Thursday, September 29, 2016
I love this photo of Saint Therese after her death , September 30, 1897. The first time I saw this before I entered Carmel, I was so struck by the peace that was reflected on her face that one would not know how much suffering she endured in the many months she was afflicted with TB.
This photo shows Therese with a crown of flowers symbolizing her status as a Spouse of Jesus Christ. It also symbolized the crown of victory she now enjoys in heaven after the battle of earthly life. It echoes St. Paul's words, "death where is your victory, death where is your sting?" In St. Therese's time and even now in some Carmelite monasteries, a Carmelite nun is placed in a flower-laden bed of brown or black cloth after death and laid out in the choir for family and friends to see. The choir is usually with a grille so the public can only see the body but not touch it. Her face was partially turned to the right and one could see a sweet smile on her face. I do not belong to an enclosed Community but when God calls me back to Himself, I will also be laid with a crown of flowers. The day of St. Therese's death, September 30, 1897, she suffered the agony which made her exclaim, "I never thought it possible to suffer as much as this." She was weak and parched, her pain caused by the severe coughing, caused her to gasp for air. Her Sisters had to pull her up, with Therese's arms on each of their shoulders in the form of a cross. She was experiencing the darkest of her nights where God seemed to be absent. She was reliving the agony of Jesus on the Cross and experiencing the spiritual abandonment He experienced. "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" But her faith was exceptionally strong, her love pure, that in the end she surrendered her soul to God with the words "O my God, I love thee!" She was only 24 years old.
I have kept this picture of Therese in my breviary for the longest time. It reminds me of the reality and cost of discipleship. The death of the Saints is not as rosy and heavenly as we would like to imagine it. No angels hovering above, no supernatural light beaming down on them. More often, surrounded by intense spiritual darkness. It is raw and painful. But Therese showed us that true love can endure even the most painful of experiences. It reminds me how short life is here on earth. It reminds me that loving Jesus means to suffer. It reminds me that death is the prelude to something greater. How precious is the death of a just man in the eyes of God, the Psalmist exclaims! Pleasing in the eyes of God is the death of His Saint.
Therese did not want to be incorrupt. She believed that her little way is for ordinary people. Being preserved from decomposition is somewhat "extraordinary." Her wish was granted. It's amazing how much she had accomplished after death more than when she was alive. Her nine years in Carmel, hidden from the world, brought her holiness because she loved much. Ironic that never having left her precious Carmel, she was made co-Patroness of the Missions, together with St. Francis Xavier. This was because she had an intense love of the Missions and offered many sacrifices for missionaries. She had plans to volunteer as a missionary when Lisieux Carmel sent a foundation to Saigon, Vietnam. But her illness prevented her dream to come true. And now in heaven she makes true her promise: "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let down a shower of roses."
What makes St. Therese so special? What was her secret? I believe that Therese is one of those Saints who can speak to people of all ages, of different backgrounds, because she brings simplicity and humanity in our pursuit of holiness. She brings God and the experience of God down to our level of understanding and experience. Who does not identify with her struggles? Falling asleep in prayer? Being misunderstood despite our best of intentions? Feeling great desires for doing great things but falling short of talents, desires and efforts? Realizing how weak we are in climbing the arduous ladder of holiness? Her "little way of confidence and love" brought many souls to God.
"Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love." Love is the secret of St.Therese. It was a love which endured.
LIFE OF ST. THERESE
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