2014 St Therese Novena, Cork – Day 7

Fr Denis Collins celebrated and preached at the seventh of the National Novena in honour of St Therese at St Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork. The theme of his homily was ‘St Therese and Our Lady.’

Monday, 29 September 2014

In her welcoming address on the opening night of our Novena last Tuesday, the chairperson of the Parish Assembly mentioned the great and long-standing tradition there is here of the annual Novena in honour of St. Therese, Patroness of the Missions.

It has proved to be a very popular Novena and we have reflected over the years on the life and spirituality of this wonderful saint. What else can be said about her that hasn’t been said already and often? How does she continue to stir our Faith and our devotion? She is like a multi-faceted diamond, and the more we study her the more we find to admire about her. Over the course of the Novena I’m sure you have found that despite the varied themes chosen there is always some overlapping and interconnection with what is said on other evenings and there is an interplay of the light which makes our saint more radiant.

Our theme this evening is “St. Therese and Our Lady”. We have a very convenient ready-made visual aid if you look at the screen with the image of St. Therese and directly beneath it the statue of Our Lady. I think it is very appropriate also that this evening the music and singing are led by the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, combining the Patroness of the Missions and the apostles of our own era with Our Blessed Lady.

As a Carmelite Sister, naturally Therese would have had devotion to our Heavenly Mother as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Patroness of the Carmelite Order. The Carmelites see in the Blessed Virgin Mary a perfect model of the interior life of prayer and contemplation to which Carmelites aspire, a model of virtue, as well as the person who was closest in life to Jesus Christ. She is seen as the one who points Christians most surely to Christ, saying to all what she says to the servants at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you.” Carmelites look to the Virgin Mary as a Spiritual Mother. There is mention also in her autobiography of an occasion when as a young girl she was quite sick at home and that as she looked at a statue of Our Lady at the foot of her bed the Lady smiled and Therese was cured. We recall the fact that Therese’s natural mother had already died at that stage. But her writings do not express any overwhelming devotion to Mary, certainly not to the same extent as other saints such as Sts. Louis-Marie de Montfort, Bernard, Maximilian Kolbe, Alphonsus Liguori, Padre Pio and others. St. Therese doesn’t have a reputation for such devotion.

American President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in 1910 in which he said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again,

Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

DARING GREATLY; While allowing for the fact that the unknown hero referred to in the speech is masculine, I wish to apply the words to St. Therese and Our Lady. In the case of Mary, she was a young woman at the historic moment in history when she gave her consent, her Fiat, her “Be it done unto me according to your word” to God, to be Mother of the Messiah, the Saviour, the Son of God. Her Faith, her humility, her placing herself completely and with full assurance into the hands and plans of God without really knowing the implications, her attributing it all to the credit of God in her “Magnificat” shows us wonderful commitment and loving trust in God on her part and a courage that surely merits being a great act of Daring Greatly.

We have the young Therese at about the same age as Mary committing herself and pursuing at great length and with great and remarkable determination her desire to become a Carmelite and dedicate herself entirely to God for the salvation of souls.

St. Paul speaks of glorying in his weakness, “for when I am weak, then am I most strong.” St. Therese was very aware of her weakness, the flaws and cracks in her make-up and temperament and in her efforts to please God. But she was not discouraged nor disappointed, instead she clung more tightly to her loving Heavenly Father and thereby became a saint. She was Daring Greatly. Her vulnerability became her strength. Mary, mindful of her own lowliness, acknowledged that the Lord had done great things for her.

In our own lives too there are weaknesses, failings, sins. So often we are trying to impress, we wonder what other people think of us, we want to do everything so perfectly that we hold back until the perfect moment when we’ve put it all together and what happens? – nothing happens! We never get started! “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” A 20-minute walk that I actually do is better than the four-mile run that I don’t do. The imperfect writing that gets published is better than the perfect manuscript that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of take-away Chinese food is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.

Leonard Cohen in one of his songs entitled “Anthem” has this consoling and heartening line: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

President John F. Kennedy wrote a book entitled “Profiles in Courage” and in it he outlines the careers of a number of American politicians who down through the years had risked their political lives, if not indeed their actual lives, by standing their ground and appealing for reforms and seeking human rights for others. Without wishing to get implicated in politics, on the home front here in Ireland we had someone of the calibre of Lucinda Creighton who forfeited her political career by voting according to her conscience.

We can be and we are called to make choices and decisions. We can choose to opt out, to let things flow and not rock the boat. We can seek for the truth and the good, not for fame, glory or advantage but because of our honest and sincere convictions and thereby become very vulnerable. It calls for courage and for daring greatly and seeking the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, who was so effective and influential in the lives of Mary and Therese.

Many people are fascinated by celebrities of one kind or another. Maybe unwittingly people are craving for the attention that stardom seems to offer, something way beyond the ordinary simple life of honest day-to-day living. There are also the ”soapies” which can captivate people. Our lives can insidiously and even unconsciously be influenced and moulded by a constant supply and feeding on what is presented in these programmes. For the most part, the characters don’t know how to speak civilly to one another (and that in a family or domestic context); there is bickering, shouting, snarling, taking advantage of others, sniping at neighbours.

In our Irish society much has changed, and unfortunately not all for the good. There is a great sense of impatience – everything has to be instant, there can be no delay for my precious time. There is a lack of tolerance, evidenced by the honking of horns even when someone is obviously in trouble, road rage, swearing and finger salutes. Common simple courtesies like saying “Please” and “Thank you” seem to have gone off the radar altogether. These polite dealings with one another stem from respect for oneself and for one another. They are very much an integral part of our Irish and Christian heritage. The nursery for their sowing and growing is the Christian home.

May the family life of Mary at Nazareth and the family life of the Martin family of St. Therese at Lisieux be the model of all our lives as a blessed fruit of this Novena. Let us be DARING GREATLY.