Monday, 1 October 2012

St Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face


The Catholic church celebrates the feast of St Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face, also known as "the Little Flower" on October 1st of every year. She died on September 30th and traditionally the saint's feast day if held on the following day.

The spread of devotion to St Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the impressive religious manifestations of our time. During her few years on earth this young French Carmelite was scarcely to be distinguished from many another devoted nun, but her death brought an almost immediate awareness of her unique gifts. Through her letters, the word-of-mouth tradition originating with her fellow-nuns, and especially through the publication of Histoire d'un ame, St Thérèse of the Child Jesus or "The Little Flower" soon came to mean a great deal to innumerable people; she had shown them the way of perfection in the small things of every day. Miracles and graces were being attributed to her intercession, and within twenty-eight years after death, this simple young nun had been canonised. In 1936 a basilica in her honor at Lisieux was opened and blessed by Cardinal Pacelli; and it was he who, in 1944, as Pope Pius XII, declared her the secondary patroness of France. "The Little Flower" was an admirer of St Teresa of Avila, and a comparison at once suggests itself. Both were christened Teresa, both were Carmelites, and both left interesting autobiographies. Many temperamental and intellectual differences separate them, in addition to the differences of period and of nationality; but there are striking similarities. They both patiently endured severe physical sufferings; both had a capacity for intense religious experience; both led lives made radiant by the love of Christ. In her autobiography, St Thérèse writes that her personality changed after her mother's death, and from being childishly merry she became withdrawn and shy. While St Thérèse was indeed developing into a serious-minded girl, it does not appear that she became markedly sad. We have many evidences of liveliness and fun, and the oral tradition, as well as the many letters, reveal an outgoing nature, able to articulate the warmest expressions of love for her family, teachers, and friends.

While many saints are celebrated with prayer and special rituals or festivals, a St Thérèse festival appears to be celebrated primarily by simple prayer, spiritual service and kindness to others. "The little way" is her signature, meaning the simple love from the heart and acceptance in communion with God are the most fervent. The rose is her symbol.

Shortly before her death she said: "After my death I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth." Many miracles in her name are accompanied by the presence of or the scent of roses.

It is the twentieth anniversary of my mother's death tomorrow, and St Thérèse of Liseux was in my mother's thoughts and bore a very large influence on her in later years.

St Teresa of Avila had been more influential to my mother in her early life, but in the last three decades it was St Thérèse of Liseux who took precedence.

When I saw my mother (pictured above) in death in the little gothic chapel set in a garden isolated from the funeral director’s office, to place items of devotion in her coffin, I was struck on each occasion when I visted how she remained so completely without any trace of corruption. There was something almost saintly about her as she lay motionless in her coffin, fresh and absent of death’s all too familiar hand. It was difficult to believe she had really gone as I returned in the evenings to lift the lid and view her, but what struck me most was the fragrance of roses.

There were no roses in the small chapel which housed just my mother's coffin. Yet their presence was apparent. Then I remembered how the scent of roses accompanied miracles in the name of St Thérèse.

Like her favourite saints, my mother remained somehow fragrant in death, resisting decomposition until the last, even when I replaced the lid on her coffin in the stone chapel for the last time.

She became the “first person I would anoint and on whose behalf I would recite the prayers for the newly dead, since receiving the mitre.” [The Grail Church, page 102.]

My mother’s funeral was also the first I would conduct in my office as bishop. Sadly, it would not be my last where family and friends are concerned. The funeral was held at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery on the feast day of St Teresa of Avila.

O Father in Heaven, Who through St Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, dost desire to remind the world of the Merciful Love that fills Thy Heart, and the childlike trust we should have in Thee, humbly we thank Thee for having crowned with so great glory Thine ever faithful child, and for giving her wondrous power to bring unto Thee, day by day, innumerable souls who will praise Thee eternally.

St Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, remember thy promise to do good upon earth, shower down thy roses on those who invoke thee and obtain for us from God the graces we hope for from His infinite goodness.

God our Father, You have promised your Kingdom to those who are willing to become like little children. Help us to follow the way of Saint Thérèse with confidence so that by her prayers we may come to know your eternal glory. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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