Fr Fergus Tuohy, the SMA Family Vocations Director for Munster, celebrated the Opening Mass of the 2014 National novena in honour of St Therese of Lisieux. The theme of his homily was ‘St Therese at Prayer.
Tuesday – 23 September 2014
The short life of St Thérèse was a LIFE of PRAYER, a life of dedication to God. When we read her life we see a young girl, with little formal education, but very intelligent, who entered the Religious life and has had a great influence on the world today.
During this Novena you will hear about the life of St. Thérèse. This evening I would like to share with you a few thoughts about St. Thérèse and Prayer. Her father often took her, when she was a young girl, to pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel at Carmel. “Look, little one,” pointing to the grille, “behind there are the holy nuns who are always praying”. It was in that chapel nine years later that Thérèse would take the veil.
When she was a young girl, in June 1887, everybody was speaking of the horrible murder of two women and a girl in the Rue Montaigne, Paris, by a man named Pranzini. The assassin showed no sign of repentance and refused all help from religion. Little Thérèse was seized with unbounded compassion. She started to pray for him with all her soul, and begged of God a sign to show that her prayers were answered.
“This is my first sinner, for that reason I ask a sign of repentance for my own consolation”.
Each day she eagerly looked at the paper for news of her protégé. On 1 September she saw the account of his death. Struggling with his executioners and repelling the priest, he was laid on the guillotine. Then all of a sudden, just before the fatal stroke, he asked for the chaplain’s crucifix and kissed it three times. On reading this, little Thérèse had to run out of the room to hide her emotion. She had been given her sign! In her own words: “The lips of my’ first child’ were pressed to the divine wounds: what a sweet response. My desire to save souls increased each day after this wonderful grace”. [Therese of Lisieux, CTS]
Thérèse wanted to be hidden in a Cloister so as to give herself more completely to God. She felt that if she suffered more she would gain more souls for Christ. Thérèse had many wonderful experiences in her life. When she was in Rome she saw the Coliseum, the amphitheatre where so many martyrs had shed their blood. Thérèse, and her sister Celine, slipped through the barricade and climbed amid the excavations and ruins which at times crumbled beneath their feet. They eventually reached a spot where many martyrs had died. Thérèse was deeply moved when her lips touched the spot sanctified by the blood of martyrs. She said: “I asked the grace that I too might be a martyr for Jesus and I felt deep down in my heart that my prayer was heard”. Thérèse said of Prayer: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both TRIAL and JOY”.
Thérèse drew her Spiritual guidance and her consolations from three sources: the DIVINE OFFICE [the prayers, psalms and readings from scripture which form the greater part of the prayer of a Carmelite, offered together with the rest of the Community in their chapel.] Thérèse said, “I can say truly that the Divine Office has been at the same time my Joy and my Martyrdom. For I had a great desire to recite it without fault, yet in spite of all my application I made mistakes”. [Therese, CTS, page 36]
Her second source of inspiration was found in the WRITINGS of St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross [classics of the Carmelite order]. Therese was deeply inspired by these two great saints.
Her greatest source of inspiration came from the GOSPELS. When she entered the Convent she found a little volume of the Four Gospels and she always carried it with her next to her heart. She said, on one occasion, writing to her Mother Prioress, “It is the Gospels which above all occupy my mind during mental prayer. From them I draw everything necessary for my poor little soul. In them I ever discover new lights, hidden and mysterious meanings.”
Thérèse did not have a very easy time. Even in prayer, she experienced darkness and aridity. Even when she had nothing to give she offered Him that Nothing. Even in the religious life she suffered also. Her Final Vows were delayed by nine months and it was a time of darkness for her. During her Retreat, she said, ‘Her Saviour led her by the hand, along a way where it is neither hot nor cold, where the Sun never shines, and into which no wind nor rain find entrance’. She experienced profound peace. She desired only that her darkness would obtain light for sinners. At her Profession, Thérèse declared the reason why she had entered the Convent in Carmel. She said:” I have come to save souls, especially to pray for priests”.
Thérèse followed her LITTLE WAY. She was used to loneliness and Sacrifice. She said that when her mind grew tired she would close the book she was reading and take instead the Holy Scripture. Everything appeared then to her in a new light. Her advice is still very relevant today, “I realise that it is sufficient to recognise one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child in the Arms of God”. Thérèse said, “My whole strength lies in PRAYER and SACRIFICE, these are my invincible arms; they can move hearts far better than words, I know it by experience”.
Speaking later, she said ‘Your arms, O Jesus, shall be the lift that shall raise me to Heaven. For this I have no need of becoming greater. On the contrary, I must be little and become even smaller’.
Thérèse’s whole life was a life of PRAYER – in her daily routine. Whether she was in the laundry or the sacristy, in the garden or in the chapel, whether she was sweeping the passages, cleaning the refectory or working in the kitchen, all these were opportunities for her to show her love for the Heavenly Father.
Thérèse saw each one of her sisters in Religion as another child of her Heavenly Father, who was to be loved. She had a wonderful devotion to all the community in the little things she did. Even the smallest things she did had a supernatural value. Even in the Laundry, while they were doing their washing, the nun opposite her splashed her unnecessarily. Instead of being resentful, Therese welcome it as a little gift she could offer to her Heavenly Father.
She did not use long prayers. To her, prayer was a very simple thing. The lifting of the mind, a cry, a simple glance towards her Heavenly Father – that, to her, was enough. She did this all through the day – not asking God to do what she wanted, but rather asking him from moment to moment to show her what He wanted her to be and to do. This was her daily prayer – surrendering herself and her will to her Heavenly Father. If she fell asleep, she did not worry. A father would never be angry with his child when he falls asleep.
Thérèse did not seek glory. She prayed at her Profession that she might be ‘forgotten by all, trodden underfoot like a grain of sand’. She did things for others that were never known. Thérèse did not judge others.
When I was young I remember I went to church with my mother and father. As we entered the church, my mother would greet her friends, sometimes even sliding into a seat to have a conversation with her friend. I often felt embarrassed at the noise she was making – especially in the church. It took me many years to realise that my mother was praying even when talking to her friends. There is a story told in Judaism about an extremely devout person, a Hasidic Jew, who came to complain to the Rabbi about two men in the back of the synagogue. “Look at them Rabbi – they are talking to each other while they are supposed to be praying”. And the Rabbi replied, “It’s the other way around. Even while they are talking to each other, they are praying. [Rabbi Joseph Gelberman,Zen Judaism, Crossing Press, 2001]
Thérèse said “Prayer is great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus”.
The Little Way of Thérèse, her practical prayers can offer great encouragement to us. As you attend this Novena and learn about Thérèse, you will see that Prayer is an essential ingredient in our lives. On her death bed, Thérèse said: “I am happy, because in Heaven, far more than here, I shall be able to help the souls I love”. On one of her last nights on earth, her sister Celine, [Sister Genevieve] entered the infirmary and found her with hands joined and eyes raised to Heaven. “What are you doing?” she said, “you should try to get a little sleep”. “I cannot sleep”, Therese replied, “I am praying”. “And what are you asking of Jesus?”. “I cannot say anything, I JUST LOVE HIM”.
WE , TOO, CAN JUST LOVE HIM.
Therese of Lisieux [CTS 2002]
 Sacred Refuge, Thomas M.Santa [Ave Maria Press, 2005]