St Theresa Novena 2011 – Day 8 homily

St Therese & Suffering

Each evening, over the past week, we have been focusing on a different aspect of the St. Thérese of the Child Jesus and her spiritual journey to God and with God. This evening our focus is on her suffering – leading to her death.

Each evening, depending on the theme and depending on how we were able to be present, we have been able to tune in to some topics more than others – and according to our experiences in life we have been able to identify with some issues more than others.

This evening’s theme of suffering and death is one I imagine we have all been touched by at one time or another and to differing degrees.

As we live our lives there is very little in this world that we can be sure of – however, death is a reality that no one can escape. When, where or how? – we do not know – we can only know that it will happen.

Although most people seem to live in to their 70s or 80s we know that death does not take account of age. St. Thérese died at the young age of 24 years. This night of 30th September is the anniversary of her death – we celebrate the anniversary of her death on the eve of her Feast Day on 1st October.

For some months before her death, St. Therese had intense suffering – physical suffering from her bodily ailments and also spiritual suffering when God seemed to disappear from her and leave her alone. The intense physical pain was accompanied by the pain of a spiritual darkness.

For someone who tried always to do good – the age-old question arises – why does God allow someone good to suffer like this?

The reality and fact of life is that suffering and periods of struggle are part of every human life just as they were part of St. Thérese’s life.

Jesus told us ‘if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, he/she must take up their cross every day and follow me’. The cross is part of the Christian life just as the resurrection is

One French writer, Blaise Pascal, wrote ‘Christ did not come to do away with suffering, he did not come to explain it but to fill it with his presence.’ Jesus came to be with us in our suffering.

Of course, most of us would prefer a life free form suffering – we might prefer that Christ would just let us have happy times – let us live on a bed of roses……but…..maybe  the rose has a message for us in all of this – there is no rose without thorns! To have the beautiful flower of the rose – the colour – the scent… we have to have the thorns as well.

As we gather in prayer for this Novena of the Little Flower – this Novena of Prayer – the challenge might be – how do I deal with the thorns on the stem of the rose? The flower! I can enjoy looking at it – I can smell it – I can touch the silk petals – that’s the easier part, important as it is too – but the whole plant – the complete stem…must have the thorns …that can prick…be sore… even draw blood. Jesus is offering to be with us in the happy times and the difficult times.

In suffering and difficulties sometimes we have darkness, like St. Therese had, and we find it difficult to feel Jesus’ presence – He tells us that at these times He is carrying us – that is why we think we don’t see Jesus’ footprints alongside our own. It is His that we see and not our own.

Maybe this novena is an opportunity to take time just to imagine Jesus carrying us in His arms.

Six months before St. Therese’s death, she wrote to a friend and said ‘I am not dying, I am entering in to new life’. This was not a denial of her dying – which can sometimes happen to a person – someone can pretend they are going to get better even though they have been told by doctors that the prognosis is not good. For some it seems easier to hope against hope rather than face the reality of dying. For Therese, this was not a denial but an act of faith – she believed in the resurrection and looked forward to being with her God in the fullness of His presence.

Sometimes I think there is a great sense of awe and wonder about the process of dying – just as there is great wonder and awe at the beginning of a life. When a child is born there is great excitement – a new life is beginning – the first gasp of breath – the first crying sound. So too there can be a great sense of wonder about a person’s last breath – especially if the person has lived to a ripe old age and is ready to let go of this world. The difficult yet privileged experience of keeping vigil – keeping company with a dying person and waiting to hear the last breath – a great reminder who is in charge of life and breath.

As we honour the life, suffering and death of St. Therese – let us pray for the gift to be able to die well – often people pray for a happy death.  I believe the happy death is a sharing in the awe and wonder of the new life with God. My parents prayed this prayer – I believe their prayer was answered – my father died at 55 years and my mother at 62 years – both relatively young yet blessed in their dying.

Many and most of us here have experienced grief as we bade farewell to loved ones – often painful grief in our bereavements – may the Lord bless us with the gifts we need at such times.

As we try to live well – to live the ‘little way’ like St. Therese – doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well – let us pray that we will  experience the values of God’s Kingdom – on earth as well as in heaven.