St. Therese, Pope Francis and the white rose!
Today is one of my favourite feastdays, feast of St. Thérèse, also known as the Little Flower! I know it is predictable but one of my favourite spiritual books is the ‘Story of a Soul’ which I came across as a teenager.Generations of Catholics have admired this young saint and found in her short life more inspiration for own lives than in volumes by theologians. Yet Therese died when she was 24, after having lived as cloistered Carmelite for less than ten years. She never went on missions, never founded a religious order, never performed great works. The only book of hers, published after her death was the aforementioned book ‘Story of a Soul’. But within 28 years of her death, the public demand was so great that she was canonized.
During the summer I had the opportunity to revisit the life of this wonderful saint when I attended a monologue based on her life. I blogged about it here. Over the years, some modern Catholics have turned away from her because they associate her with over- sentimentalized piety and yet the message she has for us is still as compelling and simple as it was almost a century ago. However, if we were take the time to get to know Thérèse, we come to see and admire a strength and awareness of herself which marked her deep desire to consecrate herself completely to God. Thérèse may be known as the Little Flower but she had a will of steel. When the superior of the Carmelite convent refused to take Thérèse because she was so young, the formerly shy little girl went to the bishop. When the bishop also said no, she decided to go over his head, as well.She was not willing to stop, even approaching the Pope himself to obtain permission to enter the Carmel, despite her young age.
Fast forward a few centuries and we see that she continues to touch the heart of yet another Pontiff. On Sunday 8th of September, the day after the long prayer vigil for peace in Syria – when some passages from texts written by St.Thérèse of Lisieux were read out, Pope Francis received a white rose as a surprise. Francis considers the flower to be a “sign” linked to the devotion of the saint. Pope Francis told Archbishop of Ancona and Osimo, Edoardo Menichelli about the rose a day before the prelate was due to present a book in Pedaso, in the Italian region of Marche. The prelate recounted the story during the presentation. The book presented was an essay by theologian and writer Gianni Gennari entitled “Teresa di Lisieux. Il fascino della santità. I segreti di una dottrina ritrovata” (“Thérèse of Lisieux. The fascination of sainthood. Secrets of a rediscovered doctrine”). This was the ‘famous’ book Francis took with him in his bag when he flew to Brazil last July, as the journalists and their curiosity discovered!
“The Pope told me he received the freshly-picked white rose out of the blue from a gardener as he was taking a stroll in the Vatican Gardens on Sunday 8th of September,” Mgr. Menichelli said. “The Pope sees this flower as a “sign”, a “message” from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, whom he had turned to in a moment of worry the day before.” The Archbishop passed on the Pope’s greetings to those attending the book presentation, adding that he had been authorised to tell them about the rose.
So what significance does the white rose have for the Pope? Bergoglio mentions it in “El Jesuita” (“The Jesuit”), a book interview written by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti when he was still a cardinal. In a description the two journalists give of Bergoglio’s library in Buenos Aires, they write: “We pause before a vase full of white roses standing on a shelf in the library. In front of it is a photograph of Saint Thérèse. “Whenever I have a problem,” Bergoglio explained to the journalists, “I ask the saint not to solve it, but to take it into her hands and to help me accept it and I almost always receive a white rose as a sign.” Pope Francis’ devotion for the Carmelite mystic who died at the young age of 24 in 1897, was canonized by Pius XI and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by John Paul II in 1997, is common knowledge. Francis himself told journalists about it on the flight back from Rio de Janeiro after World Youth Day. When she was still alive, Thérèse had promised that when she died she would shower “rose petals” down from the sky, a sign of her intercession. "A soul inflamed with love can not remain inactive … If only you knew what I plan to do when I’m in heaven … I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” So during the peace vigil held in St. Peter’s Square on 7th of September, the mysteries of the Rosary were recited along with passages from the Gospel and verses from a piece of poetry written by the saint. Thanks to Vatican Insider for giving us these insights to Pope Francis and his devotion to St. Thérèse.
St. Thérèse continues to do ‘good on earth’, especially in being an inspiration to many young women discerning religious life. Her saintly life gave rise to “The One Rose Invitation”and St. Thérèsewas adopted as the patron saint of The Imagine Sisters Movement. The website of Imagine Sisters invites us all to become involved in this great work. We read:
“Do you know a young woman who would make a good sister if God called her? If so, Imagine Sisters encourages you to give her a rose on October 1st, the Feast Day of St. Thérèse “The Little Flower.” The rose is a symbol of the invitation to consider religious life, as well as an acknowledgment of the beauty of that young woman’s soul. You can tell her that you respect her as a Catholic woman, that she would make a great sister if God called her, and no matter what, that also means she would make a great wife and mother. Because that’s what a sister is: a bride of Jesus Christ and spiritual mother to all the world. St. Thérèse promised to send a shower of roses after her death, and she has done so with countless miracles. With your help spreading the word about Imagine Sisters and the One Rose Invitation, we are confident that God will send a new shower of vocations to women’s religious life.”
Isn’t this amazing? You can learn more about the movement through their video here! Shout out to Sr. Helena, Daughter of St. Paul! (Our Founder would be proud of you!).
For us who are still on the pilgrim way of holiness, we can take consolation from the words of Therese: " 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." So scatter those flowers people! Change the world through good deeds.