I Believe In Love
Friday Book Pick: I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée
C.S. Lewis once said, “I can't imagine really enjoying a book and reading it only once,” and with this sentiment I wholeheartedly agree. Today’s “book pick” has been read and reread by me—times beyond counting. I Believe in Love by Father Elbée, a faithful son of Saint Thérèse, is an exposition of the Little Flower’s doctrine, and thus an exposition of the very heart of the Gospel—in a clear and inspiring way.
I Believe in Love is organized as a personal retreat based on the teachings of St. Thérèse—not the type of book I am typically attracted to. I would be more inclined to pick up St. Thérèse’s writings directly—going straight to the source. Naturally, I have read her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, and plenty of other Thérèsian literature over the decades and yet, this journey through St. Thérèse’s doctrine with Fr. Elbée is the book I go back to.
Published first in French in 1969 and then in English in 1974, this classic provides a framework for spiritual renewal. All the tenets of the Gospel are here and put forth in a compelling way—in a way that makes you believe in the Gospel message as it pertains to you personally.
Beginning in the first chapter with the topic of love (for as St. Thérèse said, “It is love alone that counts”), Fr. Elbée takes the doctrine of Saint Thérèse and teaches it through the lens of the Gospel. “What I have told you, you know by heart. It is the Gospel, nothing else. You have learned it since your childhood. You have grown up deepening your understanding of these mysteries. But we do not read the Gospel enough in the light of the love of Christ.” As a good teacher and retreat director, Father also nestles the teaching into the current situation of modern man. “In our modern time when hatred is spreading in the world in a terrifying way, we must withstand its assaults, its inundating waves, with a rampart of love.” He magnifies St. Thérèse’s teaching, and it shines luminously through Father’s pastoral lens.
Humble confidence, a mainstay of the spirituality of the Little Flower, is a well-developed topic of the book. With compelling stories and numerous references to the New Testament, Fr. Elbée offers a solution to the malignant problem of unworthiness and discouragement suffered by legions of the faithful. “Jesus gives us peace in proportion to our confidence in Him, to the extent that we do not doubt that it is He who saves us, He who purifies us, He who makes us beautiful, He who says to us, ‘This very day you shall be with me in Paradise’(Lk 23:43). ‘Begin your Paradise with me right now because you have understood that I am the Savior and that I came to earth to give men the peace of my Heart, the Heaven of my Heart here below.’”
So important to St. Thérèse is this theme of confidence that Father devotes two chapters to this fundamental topic. He asserts that confidence is the very heart of the doctrine of St. Thérèse, quoting from a letter of the Saint from 1896 in which she writes, “it is confidence and nothing but confidence which will lead us to love,” and love is everything. This doctrine of confidence is truly otherworldly because the confidence taught here is in the Other, not in self. The remedy for both self-love and self-hate end up being the same medicine: unshakable confidence in the saving love of God.
In chapter after chapter with a simplicity and eloquence, Fr. Elbée illuminates the dispositions and attitudes of a soul being conformed to Christ. This book is a guide to holiness. Sometimes when a book is this good, and potentially life-changing, you yearn to get to know the author, to listen to his talks, go to his retreats, read other books by him, and while we can presume that Fr. Elbée has made his final journey to Heaven by now, it is really the heart of Jesus he puts His reader in touch with. In reading Father’s words on St. Thérèse, neither the Priest nor the Saint shine through these pages as Jesus does. Jesus Himself speaks His words of love and shines His radiant light through this book that I hope will be reread for ages to come.
Mother Clare, CFR