Bishop Tim Carroll SMA, Bishop-emeritus of Kontagora Vicariate, Nigeria, celebrated the Mass for the second night of the 2014 National Novena in honour of St Therese of Lisieux. The theme of his homily was ‘Life of St Therese of Lisieux.
Saints never grow old, their lives and message travel across time, and never loses its freshness. This is especially true of St. Theresa.
She was born on 2 January 1873 to Louis and Zelie Martin, the youngest of 9 children. She was born into a deeply religious family, and grew up in an atmosphere of love and tenderness.
Love is food and drink for all of us. A child deprived of love is damaged for life.
Her mother died of breast cancer when Theresa was only 4 years old, and her senior sisters took over the role of mother.
She adored her father, and the idea of God as a loving Father was an easy transfer for her.
She led a normal childhood like any girl. She loved to go fishing with her father, or walk the fields. She also loved painting, wrote plays, and even wrote poetry.
St. Theresa would have passed into obscurity, and we would have lost forever her little way, her short cut to heaven, were it not for her sister Pauline, her Prioress at the convent. Pauline, no doubt under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, asked Theresa to write down her story.
She entered the convent at Lisieux at the age of 15, and died on 30 September 1897, at the early age of 24, ravaged by T.B. Instead of the usual death notice sent out to other convents, it was decided to gather up her writings, print them, and send them out.
On the first anniversary of her death, on 30 September 1898, two thousand copies of “The Story of a Soul” were printed. It was an instant success, and soon translated into many languages across the world.
When she was canonized and declared a saint in 1925, over 20 million copies of her book were sold in France alone. Little did St. Theresa think that the story of her life – “heaven through the back door,” – we could call it, written under obedience, would be an international best seller.
The story did not end there. An avalanche of miracles all over the world, followed at her intercession, and continue to this day. It was the stamp of approval from God on her little way, on her short cut to heaven.
Many cars today come with GPS, Global Positioning System, a navigation system or map to guide us on our journey. Just key in where you want to go, and follow instructions. Well, St. Theresa has given us her own GPS for heaven. Just key in heaven, and follow her instructions.
Our problem is, we follow our own instructions, and so often take a wrong turn on the road of life. So let’s have a look at her system, as used in her lifetime.
She said, “I want a very straight, very short way to heaven.” She searched the Bible for this short cut, and found it at Nazareth, at the home of the Holy Family. It was so simple and basic.
So let’s go to Nazareth, and see what she found. She realised that the public life of Jesus was 3 short years. He spent 30 long years at Nazareth as the village carpenter’s son, working with St. Joseph, day in day out.
Mary rose early, lit the fire, boiled the kettle for breakfast. After breakfast Jesus and Joseph started into another day in the carpenter’s shed, timber to be cut and planed, or walking the fields together looking at trees for suitable timber.
Mary took her bucket and went to the village well. She cut the vegetables and started into the dinner, calling her two men when dinner was ready. The three of them put their legs under the table and ate together.
Does this sound familiar? Are not these the things our families do every day?
St. Theresa had found her short cut, her road map to heaven. Like the Holy Family, she too would do the ordinary things of every day, and offer them to God in love.
The washing of cups, sweeping and scrubbing the floor, washing and mending clothes, and even a simple smile, or a kind word, all these took on a new meaning.
Praying to Mary she said, “I know that at Nazareth, O Virgin full of grace, you lived poorly, no miracles… but the loving carrying out of daily duties.”
Note: “the loving carrying out of daily duties.”
My favourite picture of St. Theresa is where she wears an apron, her sleeves rolled up. She leans over the sink, with a saucepan in one hand, and a dish cloth in the other. It could be a picture of our mother, sister or any woman. Nowadays, men can also do the washing up.
For St. Theresa, ordinary every day things now became sacred things. She had found at Nazareth her short cut to heaven, her new map.
Let me give an everyday example: If you pour a few drops of blackcurrant juice into a glass of water, it will colour it. We too, like St. Theresa, must pour the colouring of God on the ordinary tasks of every day, by asking God to bless them. We must let his presence seep into, and soak into all we do.
We came to Church this evening to pray, it’s good. But we don’t live here, or eat here, or sleep here. We should not lock God into a Church, or lock him into one hour on a Sunday morning.
We live out our lives in our homes and work places. We must meet God and talk to him in these places.
Like the Holy Family, and like St. Theresa, we must find God among the pots and pans of every day, in the home, in our work places, and out in the fields.
It is no exaggeration to say that St. Theresa’s way to heaven was through the kitchen. Our way, or road to heaven also, begins at our front door, and passes through our kitchen, our homes and work places.
It’s our GPS or road map for heaven, St. Theresa is offering us this map this week, let us take it. Amen.