Avoid two non-sensical risks
First avoid ’rationalist’’ prejudice : the veneration of relics is an ancient action that brought about absurdities in the history of religions (see the book of Calvin). Pilgrim centers fought to have relics, created them, and made them into a business etc. Mankind, crushed by his human condition, by the fear of suffering and of death, needs to protest against that which crushes him. He takes refuge in magical behaviours that protect him and allow him to survive. Today science enlightens us on these attitudes that are created out of the power of the subconscious mind. Alot of marvellous phenomena that happened in the past have found scientific explanations. Those which are not explained today, will be tomorrow. Those who have a biassed attitude from the beginning refuse to consider the facts themselves. Apparently they see in the relics a deceptive naivety, exploitation, weakness of the human spirit.
The Opposite attitude is to avoid all critical spirit. ’Relics work’, it is a talisman that protects ; surpernatural powers are considered radioactive, which work without us knowing it. Follow a certain procedure, do not miss anything, and the result is there. The medals, the reliquary, the prayers are compulsory. To be even surer, you add Saint Benedict or a few other miracle-workers . The real story of Thérèse, her ideal are all far away.
Between the two, there is however, a « meaningful » way (full of meaning)
it is that of the spiritual way : proposing the testimony of Thérèse, the different stages of her life, the discoveries, the sources, the meaning she gave to her life. It is a proposal of faith. Thérèse does not teach, nor develop concepts, she lives a spritiual experience (she only speaks about this to answer questions imposed on her :Ms A and C, or suggested to her : Ms B). She does not write in order to have disciples, but she believes her way can help « many souls » to find their way. What Thérèse actually brings us, is not so much a theological concept in itself, but more so a means of translating what happens to us in a spiritual experience. The last text that she wrote (on the back of a picture 25 August 1897) sums it up : ’I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me…I love him !…because He is only Love and Mercy !’.
When we question the pilgrims, it is the heart of this message that touches them, whatever their age, their culture, their country and even their religion. ’The God of Love is at the base of it all, even if, ’the night of faith’ can invade the conscience of the believer.
Speaking of a spiritual experience is speaking about life « in accordance with the Holy Spirit ». He who acted in the real life of Thérèse, in her personality, He, is the one who gives Himself to us when we open our hearts to His presence in response to the call that the veneration of relics creates in us. Meeting Thérèse makes it possible for us, if we wish, to meet Him who was the love of her life.
The manifestations around the relics surprise us, they seem to belong to a ’poplular religion’. The religion of ’the people of God’ does it not belong to ’theology in action’ that Pope John Paul II loves ? That is to say it is ’a language on God, on the relationship between God and man.
Liturgy is a good avenue to the catechesis because it is a symbolic way, addressing every sense and not just the intellect. In everything that is organised around the relics, the liturgy is an important moment, focussing on the sacrements of the Church of Christ, with the word of God, and the sacraments (baptisim, confirmation, reconciliation…)It creates in the heart, what Paul called the signs of the Spirit : peace, joy, comfort, reconcilation, strength in times of struggle’.
In the different countries where the relics have visited, the same thing is to be found : movements of conversion (’metanoïa’), that is to say surpassing oneself, what one thinks, what one lives, towards a confidence, no longer founded on only human reason, but on that on which reason is founded (the sense given by faith in our veritable human condition). It is an opening to self-transcendence that comes to the forefront in our existance (immanence) : the Ressurected Christ, who was at the heart of Thérèse’s life, is in the heart of the believer.
The places of pilgrimmage are often catalysts for permitting this experience. All of his was in my life, but now the signs can talk. ’You made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless as long as they do not rest in You’.
In Lisieux, the different Thérèsien places (les Buissonets, San Pierre’s Cathedral, the Carmel, the Basilica) are often vectors of those moments. It is possible to ’try’ the signs (sacraments) of faith and to meet, through Thérèse, He who was in the heart of her life.
Thérèse, Doctor of the Church, offers us a whole range of possibilities to develop this catechesis :
- the time given to sacraments ;
- the word of God, to which she has a very special approach ;
- the meaning of her vocation in the church ;
- the things in her life that testify her relationship with Jesus ;
- her simple and hidden life…
To bring the relics to a country supposes
- a preparatory action : presenting the life, the message and the meaning of Thérèse ;
- an adapted catechesis when Therese is there : time for prayer, for veneration, individual contacts (dialogue, reconciliation, sacrements, etc…) ;
- action afterwards in order to continue what was done and to be attentive to what grows after sowing the seeds.
The main ’actor’ is the Holy Spirit, it is He who decides that a life should take a new meaning, become spiritual. (So the relics, an important souvenir from the past, leads to the future).