St Thérèse at Prayer
Fr Malachy Flanagan preached on the first evening of the SMA National Novena in honour of St Thérèse, the Little Flower. Here is an edited version of his homily.
We are here on this first evening of our Novena to St Therese to reflect on St Thérèse at prayer. First of all I want to assure you that St Thérèse is praying for us.
Don’t just think that it is only us who are making this Novena that is praying. No, St Thérèse is praying for us too. And all the petitions and prayers requests made during the Novena – all are made through her intercession and we can sure of her being true to her word of continuing to pray and interceding for us from her place in heaven.
For St Thérèse, prayer is one of the most powerful weapons God has put into our hands. There is power in prayer and St Thérèse believed firmly in this power of prayer. She prayed for people’s requests, she prayed for the conversion of peoples and she prayed for the Missions. For her, prayer is a surge of the heart. It’s a simple look turned towards heaven.
I have chosen two aspects of Prayer to reflect on this evening which were very important to St Thérèse.
The first aspect is that Prayer must come from the heart. She tells us that we do not need to use many words when we pray. But prayer must come from the heart, the deepest part of ourselves.
Over the main altar of the basilica in Assisi in Italy are the words “if the heart is not praying, the tongue labours in vain”. The one part of my body which God gave to me to pray with, is the heart, not the tongue. In Matthew 15:8 we read: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. When I come before God, I can be sure that he looks at the heart and he listens to the heart. If I speak from the heart, I actually speak to the heart.
When I speak of the heart, I am speaking of that part of me where I am most authentic; that part of me that is behind the masks, and the barriers and the games that I play. That part of me that is really me.
Story told of a preacher whose sermons attracted large crowds from far and near. However, during all his sermons, there was an old man who stayed at the one corner of the church, who was seen to be quietly praying his rosary beads. One day the preacher was thanking God for his gift of preaching that drew so many listeners, and seemed to change so many lives. Imagine his surprise when a voice told him, that it was not his sermons that were having the great effect on people. People’s hearts
were being touched and changed because of the prayers of the old man who was praying his rosary in the background.
People’s hearts were touched because the old man’s prayers were from the heart. St Thérèse wants us when we pray, to pray from the heart. Just one year ago when Pope Benedict visited England, the theme of his visit was heart speaking unto heart. This was very much the prayerful attitude of St Thérèse. Prayer is our hearts speaking, communicating with the heart of God. We often hear the phrase – “I had a good heart to heart talk with such person”. In prayer, we are having a heart to heart with God.
The second aspect is that Prayer should be done in a Childlike way with trust and confidence. For St. Thérèse, God was a loving Father and so it was natural for her to turn to Him in a childlike way. She did not have to worry about saying the right thing or using the right words.
She spoke of all the beautiful prayers she read in books and she once said that she couldn’t possibly say all of them and in fact she didn’t know which ones to chose. So she just acted like a child who can’t read. She tells God quite simply, all that she wants to say, and He always understands.
This was so important for St Thérèse. We know that she is known as St Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She got in touch with the child within her and from there she spoke and communicated with God.
At times she was distracted and even slept during prayer but this did not worry her. She says: “Really I should be very upset for having slept so many times during my hours of prayer and thanksgiving after communion – but I am not upset”. She goes on and says that: “Children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as when they are awake”.
St Thérèse wants us when we pray, to pray in a childlike way. God is our father and we are his children. He loves us so much that he can’t take his eyes off us. We need to talk to Him as we would to a parent. Talk as we are, with no pretence, no masks.
So let us follow the example of St Thérèse and put into practice these two aspects of prayer.
And let us remember that in this Novena, St Thérèse is praying with us, praying for us and for our intentions.