A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Longing for God

by Fr Kevin Head sm

by Fr Kevin Head sm

St Therese of Lisieux and World Mission Day

The quotation “any man who knocks on a brothel door is looking for God” is variously attributed to St Francis, St Augustine, Graham Greene and G K Chesterton. The American Chesterton Society says the quotation is in fact from The World, The Flesh and Father Smith by Bruce Marshall (1945) and its accurate version is “...the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God” (p. 108).
The simple point of the quotation is that in our brokenness and fragility we are inclined to search for God in the wrong places. All of us yearn for peace, joy, love and fulfilment. In the world we find nothing more than glimpses, ephemeral shadows of the real, perfect love that we may find in God.
And because we are flawed, some of our acts are misguided and cause hurt and damage to others and ourselves. The man or woman who rings the doorbell at the brothel is aiming to satisfy a deep yearning – for God – in a way that is sinful.
Even though it may not be recognised, there is a longing for God in the hearts of each and every human being. That’s the way we are programmed. We are made in such a way that we cannot but long for God, and everything that we do – good or bad – expresses that longing.
October begins with the celebration of the Memorial of St Therese of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower of Lisieux. The passionate longing for God that St Therese expressed in her writings inspired many of her readers to grow in love of God.
St Therese’s yearning for God and her abandonment of herself and her own will for the sake of God brought about, by God’s grace, a transformation in her. From being a somewhat self-centred, indulged and precious child -- a spoilt little brat, even -- who may have been a self-obsessed neurotic, or at least grown into one, Therese became one of the great saints of the nineteenth century.
In the depths of her being Therese understood that God loved her, and loves all creation with all God’s heart, and she wanted the whole world to know the reality of God’s love, for each and every human being and for all creation.
From her simple yet cogent writings we know that Therese’s experience of God was often of God’s absence rather than of God’s nearness. Her journey was one of deep faith and trust in the God of love Who seemed so absent at times as not to exist -- remote, intangible, lost to the senses.
Through all her pain and tribulation, Therese’s longing for God was undimmed, and she continues to inspire.
We also celebrate World Mission Day this month and St Therese, along with St Francis Xavier, is a patron of the Church’s missions. Therese’s longing for God prompted her to offer her prayer and the dreadful suffering of her tuberculosis for those who were working in the Church’s mission fields. Her impetus to help missionaries was born of her desire to have all people everywhere share in the appreciation of God that she experienced, and to bring them into God’s love.
With Pope Francis, and with St Therese, we pray this month “that the celebration of World Mission Day may help all Christians realise that we are not only receivers but proclaimers of God’s word”.

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