as ‘the conversions (religious, moral, intellectual) which establish the horizon within which one can judge what is true and commit oneself to it.’ Frohlich, ‘Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctor for the Third Millennium?’, 34.

[21] John Clarke, OCD, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Washington, DC,: ICS Publications, Third Ed., 1996), 212.  Frohlich (with others) interprets this as a purification of faith.  During the end of her life, the images, stories and the deposit of Christian revelation that had been the signposts and sustenance of Thérèse’s spiritual life lost their meaning, falling away ‘like so much dust.’  Thérèse was confronted with the sheer ‘boundlessness of God’ – a state of bare consciousness, face to face with a kind of primordial ground of being. Cf. Frohlich, ‘Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctor for the Third Millennium?’, 278.

[22] Gaucher, John and Thérèse, 88-9.

[23] Kate Cleary, ‘Thérèse versus the atheists’, The Tablet, Nov. 24, (2001).

[24] We must remember that for Thérèse and the end of the nineteenth century, unbelief and atheism were often conscious and militant.  For many people a century later, in ‘cultural desolation’ stemming from unsatisfied spiritual yearnings, God is, in the words of Joseph Vives ‘missing but not missed.’  Michael Paul Gallagher says that today’s western culture offers no ‘language for the articulation of depth or genuine longing, leaving many people in terrible desolation when suffering, serious loss, or the approach of death create crises that cannot be allayed by the available consumeristic means.’ Cited in Frohlich, ‘Desolation and Doctrine’, 264.

[25] Cited in Gaucher, John and Thérèse, 87.

[26] Eucharistic Prayer No. 4.

[27] Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, General Intercessions, No. 8: For those who do not believe in God.

[28] Words  she uses towards the end of her Story of a Soul, 258.

[29] James McCaffrey, ‘A saint for our season’, 1351.

[30] James McCaffrey, ‘A saint for our season’ 1351.

[31] Gaucher, John and Thérèse, 74.

[32] Bruce H. Lescher, ‘Catholicism and postmodernity: Faithing our practice’, The Way, 41:3 (2001).  Peter C. Phan, ‘The Wisdom of Holy Fools in Postmodernity,’ Theological Studies, 62:4 (2001). 

[33] Phan, ‘The Wisdom, 751.

[34] Phan, ‘The Wisdom, 751.

[35] Phan, ‘The Wisdom, 751.

[36] David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 108.

[37] Tracy, The Analogical Imagination, 108.

[38] Frohlich, ‘Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctor for the Third Millennium?’, 36.

[39] Cited in Frohlich, ‘Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctor for the Third Millennium?’, 36.


Dr Tom Ryan sm is a moral theologian currently on the staff of the School of Theology at The University of Notre Dame Australia in Perth