“Saint Thérèse is very Lutheran when she speaks of grace”

Protestant, how did you discover Saint Thérèse of Lisieux?

Karin Johannesson: I grew up in a Lutheran family, we went to church. There was a bookshop in our neighborhood run by the publishing house of the Free Churches of Sweden, and we must believe that they liked the saints of Carmel because they sold the books of Thérèse as well as Swedish Carmelites who had written about her. . I discovered this literature when I was 16. A friend of the family, a priest in the Church of Sweden, also subscribed to the Carmelite magazine, so I naturally thought that if you wanted to read something on spirituality, you should go to the Carmelite side.

At the beginning, I was not a big fan of Saint Thérèse, I found that it was a lot about flowers and small things… But later, when I was an adult, I followed a retreat in silence during from which the preacher evoked his spirituality. I dove into His last conversations, and I discovered the heart of his teaching, the depth of his spirituality. I also realized that his teaching on grace was very similar to what I knew in the Lutheran tradition: “All is grace”, that echoed. I realized that she could teach me a lot about how to see grace at work in ordinary life. That’s how it all started.

Would you say that Thérèse is in some way Protestant?

KJ: In a way, yes! I gave courses on the theology of Martin Luther, for whom all is grace, and I realized that Thérèse teaches the same thing. Certain Protestant and Catholic theologians also say that Saint Thérèse is the Catholic response to Martin Luther and his battles.

Do you pray with her? This would seem very contradictory with the Protestant tradition…

KJ: Indeed… I pray with her in the sense that I read her books, I reflect every day on a quote from her writings. Sometimes, too, I experience that she takes care of me. It’s quite unusual for a Lutheran, but every now and then little things happen in my daily life that solve bigger problems. Or else I say to myself: “Hey, I read that somewhere in Thérèse and now it’s happening.” It’s in this sense that I wonder if she isn’t taking care of me… In any case, it makes me think.

On the other hand, I do not ask him to pray for me; it’s not part of my Lutheran spirituality, but I have an icon by my bed representing his whole family. I also went to Lisieux because I wanted to visit its places. I think a lot about her, what she would do, what she would say in such a situation. In this sense, Thérèse is a friend.

Are you an exception in the Protestant world?

KJ: When I give teachings in Sweden and talk about Saint Teresa, I realize that quite a few Lutheran priests have read her writings. But I must be the only one to believe that she takes care of me. Most Lutherans in Sweden would say that they simply find inspiration in his writings.

At the beginning of autumn, we participated with the Catholic diocese in a common study day in Uppsala on Carmelite spirituality. I think we have a lot to learn from doctors of the Church who come from Carmel. We have to learn from them how to talk to people about spirituality, how to help Swedes find a spiritual life, a way of praying… People are thirsty, they are searching. Very often, it is not in churches that they go, but in yoga classes. The saints of Carmel have made a way for prayer. Thérèse, in particular, has a way of seeing God in everything, in the care of ordinary little things, which can help us.

What can it bring to non-believers today?

KJ: She helped me to trust, to come before God empty-handed, without wanting to do everything on my own. You can present yourself as a little child and Christ will help you, he will do things for you and in you… Thérèse also has a natural way of speaking with Christ, of incarnating him in life. That’s what we need today: not too much thinking, not too much reading, but practice.

Does his “little way” of spiritual childhood inspire you?

KJ: In my sermons, I often evoke Thérèse’s Christmas grace, this miracle by which she experienced that God was helping her to overcome her emotional reactions. We think miracles should be amazing, but this one was simple and wonderful grace. What we need is to open ourselves to graces of this type: Christ helps us to surpass ourselves. For Martin Luther, it is precisely the fruit of grace: it shifts our attention from ourselves to our neighbour. This is exactly what happened to Thérèse, she turned away from herself to go outwards, towards others.

Can she be a figure of unity for Christians?

KJ: I really believe that. She who said she wanted to respond to all vocations ended up finding her place “in the heart of the Church”: the vocation to charity. This speaks to many Christians of different denominations, in my opinion: they realize that there is a heart in the Church, and if you find that heart, you find unity in Christ.

“Saint Thérèse is very Lutheran when she speaks of grace”