By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
Caption: A statue of St. Therese of Lisieux at the National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, Ill. Nancy Wiechec / CNS.
Five years ago, Jim Anderson knew little about St. Therese of Lisieux when he applied for a post directing a formation program based in her spirituality.
A priest-friend had recommended he go for an interview. Within about six weeks, Anderson and his family had moved from Ontario to Bruno, Sask. to join the brand-new St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission.
Today, Anderson is convinced the Institute’s nine-month program of intellectual and spiritual discipleship for young people who live in community and who practice the saint’s “little way” offers a key to new evangelization and the hopes Pope Benedict XVI’s has for the Year of Faith.
It did not take Anderson long to catch on to St. Therese’s spirituality, because, before moving to Bruno, he had become steeped in Catherine Doherty’s after living for 12 years near the Madonna House, the lay apostolate she founded in Combermere, Ont.
“If you know Catherine, you know St. Therese,” he said.
“The ‘little way’ [of St. Therese] gives us the way; the ‘little mandate’ [of Catherine Doherty’ gives us the how,” he said. “Catherine Doherty is just St. Therese with work-boots on.”
More than that, Doherty gives a contemporary and Canadian witness to St Therese’s little way, he said.
In the Year of Faith, the Holy Father is calling us to rediscover the content of our Catholic faith and to draw closer to Jesus by living it, Anderson said. Living that experience of faith makes our relationship with Jesus Christ increasingly firm, he said.
Jesus Christ came into the world to share the poverty of human experience, to be with the poor, Anderson said, referring to ideas in Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2000 letter on The New Evangelization: Building a Civilization of Love. Ratzinger wrote the deepest poverty is the lack of joy, and the lack of joy is precipitated by and in turn causes the inability to experience love,” Anderson said, adding his reading that letter was “an Emmaus moment” for him.
In order to experience love, real, deep self-sacrificing love, one must experience the cross, he said the man who would become Pope stressed.
Sometimes the way we perceive new evangelization is a way of serving the Church, Anderson said. “You have to be banging on a guitar or preaching the Bible to youth. What God wants is for us to follow Him, to engage in holiness, often in the humdrum way of life.”
This means pursuing holiness in the world, as a lay person working as a teacher, a doctor, a plumber, a nurse, or as a parent, he said.
The little way means being like a little child, a spiritual child fully dependent on God, Anderson said. Therese had a deep love for her father which carried over into her attitude toward God. “She recognized she is little; it’s not about doing little things.”
Imagine a two-year old child, he said. They are just becoming cognizant of their own being; they are entirely dependent on their parents. Anderson recalled his own three sons when they were two and the relationship of love, trust, surrender and openness they shared with him. “I could do no wrong and they would come to me for everything.”
“I was so captivated by them. “Whether it was their constantly failed attempts to show what they could do---in talking, drawing a cat—to me it was beautiful,” Anderson said. Even if the two-year old had been “recalcitrant all day,” at the end of the day he might crawl onto his lap and fall asleep on his shoulder, “and my heart would melt.”
The little way is about an unsophisticated, completely humble surrender to God in the moment, to do the duty of the moment, though “just of the simplicity of that is very difficult,” he said.
“We are always wanting to do more, to be out there, to do more ministry,” he said. “This is the trap of the elder brother desperately trying to earn the father’s love.”
The prodigal son had no way to earn the love, but the Father loves anyway. What we have to do is be receptive, he said.
Catherine Doherty said once that what you do matters, “but not much,” said Anderson. “She said ‘What you are matters tremendously.’”
Anderson reminds the young people in the program that St. Therese is their peer, not his. Entering a convent at 15, she died at age 24 of tuberculosis. While she lay sick she overheard her sisters saying, “What shall we say about Therese? She hasn’t done anything.” She left behind one book and some letters, said Anderson. Yet, she is a Doctor of the Church.
“She is your peer and don’t let anyone tell you cannot reach the heights of sanctity,” he said he tells them. “The Holy Spirit can teach us something through her life.”
The nine-month formation program provides a lived experience of the little way, in community. “To know the little way you have to walk the little way,” he said. “A pilgrimage is not arriving at the place; it’s the journeying to the place.”
In addition to the rigorous intellectual formation, living in community “provides us with opportunities to do very small things, very hidden things relying on the grace of God.” The fruit is deep peace, deep joy, and the capacity to love, he said.
In opening the Church to the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI summons us to an authentic faith and a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ, Anderson said. “This is a task every believer should make his own.”
When he read about Benedict’s words about the Year of Faith, Anderson said,” I was leaping inside my skin in excitement. This is what we do here.”
“What we study, while very important, is quite secondary to the lived experience of the faith,” he said. “In our way of life, what you do in chapel is no less or more than what you do in the classroom, or at the kitchen sink, or playing a game of pool.”
Born into an Anglican family, Anderson became a Catholic in his late teens and served as a missionary for NET Ministries in the United States, before returning to Canada to study at Trent University in Peterborough for a while. Academics did not interest him that much, so he planned on becoming a carpenter. He decided to try at year at Franciscan University in Steubenville, however, where he became interested in theology. He went on to obtain both a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree.
He married his wife Lisa after graduation and did parish work in the Pittsburgh area, before moving to the Combermere area, where he wrote a fantasy series called “Legacy of the Stone Harp” with Mark Seabank that now boasts two published novels, led retreats, worked in high school chaplaincy and in home-education tutoring, among other ventures, all while trying to live according to Doherty’s little mandate also called the Nazareth way. The position at the Institute draws on all his training and experience, he said.
Almost 75 young men and women have passed through the Institute in the past five years. Redeemer Pacific College, the Catholic College on the campus of Trinity Western University, offers transfer credits as the Institute’s courses are taught at the university level. The Institute is negotiating transfer credits with other universities and looking at adding an additional program year, he said. The Institute also runs nine-day inner healing workshops for adults that follow the traditionally Catholic process of purgation, illumination and unification in shedding obstacles to draw closer to Jesus Christ, he said.