Friday, October 1, 2010

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Little Flower

It is lovely that October begins with the Memorial of the Little Flower, our beloved St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She passed into eternity on 30 September 1897. It would be difficult to describe the impact she has had on the lives of so many people in the span of less than a century. Come to think of it, it would be difficult to describe her impact on my life. Along with St. Martin of Tours, St. Stephen, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (a.k.a. Édith Stein), St. Mary Magdalen, and (a very special friend of mind) St. Gianna Molla, she is a presence in my life. I am always moved by Édith Piaf's devotion to her. In fact, the Little Flower cured her from blindness when Edith was seven, even before she was canonized.

Piaf, the famous French chanteuse, lived something of a dissolute and unhappy life. She was born under difficult circumstances and was raised in a brothel, where her maternal grandmother was the madam. One of the women who worked there took an interest in little Édith and taught her devotion to the Little Flower, to whose protection and intercession Edith entrusted herself throughout her tumultuous life. So, it is easy for me to imagine how much affection and tenderness the Little Flower must have for her dear Édith, being so moved by her great need. I cried the night that Marion Cotillard, who portrayed Edith in the amazing film La Vie en Rose, won the Academy Award for best actress because all Édith Piaf ever wanted was to be loved, which caused her to take tremendous risks and to pay a high price. I thought of how loved she was that night. I hoped that she, with her beloved Little Flower, were looking down.

The Little Flower was formally raised to the altar on 17 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Like all people of true sanctity from the beginning of the Church, the Little Flower was venerated before she was formally canonized, the veneration being the cause of her canonization. While I am not a big fan of popes canonizing popes, the cries of "Santo Subito" issuing forth from the lips of millions at the death of our dear Papa Wojtyla, are quite compelling.

So, in answer to a question posed to me yesterday about how to pray, I offer the response of a Doctor of the Church:

"For me, prayer is a movement of the heart; it is a simple glance toward Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus. . . . I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers.... I do like a child who does not know how to read; I say very simply to God what I want to say, and He always understands me."

Among those who wrote about and/or openly discussed their devotion to the Little Flower, in addition Édith Piaf, are Papa Luciani, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Jack Kerouac, and Jean Vanier.

So, our traditio today certainly befits the start of a month as auspicious as October- Édith Piaf singing The Hymn to Love- L'Hymne à l'amour

I certainly ask her intercession as the deacons of the Diocese of Salt Lake City go on retreat, beginning this afternoon. Besides, I have Deacon (Dr.) Owen Cummings to thank for so closely associating the Little Flower with Édith Piaf in my heart and even for opening my heart to them in the first place. I am truly grateful because if there is no concreteness to what I believe, then it becomes just so many nice thoughts. Prior to my ordination retreat, when he spoke of my dear Édith in relation to the Little Flower, I had no devotion to St. Thérèse at all. It was at this same retreat I was introduced to the need we all have of building a community of the heart, to which Édith Piaf and St. Thérèse both belong.

St. Thérèse, Little Flower, pray for us.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

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