2013 St Therese Novena, Cork
The Annual SMA Novena in honour of the Little Flower, St Thérèse of the Child Jesus (also known as St Thérèse of Lisieux) was held in St Joseph's SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork from 23 September to 1 October, the feast of the Patroness of the Missions. The SMA Church was designated as the National Shrine to St Thérèse many years ago.
Each evening, at 7.30pm (except Saturday 28th), Mass and Novena Prayers were recited by the large congregation who came to join with the SMA in praying for the intentions of our supporters. Below are some of the homilies / reflectinos given during the 2013 Novena.
Monday 23rd - Saint Thérèse at Prayer
Tuesday 24th - Life of Saint Thérèse - Sr Margaret Kiely
Wednesday 25th - Saint Thérèse's Way to God - Fr Fergus Tuohy SMA
Thursday 26th - My vocation is Love - Mrs Dympna Mallon
Friday 27th - Sin and Weakness
Saturday 28th - The parents of St Thérèse
Sunday 29th - St Thérèse and Our Lady
Monday 30th - Suffering and death of St Thérèse
Tuesday, 1 October - The Adult Spirituality of St Thérèse - Fr Michael McCabe SMA, Provincial Leader
Our Lady and St Therese
The SMA Laity Coordinator, Mrs Dympna Mallon, spoke at the 5th night of the St Therese Novena in Dromantine. Here is an edited version of her sharing.
We are sometimes told that for faith to be real it must be experienced or mediated through a human life. Our Lady has mediated the reality of the Christian faith to humanity for centuries, and is reverenced even by non-Christians. Born just 140 years ago St Therese mediates a real and human Christianity to us now in the 21st century. Both were chosen by God for greatness, one through her faithful devotion as the Mother of Jesus, the other, the Little Flower of the Child Jesus, through her childlike devotion and love.
In our Catholic faith we look on Our Lady as the spiritual mother of every home, of every human being and we are dependent on her as the Mediatrix of all the graces we receive. St Therese practiced a spiritual childhood throughout her life, embracing and advocating the "Little Way" to holiness in which she taught about the virtues of trust in God and in being small. A fundamental aspect of her life however was a deep devotion and dedication to Our Lady
St Therese knew the reality of pain and loss, with the death of her mother when she was just 4 years of age and the departure of her "second mother", her sister Pauline to the convent, when she was less than 10. Having lost her own mother so early in life, it's no surprise that she sought the solace of a mother figure and the devotion to Our Lady was confirmed by a Marian vision when Therese was seriously ill as a child, and experienced a miraculous recovery. From that point on Therese lived in the conviction that her Holy Mother was always with her and watching over her.
In Mary, Therese found a mother she could admire and imitate, a mother who could lead her to Jesus. She discovered not only a loving mother, but a mother who had led an ordinary life like her own. It is easy to forget that St Therese lived a very human life in a large family surrounded by loving parents and siblings. She recalls, in her autobiography, incidents where her behaviour was demanding and where she found it difficult to control her emotions. Her life and spirit tap into something universal in our human experience. We have all struggled to control our emotions, especially when those around us seem unreasonable and difficult. Few of us have always resisted the temptation to demand our share, our place, our rights. Perhaps part of the reason we are able to relate to St Therese is because she learned to accept, in her own life, the difficulties and the challenges in the common relationships she was given, and through these relationships, to grow in love for God and others.
So now we have before us images of both women; humble, chaste, virtuous. These images of virtue and humility that we associate with both Our Lady and St Therese are based on respect and devotion and this is entirely proper - but not, surely, to the exclusion of their humanity. For there is, in that humanity, the possibility of our finding courage, strength and inspiration in their lives.
Our Lady was forced to flee her own country, to become a refugee to protect the life of her infant child. She must have worried about her son's nomadic lifestyle and open criticism of the Jewish authorities. She had to endure the heartache of watching his trial and execution as a common criminal and still try to cling onto the belief that God knew what He was doing. For Therese, her journey to God was neither straightforward or simple. Having chosen to dedicate her life to God, it was only through sheer determination, persistence and petitioning of the church hierarchy that Therese was permitted to enter the Carmelite convent at the age of 15. Once there she experienced frequent spiritual darkness, finding the formal religious structure oppressive and often feeling that God had abandoned her. She had to endure illness throughout her life and great physical suffering from the tuberculosis which led to her death at just 24 years of age. But like Our Lady she clung to the conviction that God loved her unconditionally and that her trust in Him would not be in vain.
Both Mary and Therese demonstrated courage and conviction in the face of adversity and uncertainty. They endured hardship and suffering in the course of their lives, had moments of doubt and darkness. Yet they remained faithful to the promise given to them by God and in so doing became beacons of light and hope for generations of people striving to follow their example of holiness. So how, then, would you react to the suggestion that Mary and Therese were somewhat radical in their vision of Christianity ? In the Magnificat, Mary's hymn after the Annunciation, she proclaims a vision, which resonates with the Old Testament image of a God of judgment. This hymn of a simple, country girl, not yet left her parent's home nonetheless echoes the forthcoming message of Jesus, a radical message of forgiveness and unconditional love. We don't tend to think of Mary as a herald for her son, or even as a woman with a voice and yet the Magnificat is a powerful statement of vision, even pre-empting the Beatitudes,
"He has cast down the mighty from their throne, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty."
One writer takes the view that Jesus came not only to turn the world upside down, but to put things the right way up and that the Beatitudes are the manifesto for that. Is Mary's Magnificat, in promoting justice, peace and human dignity, a sneak preview of what her son will do? Do we limit Mary to the role of obedient, humble, virtuous servant of God because we are comfortable with that image? Are we reluctant to acknowledge her challenge of the status quo because it represents a challenge to us in the way we live our lives?
The spirituality of Therese, known as the "Little Way", derives its message of service to God and others from Christ's teaching - there would seem to be little that is radical in that. But imagine if we really try to promote the message of Therese here and now in the 21st century. We live in an age where success is all about gain and achievement, celebrity and status, where my interests take precedence over the interests of all others; where those who are rewarded (and sometimes respected) are those who have clamoured their way to the top of the pile, regardless of how many they have trampled on to get there. If we advocated the Little Way as a means to happiness and peace, would it be a popular message or would we be regarded as ridiculous - or even radical?
When we pray to Our Lady and St Therese we are asking them to intercede on our behalf. But are we also prepared to follow their path and take up our respective challenges as they did? Will we be prepared to stand up and advocate, with conviction, a radical new way to live as disciples in the modern world ? Will we encourage others by the example of our own lives as Mary did, as Therese did, as Pope Francis is doing? When we identify the barriers to our bearing witness through our lives, do we ever consider that the only limits on us are those we place on ourselves? That the fences holding us back are mental fences, constructed by us in our own minds? If we truly accept the vision of Mary, the vision of her son, if we hope to act justly, love kindly and walk humbly with our God, it cannot be a personal, private thing - we are called, by our Baptism, to holiness and discipleship in the world, no less than Mary or Therese or Francis and there is no "get out clause".
Our Lady has given us the vision of how the world can be, and in the Little Way of St Therese we have been given the tools by which we can make that vision a reality. We are all called to love God without reserve or fear because He loves each one of us without reserve and in this way our lives can become a process of "transforming nothingness into fire". Therese tells us that holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.
Before Therese died, one of her novices promised her that after Therese had gone to heaven the novice would herself would strive for the same level of holiness, she would aim to become a saint. Therese responded by asking what she was waiting for, advising her that the present moment is the time for action and to begin at once to pursue her goal of sainthood. Perhaps there is a message in that for us during this Novena to St Therese.
Let us ask Our Lady and St Therese for the grace to act as they did: for the courage to hear God's voice in our hearts; to answer His call now, today, whatever the cost; and to strive for justice, peace and the dignity of all humanity by doing the ordinary things in our ordinary lives extraordinarily well.
Suffering and the Christian Life
Fr John Denvir preached on the 3rd night of the Novena in Dromantine. The following is an edited version of Fr John's sharing.
We can see clearly that St Thérèse was very familiar with suffering in her short life.
Sickly little baby. Nursed by a lady called Rose and almost died but for the prayers to Saint Joseph.
Zelie Martin died while Thérèse was four and a half years old.
Thérèse was miserable at school. Up until eight her big sister Pauline was her teacher. Now she went to school at the convent. She could not manage to play games like the other girls. The older pupils teased her and one in particular bullied her. She wrote, “I’ve never been as melancholy as I was during those five years of school. If I had not had dear Celine (an older sister) with me there I could not have spent a month there without losing my health.”
At the beginning of her second year at school Pauline, her little mother, left her to become a Carmelite nun. She writes, “Imagine my transports of grief when I overheard my beloved Pauline, in conversation with Marie, talk about going off quite soon to Carmel. I realized that Pauline was leaving me. I was going to lose my mother all over again. I cried bitterly over it. It was the suddenness of the announcement that drove the wound so deep.” The separation of Pauline caused her intense suffering.
Five months after Pauline’s departure, Thérèse illness became alarming. At times she fell into a deep faint; at other times she became delirious. Ordinary things around her took on hideous shapes. One evening her father sat by her bedside holding his hat in his hand. Thérèse cried out in terror: “Oh! That big black beast.” (Hallucinations).
On the anniversary of her first Holy Communion she had become tormented with scruples. She, who had wanted to please the good God, imagined now that everything she did displeased God. “My lightest thoughts, my simplest actions, troubled my conscience afterwards.” Therese said, “I could only find relief in telling Marie about them.” Then, Marie her only support entered the Carmelite convent. Thérèse now had no one to help her. She begged her two little brothers (Josephs) to help her and to give her the peace of mind she need.
As an adult in the Convent, she offered all her little sacrifices to God with love (difficulties of community life). Thérèse never tried to miss little opportunities of showing her love for God. No one ever knew to what extent she suffered.
At twenty-four years of age she contracted tuberculosis. She overheard one of the nuns say, “Sister Thérèse will not live long and I ask myself what our Mother Prioress will find to write in the obituary after her death. She is very good but she has done nothing worth taking about.” Thérèse had learned that it is not “great achievement” our Lord wants. He wants our love. “It is love alone that counts.”
The first definite sign that Thérèse had tuberculosis appeared on Good Friday April 3rd 1896. Thérèse rejoiced at these signs. They gave hope to her that she would soon see Our Lord in Heaven. Then suddenly, a tormenting thought came to her mind: “What if there is no Heaven at all? Thoughts like this stayed with her day after day. She prayed, “My God I do believe. I am ready to defend the doctrine of heaven with the last drop of my blood”. The temptations against faith never left her.
Sometime before her death she confides in her sister Pauline, “I cannot breathe and I cannot die. I think at present I cannot bear any more. But I am not afraid, for if the sufferings increase, God will at the same time increase my courage.”
“I believe the Evil one has obtained God’s permissions to tempt me by such extreme suffering to make me lose both patience and faith.”
Through all her agony Therese’s confidence in God never wavered: “God is not going to abandon me. He has never abandoned me. My God, I accept all willingly. O how good the good God must be, since he enables me to bear all I suffer. No, I would never have believed it possible to suffer so much, never, never, never; I can only explain it by my extreme desire to save souls.”
Word of God: Ezra 9: 5-9; Ps. Tob 13:2, 4 6-8; Luke 9: 1-6.
“Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.”
- Jesus, in giving power to the Twelve knew that diseases and devils were part of daily life. Jesus wanted healing and wholeness. This was is the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus as he anticipated being crucified he felt, deeply distressed and troubled, overwhelmed with sorrow, troubled in heart and in spirit.
- Scripture in fact, provides abundant teaching on the importance of allowing ourselves to respond with normal human emotions. These emotional responses in no way indicate a lack of spirituality.
- Many of those mentioned in the Bible experienced great suffering: Christ, Paul, Job, David, the prophets.
So, why do we have to suffer? I do not know. The only way to make sense of the Cross is to kiss it. Good Friday is not the end for the Christian. Her intense suffering and sign of tuberculoses began on a Good Friday.
Therese’s cry before her death, “I am not dying, I am entering into life”, was a cry of Hope! This is an Easter cry....
We are resurrection people. Seasons of dying and rising to new life....
Results of suffering: “Cor. 4:17 “It achieves for us an eternal glory that far outweighs all suffering.”
God’s view is absolutely essential to be able to handle suffering well. God’s Word clearly shows that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life, especially suffering for Christ. 2 Tim. 3:12 “Suffering is normal and inevitable in the Christian life.
The Lord responds to us very personally when we are suffering. Psalm 118.5 “He answers when we cry in anguish.” Psalm 34; 15 “His ears are attentive to our cry.”
His constant presence is with us in times of suffering. Psalm 46:7 -11 “He is with us.” Psalm 18 “He is at our right hand.” Psalm 37:28 “He will never forsake us.”
God never intended us to suffer alone. He designed the body of Christ in such a way that we are to minister to each other’s needs.
1Cor 12:24 – 26 says in part, “But God has combined the members of the body... so that its part have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it...”
Suffering requires the right response if it is to be successful in accomplishing God’s purposes. Suffering forces us to turn from trust in our own resources.
How to talk to God during times of suffering: I trust in you; You are my hiding place; I wait for you; You are my help; In you my soul takes refuge; You are my fortress...
The Lord not only teaches us how to respond, but how not to respond when we are suffering. He mentions
Do not be afraid. Is 41:10, John 14:27 1Peter 3:14.
Do not be dismayed, for he is our God. Is 41;10
Do not be fainthearted because the Lord goes with us. Deut 20:3.
Some of the ways in which we might respond to God during suffering
Acknowledge his name
Ask him to strengthen us according to his word
Be still before the Lord
Cast all our anxiety on him
Call on him
Consider all his mighty deeds
Cry out in distress to himoubled in heart and in spirit.