Dromantine Novena 2012 – Day 1
Sr Carmel Clarke of Glenvale Carmelite Convent, Newry, Co Down spoke at the first day of the Novena in honour of St Thérèse in the African Missions, Dromantine, Newry. The following is the text of her remarks.
What if Kennedy had avoided Dallas? Gone instead to A Town Like Alice?
What if de Gaulle had missed his chance? Never said Vive La France?
What if Dr King had failed to sing? Not caused the freedom bells to ring?
What if the world had never heard of Good Pope John the Twenty Third?
In this except from The Wave More Prayers from Life, Fr Michael Maginn writes this poem What If for the Sixties generation.
On the 24th June this year feast of St John the Baptist our parish priest, Canon Boyle began his sermon by referring to the pictures of St Therese that appear on the walls in our chapel each year at the time of her feast day. He said What If she had never been born? What if John the Baptist had never been born?
Tonight we will explore some of those what ifs in the life of Therese and in our own lives.
What if Therese, the 9th child of Louis and Zelie had never been born? What if this delicate child had died in infancy, like her two brothers and two of her sisters before her? What would the world have missed? For one thing we would not be here tonight. But let us explore more.
Therese was a great story teller, mimic and lover of nature. But what if her sisters had not asked her to write down her memories of childhood, her understanding of what she termed herself her Little Way and her account of life in the convent and her efforts at charity. We would not have this incredible book The Story of a Soul which has sold millions of copies and is translated into countless languages. A simple request by her sisters had a massive knock-on effect and a ripple for good that goes on and on.
Therese, from her own memory and from her mother’s and sister’s letters weaves a story of a precious child who nearly died, like two of her sisters and her two brothers before her. Her mother Zelie had to part with her baby and let her go to a nurse in the country to be fed and nourished back to life. Today we have parents entrusting their babies and children to doctors and nurses in hospitals all over the world to be nursed back to life and health and they sit by bedsides day and night watching and praying and agonising and willing their child to live and have a good quality of life.
We know some of them and we agonise with them, pray for them and admire their selflessness.
From today’s Gospel we know what Jesus thought of little children. He put his arms around them and said to his disciples who were clambering for position. Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me.
Therese, the blue-eyed blond returned home from the country, precocious, lively, very touchy, stubborn and capable of violent outbursts of temper. Her mother writing about her to her sister said she was a nervous child, but adds with the typical love of a mother to excuse her child: and we have often heard this from mothers: but she is very good and very intelligent! Mothers have tremendous capacities for seeing the good and for unconditional love. And mothers please go on loving and making excuses.
However what if her parents had not corrected her? Therese recognised that with a nature such as her own, that had she been reared by parents without virtue or if she had been spoiled she would have become very bad and perhaps have been lost. Young people, recognise that you owe a debt of gratitude to parents who loved you enough to train and direct you to do the right thing. The potential, as Therese recognised, for good or evil is in all of us and we need guidance and direction.
What if Therese’s mother had not died of cancer when she was only four?
Zelie Martin the loving wife and mother and successful lace maker com business woman left behind five daughters when she died of cancer, the youngest Therese was only four years. Yes we know similar stories, repeated so often when a parent today dies of cancer or of some other serious illness. Why is a parent taken so young when family needs them?
Therese writes of the suffering of loss. Just as the flowers of spring begin to grow under the snow to expand in the first rays of the sun, so the little flower whose memories I am writing had to pass through the winter of trial. The touching ceremony of the last anointing is deeply impressed on my mind. I can still see the spot where I was by Celine’s side. All five of us were lined up according to age and papa was there too sobbing. I did not speak to anyone about the feelings I experienced. I looked and listened in silence. My happy disposition completely changed after Mama’s death. I, once so full of life became timid and retiring, sensitive to an excessive degree. These were powerful memories from a childhood experience of deep loss. These sentiments will find an echo in our memories here tonight of deep loss and pain at some stage in our own lives.
Therese adored her father and she says I continued to be surrounded with the most delicate tenderness. Our father’s very affectionate heart seemed to be enriched now with a truly maternal love.
Like many a single parent he now had to take on the role of father and mother to his young family. Louis decided to leave Alencon and go to live in Lisieux to be near Zelies brother and family.
Therese settled into the home in Lisieux, surrounded by and cared for by her father and sisters. She was hypersensitive and cried a lot and then cried because she cried! She was devastated when she heard her sister Pauline, who was a second mother to her, was going to enter the Carmelite Monastery. Her sense of loss caused her to become critically ill and she seemed to be losing her reason. Therese, in hindsight describes this experience so well. She knew she was very ill and unreasonable and yet she was powerless to help herself. It was through earnest imploring prayer to Our Lady that she was eventually cured. Again it is good to bear in mind the need for prayer and the power of prayer in our own lives and the lives of others.
Therese was unhappy at school. Because she was bright and often first in her class she suffered the jealousy of an older girl. She tried to hide this when she came home from school but eventually it became known and she was sent for private tuition. Unfortunately children today do not have that option and often have to continue to endure bullying at school. Let us be sensitive to the pain of children.
Therese however was daring and sometimes acted dangerously as she and Celine did, when on their trip to Rome with their father, the two girls went through the barriers and down the incline to the floor of the Coliseum to kiss the spot where the martyrs died. She was also daring when she defied a regulation not to speak to the Pope when they passed by, greeting him, on that same trip. Brave Therese disregarding the regulation, spoke and asked him if she could enter Carmel at the age of 15. His reply that she would if God willed it, did not leave her consoled and she had to persevere in her desire and determination despite all the obstacles. There were other incidents on that pilgrimage to Rome when she went places and did things which were out of bounds and a comment about herself was that she was very brazen!
What if she had not that opportunity to go to Rome at the age of 14? She says We were lodged in princely hotels. Never before had I been surrounded with so much luxury. There is no mistake about it, riches do not bring happiness, joy is not found in material objects surrounding us but in the inner recesses of the soul. One can possess joy in a prison cell as well as in a palace.
This is a profound statement from one so young and yet the young have an ability to see to the depths of things and to be idealistic.
Recently I met someone who had spent a while in prison and I was amazed at the ability of that person to reflect on life and see things in perspective. He realised the power of prayer and one of his great friends there, was St Therese. Yes the saints are our friends, whether it is Therese, Bernadette, Martin de Pores or Anthony. They can help us and intercede for us in our needs and no one more so than Our Lady who acts like the best of mothers and want our good and to lead us to Jesus and to heaven.
This young girl had a growing sense of what she wanted to do in life and that was to enter the Carmelite Convent but that was not because her sister Pauline, and later Marie, were there but for Jesus.
What if Therese had wanted to become a teacher as she had the ability for that or even an actress because she was talented on stage as we later discovered in her portrayal of Joan of Arc in a community play? She certainly could have become a writer and made her mark in the literary world. However Jesus had captivated Therese’s heart from a young age and her life was to be for Him alone in the obscurity of a Carmelite convent, which she never left once she entered there.
She returned from Rome and eventually at the age of 15 years and 3months entered the Carmel in Lisieux. Suffering opened wide its arms to me and I threw myself into them with love. I came to save souls and especially to pray for priests. When one wishes to attain a goal one must use the means. Jesus made me understand that it was through suffering that He wanted to give me souls.
We know what attaining goals means (and not just in All Ireland finals!) We see athletes train and train and endure hardship and pain to get the medals. We know that in business there is sacrifice and hardship in order to be successful. We know farmers have to endure cold and wet and perseverance to plant and reap and produce a harvest. To obtain the success, we endure the hardship.
What if Therese was not interested in saving souls and just wanted to save herself? Her life could have been selfish and self centred. But Therese was born for more and she responded at every opportunity to what God wanted for her life. Exteriorly nothing revealed my suffering. What a surprise we shall have at the end of the world when we shall read the story of souls, she writes.
We meet people every day. They come in their need and worry and often without realising it, reveal the depth of their faith and their love – parents, grandparents, friends, neighbours. Suffering knocks on everyone’s door at some stage and calls forth the depths of the God-life in us. It can make us bitter or beautiful and we have met many a beautiful soul beneath a suffering heart. We have met many a shining face covering a grief- stricken heart and realise they walk the way of the cross with Jesus and stand with Our Lady on that way, bearing the pain she felt on seeing her Son mocked , scourged and crucified and unable to do anything except be there in love.
We, and all of you have met saints.
During the Eucharistic Congress in June we heard a lady called Catherine Wiley talk of an association of Grandparents that she has formed. A grandparent herself, she knows the anguish of seeing some of her family no longer interested in Church, Mass or sacraments. She wants to encourage and support grandparents in passing on the faith in whatever way they can.
Therese applied herself to practicing little virtues, not having the capability of practicing the great.
She had an interesting idea in that she wanted to console Jesus rather than look for consolation from him as most of us do. She saw him as sleeping in her little boat.
Liam Lawton in his new book poses the question of where God hides and concludes that more often than not he hides in the human heart. Patrick Kavanagh the great Monaghan poet, beneath a rough and gruff exterior, revealed in his poetry a heart in tune with God. In Beyond the Headlines he writes Only they who fly home to God have flown at all. Or who saw God down in the swamps and marshes. Where does God hide for you? Maybe this is a question we can ask ourselves this week of this Novena. Where is God hiding?
The five Martin girls suffered intensely when their beloved father had to go to a mental hospital and Therese writes in detail about this in the Story of a Soul. Stricken with TB she writes about her own dark night of faith, her doubts and her difficulties and her understanding of the temptation of suicide in the face of intense suffering. Yet this young loving soul clung to Jesus and to his promise of eternal life.
She died at the age of 24, unknown beyond the convent walls and known only by some relatives and friends.
One Sister in the community even wondered what Mother Prioress could write about her in the obituary notice, as she did nothing significant!
What if God did not hide himself in the heart of Therese?
What if Therese had not written her own soul-story at the request of her sisters?
What if Therese had never been born?