St Thérèse, Fr Calmel and the present time

From 1956 to 1957, Fr Roger-Thomas Calmel OP (1914–1975) was exiled to Spain — an innocent victim of the modernism penetrating the bosom of the Church, which could not tolerate the firm and uncompromising positions on Catholic doctrine and morality of this worthy son of St Dominic. His stay in Spain inevitably put him in direct contact with the great mystics of that land.

Fr Calmel recognised St John of the Cross as “the great doctor of the path of union with God, of self-abnegation, and of docility towards the Holy Spirit, along with his spiritual daughter, little Thérèse”. It was to the latter that Fr Calmel would dedicate many masterful pages, pointing to her as the saint given to the Church for our time of apostasy. 

Studying in depth the “little way” of spiritual childhood, Fr Calmel demonstrates its relevance in relation to the rampant crisis in the Church “in which the Lord is asking us to bear witness”.

To those who expressed doubts as to the effectiveness of a possible “resistance” against the growing modernist infiltration within the Church, Fr Calmel replied:

“The question of what the fruit of our resistance will be does not even come into it. We know that God makes fruitful the witness of faith of those who love Him. The real question is this: how can the witness that must be borne be made holy? Here the lesson of spiritual childhood is of inestimable value, since the Christian whose faith is of childlike simplicity, as soon as he sees in what the witness of faith consists, rests in perfect uprightness and great peace. The Heavenly Father, through his Son Jesus, will give him the necessary help day by day. To know whether He will prevent evil or not, whether Catholic Tradition will uphold its positions or cease to do so, is not a concern which is unfamiliar to him. But it is far from invading or possessing his soul; it does not have a formidable and tragic repercussion on his spirit; the simple melody of confidence and abandonment is never drowned out by shouts of fear.”

Let us grasp, in these words, the wise application that Fr Calmel made of the doctrine of spiritual childhood to modern contingencies: a spirit of absolute confidence in God, and distrust of self, in the witness of faith driven to the extreme, according to one’s vocation. The love that St Thérèse teaches us — Fr Calmel noted — does not necessarily suppose extraordinary actions, but demands that we respect the laws of our incorporation within the Mystical Body with extraordinary attention, each according to his own state in life.

In our time of confusion and anarchy, in which charity — above all, apostolic charity — serves as a pretext to justify extravagance, profanation and betrayal of all kinds, the voice of that love taught by little Thérèse is “a voice of order, not of disorder”. So what is to be done? 

“What the Lord asks of us is to make a stand: to stand up for the good Mass and good Liturgy, for Baptism, for the catechism and sacred doctrine, for morality. What the Lord wants to do with his friends — there can be no doubt about this — is to fill them ever more with his love. To succeed in standing up, in remaining firm, all it takes is to allow Him to act, since the love that the Lord wants to put into their souls is as strong as death (cf. Ct 8:6) and is marvellous, unfailing nourishment”.

It was precisely by virtue of this love that little Thérèse dreamed of taking part in the torments of the Church’s children in the time of the Antichrist. Fr Calmel asks her in an imaginary conversation: 

“What kind of torments? Were you perhaps thinking, O saint whose vocation is love, of some modern-world adaptation of the white-hot grills and bonfires; of the stifling pits and iron combs? Had you caught a glimpse that there was to be something worse? Were you thinking about the spiritual torments of so many of the faithful misled by the hierarchy?”.

And here he proceeds to give an appalling and prophetic description of what is before our eyes. He foresaw that:

 “priests, bishops would first agree to be imprisoned in large numbers in a highly perfected system that would then lead them to fall imperceptibly into a new religion, into the latest cult invented by Hell: that of humanity in evolution. It would be the destruction of faith under anaesthesia, by the combined effect of democratisation and parallel authorities. Chloroformed, manipulated by the existing system, emptied of their souls, priests en masse would be seen imposing ambiguous ceremonies on the faithful and preaching a dubious doctrine to them. Bishops and priests in large numbers would be seen intoxicated, dominated by the system, leading a multitude of the ordinary faithful to apostasy, with no justification other than that of trusting in authority. The people of God are deceived, abused, betrayed by their leaders. This may not be the time of the antichrist: it is the prefiguration of it. So, it is in such a terrible time that you would have liked to live in order to bear witness to the Lord of your love. In the innumerable army of holy men and women, you are the only one who has manifested such a desire. You, therefore, are more capable than others of understanding our situation and of coming to our aid. Deign to teach us how to become saints in the hour in which the forerunners of the antichrist rule, reign over the city and put the Church in chains.”

Becoming saints is known to be no easy thing, even in a Christian society and a Church faithful to its Lord. It is enough to open any hagiography to understand the extent of the spiritual battles to which all the saints were subjected.

But then, Fr Calmel asks himself:

“what intensity of love will be needed, what strength of spirit will be required to set out on the path of holiness when the apostasy will certainly have won over, not all the prelates nor all the faithful, which would be impossible, but at least an enormous number of them, and up to the highest ranks, since the abomination of desolation will be set up in the holy place? It will certainly be much more difficult and much rarer to be holy in the time of the antichrist than in the time of Nero. As savage as his persecution was, Nero attacked from without; the antichrist (and his forerunners) will be rampaging, according to the words of St Pius X, in sinu et gremio Ecclesiae (“in the heart and bosom of the Church”). It may be, however, that in this as in all times it is love that will bring about holiness. But in this new situation, in which the faith will be generally obscured or denied, the first effect of love will be that of guaranteeing perseverance in the faith; not only of conforming our lives to the faith out of love, but of guarding the faith out of love. Guarding the faith when the hierarchy allows it to be concealed and lost, standing firm in the faith amid a danger of this kind, is impossible without great simplicity of heart. As soon as we allow ourselves to be lured by the glory which comes from men, or become fearful and weak in the face of the evils that they inflict on us, we will betray ourselves without really realising it, justifying ourselves with the illusory wisdom of this world.”

In the face of this apocalyptic scenario, which Fr Calmel considers the foreshadowing of the time of the antichrist, it is difficult to escape the temptation of discouragement, if not that of despair. So the great Dominican friar turns once again to the little Carmelite of Lisieux. 

“I do not ask of little Thérèse that she point out for me the concrete details of perseverance and resistance; I ask that which she desires to give me: to point out for me the hidden resource, the invisible element. She answers me that it is enough to love, to be little and simple, that this is still and always possible. It is this that I need to know first of all. If I know this, I will be much better able to put a check on modernism and persevere in the faith.”

At this point, Fr Calmel — as in a prophetic vision — describes what the saints who will live in times of apostasy will be like.

“[Their lucidity] will obviously be very great, in proportion to the new means invented by the father of lies to deceive and disorient. And since these means will be on the scale of the infernal spirits, and not on the scale of the spirit of man, it will be the Holy Spirit Himself who will give the necessary lucidity. […] This lucidity will not be a principle of confusion or despair, but of humility and abandonment. The soul will have full awareness of the snares that are set for it, but for the one who has two wings it matters little how technically perfect are the snares set for him. Our world, which has always been a valley of tears, will become, in these last times, an image of hell; it will undoubtedly be a painless hell, an air-conditioned antechamber of the eternal hell; but the saints of these last days will laugh with the saints who went before them in the centuries of lesser perversion and darkness: ‘I will not fear, for You are with me, O Lord … You have defeated the prince of this world.’”

More than all the other saints, little Thérèse effectively intercedes for souls who, like us, live in the times that prefigure those of the antichrist, since more than other saints she wanted to live in those times and has shown the sure path that will not admit the forerunners of the antichrist: the path of humility, of simplicity of heart, of evangelical childhood. 

“It is the spirit of childhood, with the simplicity of heart which is inseparable from it, that made St Joan of Arc capable of upholding the truth of her mission before a false tribunal of the Church, and in spite of prison and fire; it is the same spirit of childhood that made St Pius X — far from negotiating on anything with modernism — capable of facing the enemy within (the Church) at every turn. Because the spirit of childhood does not entail a saccharine avoidance of struggle, but the peaceful confrontation of the gravest difficulties and responsibilities for love for the Lord”.

It has pleased our most great God, who loves to confound the wisdom of this world, to bestow on the most apocalyptic time of his Church, not a great system of defence, but a little way of self-abasement. He wants to remind us, once again, of his infallible words: the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven is “narrow” and one must be “little” to enter in at it. This is the heart of the “little way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux: “little” not because it is easy but because it calls on us to become little. But becoming little is a big thing. Indeed, it is the biggest thing of all, because it opens the gates of Heaven.