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Few writings survive from John Paul I’s life, especially as his pontificate only lasted a little over a month. In order to understand this joyous pope more fully, we need to look at his time as the Patriarch of Venice and read the various writings that are left to us.
One of these treasures is a compilation of letters he wrote between 1971 and 1975 for the Catholic newspaper Messaggero di S. Antonio. In it he wrote to a variety of characters, including historical figures, authors and saints.
Among the letters to saints is a charming letter to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In it he recalls, “I was seventeen when I read your autobiography [Story of a Soul].”
John Paul I goes on to say how much it impacted his life:
For me it was like a bolt from the blue. “Story of a little flower” you called it. To me it seemed the story of a “steel bar” because of the willpower, the courage, and the decision that shone from it.
Way of love
For the rest of the letter, John Paul I reflects on St. Thérèse’s little “way of love”:
I am impressed now by the way in which you loved God and your neighbor…You call your path the “way of love”…Loving your neighbor, you drove yourself to render little services, useful but unobserved, and to prefer, when possible, the people who irked you and had least in common with you. Behind their not very likable faces, you sought the lovable face of Christ.
John Paul I was very inspired by St. Thérèse’s life and lifted her up as an example that everyone should follow.
He ended his letter with a beautiful paragraph tying all of his thoughts together:
Thérèse, the love you bore God (and your neighbor, out of love of God) was truly worthy of Him. So our love must be: a flame that is fed on everything great and beautiful in us, that renounces everything rebellious in us; a victory that takes us on its own wings and carries us, as a gift, to the feed of God.