I THIRST: SAINT THERESE OF LISIEUX AND MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA by Jacques Gauthier. Staten Island, New York: Society of St. Paul, 21878 Victory Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10314-6603, Paperback, 103 Pgs, $14.95.
St. Therese of Lisieux and Mother Teresa of Calcutta have been described as “two mirrors who mutually reflect each other, one revealing what at first glance is not obvious to the other.” The author, Jacques Gauthier, stresses those areas of convergence—what would be perceived as common themes running through the spirituality of these two saintly women: each expressed a need to console Jesus because of so many people’s indifference to him and to quench his thirst for love; each expressed a need to please him, and further to be open to the tenderness in his heart because his love is not received as it ought to be. The common thread may be summarized as a thirst for Jesus.
The thirst of Jesus, his thirst for love and for souls, is one of the major reasons for the mission and extraordinary significance of St. Therese. It is this thirst which explains the mission of Mother Teresa. She wrote in her Spiritual Testament that everything about the Missionaries of Charity is intended to quench the Thirst of Jesus. As Mother Teresa stated, “As long as you do not know in a very intimate way that Jesus is thirsty for you, it will be impossible for you to know who He wants to be for you, nor who He wants you to be for Him.” It was quite evident that Mother Teresa quenched the thirst of Jesus in loving the poorest of the poor. The author calls upon the imagery of the Samaritan woman to illustrate the awareness of thirst within the Gospel narrative.
A second major connection between Mother Teresa and St. Therese was their call “to be love” in the Church. St. Therese in writing to her sister Celine illustrates:
Jesus wills that the salvation of souls depends on the sacrifices of our love. He is begging for souls from us. . . Let us make our life a continual sacrifice, a martyrdom of love, in order to console Jesus.
In a later piece of correspondence the following year, she states: “He has so much need of love and He is so thirsty, that He expects from us the drop of water that must refresh Him! Ah! Let us give without counting the cost.”
Mother Teresa notes in her text No Greater Love:
What we need is to love without exhausting ourselves. How does a lamp burn? By the consumption of steadily dripping drops of oil. What are the drops of oil in our own lamps? The little things in daily life: faithfulness, a friendly word, a kind thought for others . . . Do not search for Jesus far from you. He is not somewhere else. He is in you. Keep your lamp burning and you will recognize Him.
The author points out that these two women became real friends of God by giving relief to the most destitute and by that fact, to God Himself. For each of these women, it was imperative that they do the little things of life with great love for the people who live in their immediate world, to love above all, the least and the poorest in the name of Christ and to give all to Jesus who thirsts for our love.
Mother Teresa followed the Little Way of confident love of St. Therese during her lifetime. Her understanding of the Little Way may be summarized as follows: Put oneself unconditionally in the hands of God the Father, even if all seems lost. Do not conceive of any other but God alone for one’s strength and help. Refuse doubt and discouragement, hand it over to the Lord and continue to advance in “perfect freedom.” Dare to be “without fear of obstacles” for nothing is impossible with God. Count on God the Father with total abandonment as little children, being totally convinced of our need for him and of his goodness.
It is well known that during the last eighteen months of her life, St. Therese of Lisieux suffered excruciating physical pain as she was dying from tuberculosis. She herself documented in her Last Conversations the suffering of a dark night of the soul, which she referred to as “the night of nothingness.” What Mother Teresa’s personal journal reveals is that she lived her faith bearing a “tormenting trial” accompanied by “excruciating and painful doubt about the existence of God.” She wrote of the spiritual darkness in her life:
My smile is a great mantle, which covers a multitude of sufferings. The sisters and people think that my faith, my hope and my love are profoundly fulfilling me, and that intimacy with God and union with His will, live in my heart. If they only knew…only blind faith moves me along, because the truth is that all is darkness for me. Sometimes the agony of desolation is so great and at the same time the living hope for The Absent so profound that the only prayer I am able to recite is “Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in You. I will quench your thirst for souls.”
The author includes numerous stories exemplifying the spirituality of these two women in addition to anecdotes from other saints, sometimes distracting to the focus. However, the richness of the text is found not only in the new information pertaining to the personal journey of Mother Teresa, but also the affinity one shared with the other even though separated by a century in time, culture and way of life. The text is a worthy addition to the library of anyone serious about the spiritual journey.
Sister Madeleine Grace, C.V.I.