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Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Faith Notebook: St Thérèse and young people, “it’s going to be like World Youth Day”
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Before the relics of St Thérèse arrived in the country a friend had said “it’s going to be like World Youth Day”, and I knew what he meant. The sense of it being a one-off event for a country on a huge scale, with an excitement about it, producing unexpected graces and fruits. That feeling you get before a party when you know it’s going to be great, but you can’t say exactly why and you’re not sure who’ll turn up. In England and Wales over a quarter of a million pilgrims visited the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux, and many of them were young. In Westminster Cathedral a time of prayer with the relics had been arranged for young adults one evening, with an all-night vigil. Just before it started, young people were streaming towards the Cathedral from every direction. At one point during the event, Monsignor John Armitage asked the young people to turn to face the relics which were at the opposite end to the sanctuary. As I was sitting just behind the reliquary, I suddenly saw hundreds of young faces turn towards me and I noticed friends I hadn’t realised were there.
As we asked St Thérèse to pray for us I felt a great sense of hope for the Church in this country. Here were hundreds of young people who felt some connection with a woman whose buzzwords were not ‘celebrity’ or ‘self’, but were ‘humility’, ‘love’, ‘self-surrender’, and ‘present moment’. St Thérèse knew great suffering in her life and died aged 24. In all things she sought to be love in the world through her witness, her prayers and sacrifices. Her spirituality, or ‘Little Way’, involved seeking God’s will in the present moment, doing small things with great love and so making Christ present to those whom she met. She ‘offered up’ the small unavoidable difficulties of each day as sacrifices united to Christ’s suffering. They say that the young like a radical agenda, and perhaps in today’s culture St Thérèse’s ‘Little Way’ is as radical as it gets. In 21st century Britain for a young person to live out the ‘Little Way’ can mean not giving into the pressure to sleep with a boyfriend after dating for a few weeks, it can mean not joining in and watching a Youtube video of a drunk friend being humiliated, it can mean offering loving and concerned advice to a friend who’s on the brink of buying a morning-after pill.
This ‘Little Way’ is not a fluffy inoffensive version of the faith. If young people live out the Christian message in all its fullness it’s likely that they’ll face difficulties and will be called to heroism at some point. But, as St Thérèse found, it’s through the sacrifice of lovingly trying to do God’s will that there is a deeper joy and peace to be found. Holiness is still relevant; it is still attractive, and on Wednesday evening hundreds of men and women were reminded through St Thérèse that holiness is still possible for the young. In his reflections that evening, Monsignor John Armitage said “A saint is a man or woman who is close to God and who makes God real and close to others. Tonight we are close to God in his great Cathedral, with an ordinary young woman, who did extraordinary things for God, because she opened herself to God’s will each day discovering the meaning of her life. May we take courage to follow in her steps, by embracing God’s love and grace each day, in the ordinary everyday events, doing small things with great love”.
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Tags: Little Way, St Therese

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