Human Life International has been blessed to work with and support many missionaries who spread the Gospel of Life to the far corners of the earth. True to the missionary tradition of the Church, we know that without God’s assistance we can do nothing whatsoever, so we strive to open our souls to receive the graces that the Lord always offers us. Indeed, if we remain faithful to our vocation to communicate the constant teachings of the Church on life and marriage, He will bless our efforts.
On March 28th during the Octave of Easter we installed in our St. Michael’s Chapel a painting of St. Therese of Lisieux, and invite our staff and supporters to seek her intercession in our missionary endeavors. Inspired by the consuming love of Jesus of St. Therese, who formally took the name as a religious of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face of Jesus, we take deeply to heart her famous statement, “I can nourish myself on nothing but truth.” This reflection should inspire us all to communicate the full truth on life and marriage in accordance with the constant Magisterium of the Church. This call is confirmed by the Venerable Pius XII in his 1957 encyclical Fidei donum:
From the beginning holy Church by her very nature has been compelled to spread the Word of God everywhere, and in fulfilling this obligation to which she knows not how to be unfaithful she has never ceased to ask for a threefold assistance from her children: namely, prayers, material aid, and, in some cases, the gift of themselves. (n. 48)
The one-of-a-kind painting was done by Henry Wingate, a classical artist who lives near HLI’s headquarters in Front Royal, Virgnia, and whose work has been installed around the world. The painting is inspired in the prophetic saying of St. Therese, “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from Heaven, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” The viewer sees the saint looking down from Heaven, holding a bunch of roses with her left arm and sending an individual rose to earth, the symbol of the many graces that she will obtain for us through her intercession.
Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, the former director of HLI’s Rome office, discussed with Mr. Wingate different themes from A Companion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux Her Life and Work & The People and Places In Her Story by Joseph P. Kochiss (Angelico Press 2014) that inspired the work.
“This painting follows the ancient Catholic tradition that sees properly done religious art as a window into Heaven,” said Msgr. Barreiro. “Art in the service of the faith can not only be edifying, but can strengthen our desire to pray through an affective movement in the soul. Christian art evokes the descent of God’s charity towards men and the ascent of men towards God.”
Msgr. Barreiro also recalled how St. Therese’s constant dependence on God leads to trust in God like little children. This is the essence of her “little way”, upon which Pope Benedict XVI reflected in Deus Caritas Est:
[W]e are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. (n. 35)
On December 14th 1927, Pope Pius XI declared St. Therese the patroness of the missions, drawing upon the previous year’s encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae:
This Saint who, during her life here below as a religious, made herself responsible for and adopted, if We may use the phrase, more than one missionary in order to assist him in his work as was her custom by her prayers, by voluntary and prescribed corporal penances, but, above all, by offering to her Divine Spouse the dreadful sufferings resulting on the disease with which she was afflicted. (n.17)
In 1997 St. John Paul II declared Therese a doctor of the Church, a rare designation of honor granted by the Holy Father. Although she never left the cloister, she joined as patron to the missions by St. Francis Xavier, who traveled to Asia and facilitated many conversions to the Faith. Therese herself, as she wrote in Story of a Soul, desired to be transferred to the Carmelite Monastery of Hanoi, but was not permitted to go due to her health. Hence, she became a kind of spiritual missionary, and through her prayers and sacrifices probably many more may have been saved than through the great efforts of other great missionaries. She heroically offered all her sufferings to Christ to obtain the conversion of so many brethren still living in darkness.
Following the constant teachings of the Church on the great value of prayers of the mystical body of Christ, St. Therese makes us aware that through prayer and sacrifice of contemplative souls, missionaries will obtain superabundant graces to obtain many conversions for Christ, from Africa and Asia to the canyons of New York.
The funds for the commissioned painting were donated by close supporters of HLI who wanted to honor St. Therese.
So let us entrust in prayer the missionary efforts of Human Life International to the intercession of St. Therese, with total confidence that we will never lack divine assistance if we remain faithful to our mission.