Talk in the presence of the Relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
After None, Wednesday 11 September 2019
We venerate today the bodily remains of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. We do so because she was, she is, holy. St. Thérèse was a person completely given up to Jesus Christ our Lord; completely transformed in him; completely available to his grace, to his call. Thérèse was not at all learned in the conventional way of possessing academic qualifications. She cultivated the spirit of child-likeness; her spirit is a spirit of perfect simplicity. Yet also Thérèse was clearly a genius, and she has even been named as a Doctor of the Universal Church. Her life was highly restricted from its beginning to its end, yet her appeal has no apparent limits, and she has been named as Patroness of all the foreign Missions. She died aged just 24, yet by that time she had reached the height of human maturity and wisdom; the height of Christian perfection; the height of mystical union with our Divine Lord. She wanted to live hidden from the world, unknown, unrecognised. Yet her life had an enormous impact. So much so, indeed, that we could say, because of her, the whole Catholic Church could never be quite the same again.
St. Thérèse belonged to a religious culture in late 19th century France which readily expressed itself in sentimental, even saccharine piety. Nowadays this can easily appear at first off-putting, and an obstacle. But when we begin to read her, when we meet her as she really was, we encounter a person who is immediately attractive, natural, human; given to sharp observations and witty remarks. For all her talk about little flowers, little lambs, little children and the rest, one of the most striking characteristics of Thérèse was her extraordinary strength. She was a girl and a woman of unwavering determination, of iron will and self control; a person whose natural appetites were completely mortified, or as she would say, completely crucified, in union with her loving Saviour.
St. Thérèse was very much a daughter and disciple of St. John of the Cross. Like him, she knew a great deal about suffering from the inside. In her brief life she experienced emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual suffering to the full. She did not just accept all that willingly, gladly. She did not even just want it, ask for it, rejoice in it. St. Thérèse came to find her only joy, her only satisfaction, in suffering. And in her this was not in any way morbid, or negative or unhealthy. It was a fruit of her profound understanding of the mystery of Christ’s Cross, and of the continuing place of suffering in the redemption of the world.
For St. Thérèse every moment of our life on this earth is precious. Every moment is an opportunity to give love to Jesus, and to offer sacrifices and prayers for souls. Thérèse offered every moment of her life as an intercession for others, that they may come to salvation. And she refused to give up that project when taken up to heaven. As she lay close to death, her sister Céline asked her: “When you get to heaven, will you look down on us?” “No”, said Thérèse, “I’ll come down.”
And she has been true to her word. So many miracles have been wrought through her intercession that she is now universally regarded as one of the really great Saints of the Catholic Church. And her mortal remains are now here, in our Abbey Church, on our Altar, at Pluscarden Abbey, in the North East of Scotland. For all of us here this is a most wonderful blessing, and grace, and opportunity. Surely also we may dare to understand it as a little sign of divine favour for this community and monastery. Through the intercession of St. Thérèse, then, may God bless us; may he give us all the graces we need; may he make us holy; may he send us good new vocations.
When we come up to venerate the Relics of St. Thérèse, we ask her to pray for us; we confide to her our own special intentions; we entrust to her prayer those whom we especially love; and those for whom we most urgently pray. May all of us through this event grow in the love of God, grow in the practice of all the virtues, grow in generous living out of our vocation. And like St. Thérèse, may our lives come to be completely dominated, completely overtaken by the love of God, which comes to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.