On the first of October, I went to Mass at the Carmelite Monastery in Melbourne for the feast day of St Therese of Lisieux, the Doctor of the Church known as The Little Flower. Arriving on the dot at 10:30 am, I was surprised to find the chapel packed to the rafters. I was ushered to stand in the centre aisle. Looking around, I saw people lining up both the side aisles. It was a most impressive sight.
It was hard concentrating on the homily while standing in the crowded chapel, but I took away one thing from Archbishop Denis Hart (who promised that his homily would be brief given that so many of us had nowhere to sit!) St Therese loved to read the gospels. She said that when we read and re-read the Gospel stories, there is always new insight and meaning to be gained. I have been realising the importance of this one thing more and more in recent times.
St Therese was my favourite saint when I was 11 years old. My sister, Gertrude, then a Carmelite nun, gave me a holy picture of her with the words, 'I rejoice to be little, because only children and those who are like them will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.' This was one of my childhood treasures and it still sits on my bedside table. Gradually, Therese stopped occupying that position as I grew past the age of 24 years, the age at which she died of tuberculosis. I felt that she could no longer understand what I was going through to be able to help me. How wrong is that? Jesus died at 33 years of age.
As I grow older still, I hear some people say that she had neurotic traits, (perhaps her losing her mother at the age of four could explain this), this put me off at times, but in the moments when I feel neurotic myself, it warmed her to me. When I heard that she had doubts in the days before her death, not just little doubts but great doubts, it made her even more real to me than when she was this perfect saint. In The Impact of God by Fr Iain Matthew, I came across this:
"And now all of a sudden, the mists around me have become denser than ever; they sink deep into my soul and wrap it round so that I can't recover the dear image of my native country any more – everything has disappeared. I get tired of the darkness all around me...I hear its mocking accents; "It's all a dream, this talk of a heavenly country, bathed in light, scented with delicious perfumes, and of a God who made it all, who is to be your possession for eternity! You really believe, do you, that the mist which hangs about you will clear later on? All right, all right, go on longing for death! But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will only mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence."
Back in the Carmelite Monastery, we managed to receive Holy Communion without too much chaos. Those who had seats to return to had received a rose, which had been placed on each seat. After receiving Holy Communion, the woman behind me and I walked to the back of the church instead of to our original place in the middle of the centre aisle. She wanted to get a rose very much. I wanted a rose too, but even more than that I wanted to sing my beloved hymn, To Live by Love, which I get to sing only once a year on this feast day at the Monastery. So I sang while many around me made a mad rush to the sanctuary in the hopes of receiving a rose from the two nuns who were handing out the last of them. I went along with the tide of people and reached the altar. There was not enough for everyone; I certainly knew I wouldn't get one, but I have received one every year in the past, so it didn't matter so much to me.
I wondered at this madness to get a rose. It's value for us likely lies in the hope of the blessings St Therese promises. I thought of another rose, The Rose, a favourite song by Bette Midler.
Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower and you, it's only seed
It's the heart, afraid of breaking that never learns to dance
It's the dream, afraid of waking that never takes the chance
It's the one who won't be taken who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying that never learns to live.
We have an endless aching need for love, for God. We are the seed that can grow and blossom like The Little Flower into the beautiful flower, the rose. A rose withers and dies but if we nourish the seed that God plants in our heart, it will bloom and never die.
Susie Hii is a CLC member and author of Happy, Healthy, Holy