Everything is grace!

God works in mysterious ways! On the feast of St. Clare whose memorial we hold today albeit somewhat silent because of the Sunday precedence, I had the opportunity to attend a monologue based on the life of St. Therese. I confess I didn’t really know what to expect. An hour of just one person talking! For a self-confessed multi-tasker, this seemed intense just to have to focus on one thing and one person though essentially that is what we do when we come to prayer. The performance was originally written in French and later translated to English. It has been performed about 500 times and seen by 100,000 people around the world written and directed by Michel Pascal. Check out his impressive bio here. The performance is based on St Therese’s writings, which recount her life from her childhood days to her life in the Carmelite monastery. According to Pascal, the play portrays the saint’s life of simplicity and openness, and aims to touch audiences, inviting them to discover inner peace in a restless world. He explains how the Little Way is one of simplicity, a simplicity which is echoed in the set-up and the stage of the production, it consists of a single chair!

Here in Montreal there have been and are various performances in both English and French. For the English presentation this evening, Sr.Therese was playing by an actual religious sister. All the other performances have had actresses. Sr. Violaine Paradis is a young temporary professed sister with the Congregation of Notre Dame (CND) here in Montreal. What an amazing and gifted person she is! Tonight was only her second performance of an hour long monologue which she learned in six days. That is a feat in itself. She credits the positive outcome to the intercession of St. Therese, St. Marguerite and the encouragement of her sisters who helped her to learn the lines in such a short space of time.

Pilgrim chapel, Notre Dame du Bon Secours
Dressed in the Carmelite habit, Sr. Violaine became Sr. Therese of the Little Flower. The imagination didn’t have to be forced at all to welcome the character. She was a natural. The monologue was set in the crypt of the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is a place dear to the CND sisters. For over 350 years, the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, a jewel of history and heritage, has made its way into the hearts of generations of visitors and pilgrims. It has an interesting Irish connection too. This is the site where officers of the British regime considered setting up barracks to house the military but instead they built a chapel. The garrison included many Irish and Scottish families who attended Mass there. You can do an interesting 360 degree virtual tour here, keep an eye out for the boats! However, back to the present. Against the shadows and the stone walls, it was if we were transported back to the end of the 1900’s as we walked with Sr. Therese. We were treated to excerpts of her life as a child and her journey to obtain permission to enter her beloved Carmel at the early age. Interspersed with infectious joy and wit which mirrored the reality of the challenges in community life, her mantra ‘Everything is grace’ reminded me of my own novice mistress who often reminded us of the same, ‘Tutto e’ grazia!’ when I was struggling and battling against the world, myself and the Lord.

The journey of her sickness, the dark night of the soul which she calls the ‘martyrdom of doubt’ and her acceptance of her pending death make for emotional scenes which had us all in tears. It made me want to go and read ‘The Last Conversations’ again. Taking a quick look around the crypt at the end of the presentation, there was a hushed silence and a reverence that respected the fact that a saint had walked among us. The personal touch of St.Therese going to each one at the end recalled that, each one of us is called to holiness, to be a saint, that the saints are just like you and me. I didn’t think that it would affect me as much as it did. It was as if I had just had an hour spiritual direction having been handed spiritual food for the journey.

Sr. Violaine has a precious gift to enter into profound relationship with the listeners, all for the glory of God. From the opening moments where she held the gaze of each person for a few moments to the concluding scene where she held each the hands of each person in her hands and looked into their soul, it was in her own words at the end, a dialogue , not a monologue! New evangelisation seeks new ways to reach the hearts of those who are far from God and have never known them as well as interaction with those who had falling away from their faith. This is a perfect opportunity of how this ministry is a response to the signs of the times by a religious Congregation to give this sister the time and the freedom to be part of this production. It was so cute because at the end we were introduced to her very proud and tearful Mum who was present for the event. I am just sorry I didn't take a picture with Sr. Violaine who I had the opportunity to greet and thank afterwards and assure her of my prayers.

The monologue will be brought both to Hollywood and Broadway in the coming year which is an incredible achievement. Pascal’s latest project is called “AGAPE”, a medley of songs and meditations from the works of celebrated Catholic writers and saints. It includes Therese of Lisieux's beautiful poetry, which she described as “her jets of joy”; writings from St Paul, St Augustine, St Francis of Assisi, Hildegard von Bingen, St Teresa of Avila, Blessed Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.
I look forward to hearing it, many of my favourite saints and saints-to-be in there!

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