Saturday, October 31, 2009

On the eve of All Hallows, we turn to the Little Flower

Today marks the day in 1887 when fourteen year-old Thérèse Martin, after asking for and receiving her father's permission to enter the convent, which her three older sisters had already done, that she spoke with Bishop Hugonin to receive his permission. She made an appointment to speak with the bishop after being denied permission by her pastor. Prior to meeting with her parish priest she spoke to the superior of the convent, who told her that she could not enter until she turned twenty-one. The bishop told her that it would be up to the convent's superior, the same one who requested that she wait. Of course, Thérèse died on 30 September 1897 aged 24.

Undaunted, the young Thérèse went to Rome on pilgrimage with her father and during an audience with Pope Leo XIII, received his reluctant blessing to enter. I always find this story remarkable because it is easy to see how those involved probably found this young woman impertinent and annoying. In retrospect, it is clear that God was calling her. She found out that she was granted permission to enter the Carmel on 2 January 1888, her fifteenth birthday. I also find it remarkable that the Little Flower is one of only three women doctors of the Church, along with Sts. Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila- Catherine a third order Dominican and Teresa a Carmelite, responsible for reforming the order to which Thérèse belonged.
apropos of Halloween, St. Thérèse as St. Jean d'Arc
I think this passage from her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, gives great insight into why Pope John Paul II named her a doctor:

"I understand that Our Lord's love is revealed as well in the simplest soul who doesn't resist His grace in anything, as in the most sublime of souls. In fact, since the essence of love is to bring oneself low, if every soul were like the souls of the holy Doctors who have shed light on the Church through the clarity of their doctrine, it seems that God wouldn't come down low enough by coming only as far as great hearts. But He created the child who doesn't know anything and only cries weakly, He created poor primitive persons who only have natural law as a guide - and it is to their hearts that He consents to come down: Here are wildflowers whose simplicity delights Him..."
How can anyone read such words and not be filled gratitude and love? This is why the Little Flower, along with St. Francis, is the most beloved of the saints. In her book, which saved my life last winter, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life, Kathleen Norris mentioned that her late husband intermittently worked on translating the little plays Thérèse wrote for the sisters to perform. How I would love to read these!

Reading from The Story of a Soul last night was all the more powerful for me because I was reading from the book that belonged to my dear friend Sara before she entered to the convent to take the veil as Christ's bride, though she is postulant.

Edith Piaf, the great French singer, whose life was certainly dissolute, largely due to her troubled upbringing, much of which took place in the brothel where her grandmother was madam, was greatly devoted to the Little Flower. At one point in her childhood Piaf became blind due to keratitis. The prostitutes pooled their money to send her on a pilgrimage to St. Thérèse. She was healed, her sight restored. While never a church-goer, in every city she visited, Piaf would seek out a shrine to the Little Flower and ask her for her prayers. I can only imagine the great affection Thérèse has for her dear Edith and the unfailing advocacy of her intercession to Christ and His Blessed Mother for this wayward soul, who was often lost and confused. Our Little Flower understood well that the object of authentic love is "the good of another, the destiny of another," her relationship with Christ, who loves us so much that we are utterly incapable of fathoming it because His love for us is infinite. His infinite love is the only thing capable of satisfying us because our desire, from which arises our great need, is bigger than the world!

Today is All Hallows eve. All Hallows (i.e., All Saints) is the grand feast with which we begin this glorious month on the Christian calendar, dedicated to remembering our beloved dead, which inevitably leads us to consider our own mortality. It is also the month of my own birth. So, along with St. Thérèse, I invoke, as I always do, the intercessions of my two great patrons, Sts. Stephen and Martin, along with my friends St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Gianna Molla, St. Mary Magdalene, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, who I ask to pray to the Lord our God for me and those who have been placed on my heart.

Even if you've been intermittent, or completely remiss praying the rosary this month, pray it today, the last day of the month of the rosary, meditating on the Joyful mysteries.

Veni Sancti Spiritus, veni per Mariam.

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