By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, October 3, 2011

Embrace the "little way"

This past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, St. Joseph Seminary was host to 14 men for a "Come and See" weekend. This is an opportunity for men who feel they may be called by the Lord to priesthood to share their experience with others and find help to discern the voice of the Lord in their lives. They spend time in the seminary setting in order to get a sense of daily life there, and, most importantly, to speak with formation team members and other seminarians about the principles and dynamics of discernment.

Providentially, Saturday was the memorial feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her example is a wonderful aid to anyone who seeks to be open to the call of Christ. In her we see the model of what it means to become childlike, that stance before the Lord to which Christ frequently called his followers. What does it mean to be childlike?

I had occasion to reflect on this when on Thursday I visited and blessed two schools in the Archdiocese: Theresetta school in Castor and Christ King school in Stettler. Many of the parents of the students were there for these events. Watching the youngest members of these schools (kindergarten and Grade 1) I was reminded of what it is to be like a child. Youngsters allow themselves to be led. Where the parents go, so, too, do they. They approach their parents with open arms, full of trust. They take their parents at their word; they hold something to be true because "Mommy or Daddy said so."

St. Therese approached God with arms wide open, trusting absolutely in His love and tenderness. She took God at His Word, the Word spoken in Christ, the Word that assures of of divine presence and care, the Word that calls us to life through the obedient following of Christ. Wanting to be led only by the Lord, she tenaciously sought to know the Lord's will in order to follow it in loving and trusting obedience.

At the Come and See weekend, we offered this great saint, now a Doctor of the Church,  as a model to the men seeking to know the Lord's will. She is, in fact, a model for all of us. God is near. He loves us as a Father, wanting to provide for our every true need. He summons us to life through communion with His Son. When we take God at His Word and receive that word with open arms, we shall know how we are called and we will be graced with the faith necessary to follow.

As I moved into the Sunday liturgies of the weekend, I realized that St. Therese has even more to say to us. How vitally important it is for us to grasp and follow her example was underscored by the Scripture readings for Sunday Mass (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4: 6-9; Matthew 21: 33-43).

Both the first reading and Gospel use the image of a vineyard and its produce. In the passage from Isaiah, the vineyard is an image of the people of God, who had planted within them His seeds of love and mercy and nourished them with His commandments. However, instead of the cultivated grapes of justice and peace this vineyard has yielded the "wild grapes" of injustice and bloodshed.

Such an image makes us ask some serious questions about the "produce" that we, the Lord's vineyard of today, are bringing forth. Through Baptism we have had planted within us the seeds of life, love, justice and eternity. And yet the produce yielded is too often the opposite: threats to the dignity to human life and pressures on family; poverty; homelessness; widening gaps between rich and poor; and so on. Not a very healthy vineyard, to say the least.

The Gospel parable of the vineyard owner and the evil tenants gives the diagnosis of the underlying illness that needs to be confronted. At produce time the owner sends messengers to the tenants to collect the produce. He even sends his son. All are beaten and killed as the tenants rebuff the owner of the vineyard and take control for themselves. Such a parable invites us to examine seriously how we are rebuffing God, both as individuals and as a society. Throughout salvation history God has sent us messengers of His love, such as the prophets, and above all He even sent His Son. They were rebuffed by sinful humanity.  The injustices suffered by humanity, both past and present, show clearly that we continue to choose to exclude God from any meaningful place in our lives, relying not upon Him but upon ourselves.

St. Therese exemplifies the antidote to this blight. She felt the Lord calling her to be love in the midst of the Church. This led her to embrace what has since been called her "little way": to be loving and faithful in the little things, in the ordinary and everyday events and relationships. To reverse the current trend of society, great heroic feats on our part are not what is necessary. What is needed is the "little way" of St. Therese. She taught us to trust God, to let Him into our lives, to trust and follow His Word, and to be faithful in consequence in the ordinary events of our lives. Such a little way, if followed by all, can effect a great turnaround in our world. Let us embrace her example and follow it.