ROME – Pope Francis has pointed to Saint Therese of Lisieux as an authority on the so-called “hierarchy of truths” in a new document.

To this end, he praised the French saint’s emphasis on love and childlike trust in God’s mercy in light of one’s own sins and flaws, saying this attitude takes prominence over overly rigid interpretations of the faith.

“At a time of great complexity, she can help us rediscover the importance of simplicity, the absolute primacy of love, trust and abandonment, and thus move beyond a legalistic or moralistic mindset that would fill the Christian life with rules and regulations, and cause the joy of the Gospel to grow cold,” he said.

In a new apostolic exhortation published Oct. 15 to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Saint Therese of Lisieux, also called by her religious name Therese of the Child Jesus, Pope Francis said the message of a “missionary Church” must focus on “the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.”

“Not everything is equally central, because there is an order or hierarchy among the truths of the Church, and this holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching,” he said.

Francis insisted that charity is at the heart of Christian morality, and that through her writings on love, Therese offers a contribution which “is not analytical,” along the lines of other saints such as Thomas Aquinas.

“Her contribution is more synthetic, for her genius consists in leading us to what is central, essential and indispensable,” the pope said, saying Therese through her words and personal experiences “shows that, while it is true that all the Church’s teachings and rules have their importance, their value, their clarity, some are more urgent and more foundational for the Christian life.”

Titled, “It is confidence,” the exhortation focuses on a line taken from St. Therese’s writings in which she states that, “it is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love.”

Known for her “little way” to sainthood prioritizing small daily offerings of love and childlike trust in God’s own mercy, Therese is one of 37 Doctors of the Church, a title given to a person seen as having made an outstanding contribution to the understanding and interpretation of the faith and the development of Christian doctrine.

One of just four women to hold the prestigious ecclesial title, Saint Therese is patroness of foreign missions and is one of Pope Francis’s favorite saints. On several occasions, he said he often turns to her in prayer, entrusting his international trips or difficult situations or decisions he has to make.

A Carmelite nun who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24, Therese has also been recognized by UNESCO, who from 2022-2023 is being honored for the 150th anniversary of her birth.

Pope Francis canonized her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, during the Synod of Bishops on the Family in 2015.

In his new exhortation, the pope praised Therese’s simplicity of faith, saying her insistence that “nothing but confidence” is the path to God’s love sums up “the genius of her spirituality and would suffice to justify the fact that she has been named a Doctor of the Church.”

Despite living in a cloister and never leaving the convent, Therese had a “missionary soul,” which Francis said is expressed most clearly in her insistence that she entered the convent “to save souls” and that she wanted to spend her time in heaven spreading God’s love on earth.

Therese’s reflections throughout her autobiography “Story of a Soul,” he said, illustrate “the fact that evangelization takes place by attraction, not by pressure or proselytism,” and that grace sets one free of “self-absorption” because it impels one toward love of others.

One of Therese’s most important insights is her “path of trust and love, also known as the way of spiritual childhood,” he said, saying this path is one that everyone can follow, “whatever their age or state in life.”

Using Therese’s image comparing her “little way” to an elevator lifting her to God, allowing her to “remain little” while still reaching the heights of God’s grace, Pope Francis said this is the path that “Jesus sets before the little and the poor, before everyone.”

“In place of a Pelagian notion of holiness, individualistic and elitist, more ascetic than mystical, that primarily emphasizes human effort, Therese always stresses the primacy of God’s work, his gift of grace,” he said.

Pope Francis insisted that Therese’s spirituality “is in no way opposed to the traditional Catholic teaching on the increase of grace, namely, that once gratuitously justified by sanctifying grace, we are changed and enabled to cooperate by our good works in a process of growth in holiness.”

At the heart of Therese’s teaching, he said, “is the realization that, since we are incapable of being certain about ourselves, we cannot be sure of our merits.”

“Hence, it is not possible to trust in our own efforts or achievements,” he said, saying, “It is most fitting, then, that we should place heartfelt trust not in ourselves but in the infinite mercy of a God who loves us unconditionally.”

Therese’s confidence in God goes beyond individual holiness and salvation, but rather, it has “an integral meaning that embraces the totality of concrete existence and finds application in our daily lives, where we are often assailed by fears, the desire for human security, the need to have everything under control,” he said.

Therese’s insistence on total abandonment to God, he said, sets one free from “obsessive calculations, constant worry about the future and fears that take away our peace.”

Francis also praised Therese’s understanding of God’s mercy and the ability of God’s love to overcome sin, as well as the emphasis she placed on charity, saying her repeated acts of love offered to God are “the key to her understanding of the Gospel.”

“This is the mystical life that, apart from any extraordinary phenomena, offers itself to all the faithful as a daily experience of love,” the pope said, saying Therese saw that “if the apocrypha are full of striking and amazing feats, the Gospels show us a lowly and poor life lived in the simplicity of faith.”

Pope Francis referred to Therese’s description in her autobiography of a Church whose heart was “burning with love,” meaning that love was the root of all vocations.

“This heart was not that of a triumphalistic Church, but of a loving, humble and merciful Church,” he said, saying, “this discovery of the heart of the Church is also a great source of light for us today.”

“It preserves us from being scandalized by the limitations and weaknesses of the ecclesiastical institution with its shadows and sins, and enables us to enter into the Church’s ‘heart burning with love,’” the pope said.

By persevering in her path of love and placing the good of others over her own personal happiness, Therese “arrived at her ultimate personal synthesis of the Gospel, one that began with complete trust and ended in total abandonment for the sake of other,” the pope said.

“It is trust that brings us to love and thus sets us free from fear. It is trust that helps us to stop looking to ourselves and enables us to put into God’s hands what he alone can accomplish,” he said, urging believers to ask for the gift of this trust.

Francis reiterated his invitation to return “to the freshness of the source,” meaning the Gospel, in order “to emphasize what is essential and indispensable.”

Therese’s “little way” is still timely, he said, saying that in an age dominated by focus on oneself and one’s personal interests, “Therese shows us the beauty of making our lives a gift.”

“At a time when the most superficial needs and desires are glorified, she testifies to the radicalism of the Gospel. In an age of individualism, she makes us discover the value of a love that becomes intercession for others. At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she points out to us the little way,” he said.

In an age where vast portions of humanity are cast aside, he said, Therese “teaches us the beauty of concern and responsibility for one another. In an age of indifference and self-absorption, Therese inspires us to be missionary disciples, captivated by the attractiveness of Jesus and the Gospel.”

Pope Francis closed his exhortation with a prayer to St. Therese, saying the Church “needs to radiate the brightness, the fragrance and the joy of the Gospel,” and asking her to help the Church, like her, to be increasingly confident “in God’s immense love for us, so that we may imitate each day your ‘little way’ of holiness.”

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