SMA National Novena to St Thérèse – Patroness of the Missions

The national novena to St. Therese of Lisieux – Patroness of the Missions, is currently in its 87th year at St. Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork. Subject to correction, we believe it to be the longest running national novena to St. Thérèse in Ireland.

The novena dates back to 1929, just four years after Thérèse’s canonisation and two years after she had been declared ‘Patroness of all Missionaries and Missions’.

This year’s novena began on Friday 23 September and ends on Saturday 1 October, the Feast of St. Thérèse. The novena is celebrated each evening at 7.30pm (except Sat 24th & Oct 1st at 7pm).

Homilies each evening will be given by Fr. Tim Cullinan SMA (Friday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday) and Bishop Tim Carroll SMA (Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday). On the Feast of St. Therese the homily will be given by Fr. Robbin Kamemba SMA, from Kenya.

The following themes are the subject of the homilies each evening:

Sunday 25 September: “My vocation is love” (Fr. Cullinan)

Monday 26 September: “Jesus my only love” (Bishop Carroll)

Tuesday 27 September: “If someone is very little, let them come to me” (Fr. Cullinan)

Wednesday 28 September: “Jesus has forgiven me more than Mary Magdalene” (Bishop Carroll)

Thursday 29 September: ”God has given me a father and a mother, more worthy of heaven than of earth” (Fr. Cullinan)

Friday 30 September: “I am having great interior trials of all kinds, even to the point of asking myself, whether heaven really exists” (Bishop Carroll)

Saturday 1 October: “I want to be a missionary until the end of time” (Fr. Kamemba).

The homilies of Bishop Carroll SMA and Fr. Robbin Kamemba SMA will follow. Below we have reproduced the first two homilies of Fr. Tim Cullinan SMA. Fr. Cullinan’s homily on Thursday 29 September will be published following the 7:30 pm mass:

w-pope-francis-and-thereseMY VOCATION IS LOVE

(Sunday 25 September 2016)

Many years ago I saw a short film about a girl, called Mahana. She lived in one of the remote islands in the Indian Ocean, her parents had no time for her as they wanted a boy and as a child she grew up unwanted and unloved, speaking with a stammer, dressing shabbily, lazy and finishing last in her class in school.

It was the custom in these islands that a young man looking for a partner to marry would go to a neighbouring island and when he found a suitable bride would pay the dowry which in that part of the world was not in cash but in cows and then go with her to his own island for the marriage ceremony.

w-johnny-lingoOne year a young man, called Johnny Lingo, came to Mahana’s island in search of a bride. He was a handsome dashing young man and when he got off the boat all the young women fell madly in love with him while Mahana stayed in the background but when Johnny saw her, he fell madly in love with her and asked her father, how many cows he wanted as a dowry. The father glad that someone was ready take his good for nothing daughter off his hands said – one cow. Then Johnny asked, “What was the biggest dowry ever given for a girl from this island and one of the elders said six cows and to the amazement of all, Johnny said, “I will give eight cows if I can have Mahana’s hand in marriage and with the father dumbstruck and eight cows richer Johnny was off with his new bride to his own island where he bought her new clothes, showered her with expensive jewellery, built a new house for them both and provided her with servants who waited hand over foot on her

It was seven years before Mahana returned to her home island. When she got off the boat, no one could understand the change that had taken place in her. From an ugly, shy, badly dressed stammerer, she had been transformed into a radiant beauty, self-confident, well-spoken and outgoing, so much so that people could not take their eyes off her.

What changed her? Most of the people shook their heads and could not understand the change but a wise old man nodded his head and said, “It was the love of Johnny.”

In the same way in a world where there is so much anger and violence e.g. Aleppo it is love that can change our world, our country, our families, our church. Pope John Paul II called for a civilization of love and that is badly needed today.

In her youth, Theresa, like most young people struggled to find out what to do with her life and what her vocation in life was to be. She said she felt many different callings nun, a priest, soldier, a missionary travelling to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel, a martyr to die for the faith,   One day she found the answer in St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and cried out, I’ve found my vocation, and my vocation is love, to be nothing else than love, in the heart of Mother Church.”

This is our vocation too, to be love at the heart of the world. Whoever we are, wherever we are, whether we are married or single, retired or working, a teacher or a trader, a politician or a priest our vocation and calling is to love, to be love in the heart of the world where we are. Whatever job you do, do it with love. When you go to a shop, to a government office, to a doctor’s surgery you can detect immediately if whoever you meet is doing their job with love or just for the money. 

St Paul says, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”

How do we love? In this evening’s reading, St Paul gives a description of love that cannot be bettered.  “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous, love is never boastful or conceited, it is never rude or selfish, it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth, It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, to endure whatever comes.”

Speaking recently about love, Pope Francis said that there are two criteria for love. Firstly, lovew-pope-francis-on-love is shown more by deeds than by words. St John says in one of his letters, “If one of your brothers or one of your sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, “I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?” (James 2:14-16).

An important teaching of St Theresa is that love is not shown by extraordinary actions but in ordinary actions in the messiness of daily life. One of the attractive things about Theresa is that her life was very ordinary much like the lives of most of us. She teaches us that holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things, that find their place in the newspapers and television but in doing ordinary things well and doing them out of love.

Writing to her sister Celine she wrote, “Jesus does not look so much at the grandeur of our actions or even their difficulty as to the love which goes to make up these actions.” This is a way open to everyone, to do ordinary everyday things with love: the mother looking after her children, cooking meals for them; the secretary receiving people with a smile and doing her best to help them; the nurse in the hospital taking care of her patients with love; the student in college and the teacher in the classroom. It is in the ordinary events of life, done with love, that holiness is to be found.

The second thing that is important in love, the Pope says, is communication. I recently heard a man speaking about his relationship with his wife in this way, “picture but no sound.” There is no love without communication. Communication is not necessarily by words but the person must receive the message and feel that they are loved. A young man was told by an uncle on his father’s death, “You know, your father loved you very much,” only to hear the son reply, “But he never told me.” It is important to communicate love and concern. People may forget what you said to them or what you did for them but they will never forget how you made them feel, especially if you made them feel loved and special.  Looking back at your own life, I am sure you can see the truth of this.

Loving people

In dealing with people, St Theresa, as she put it herself: wanted “to love as Jesus loves.” Theresa is very down to earth and says some people are hard to love. Occasional big gestures which masquerade as love are easy. It is in the daily rubbing shoulder to shoulder with those with whom we live and work that the real challenge is. Theresa did not find living with others easy. “One sister attracts, another doesn’t,” she tells us. To avoid such a sister, she was often inclined to go the long way around on the way to the dining room. “That’s the sister”, she said, “I must love and pray for.”

“Love” she says,” consists in bearing with the faults of others, in not being surprised at their weakness, in being edified by the smallest act of virtue we see them practice.” There was one sister called Sr Peter, who was in a wheelchair and some sister had to push her wheelchair on the way to the chapel and dining room. She was always complaining, “You are going too fast…if you slowed down …you are going too slow…I can’t hear you”…. If you spoke louder, “I’m not deaf.” Theresa treated her as if she was the person she loved most of all and prayed for her every time she met her. Sr Peter was convinced that Teresa had a genuine affection for her so much so that she said to another sister, “I wonder why Sr Theresa loves me more than any other sister in the convent.”

Like radio transmitters, each one of us constantly transmits verbal but mostly nonverbal messages on our own unique frequency. Some transmit messages like, “I am busy, do not disturb me; I like you or I don’t like you; do not talk to me early in the morning.”

If we follow in the steps of St Theresa, who wanted to love as Jesus loves, the only message we should transmit is love, wanting only to be a loving presence wherever we are, offering a message which says, “I care about you; what can I do for you?” This is what St Theresa meant when she said, “My vocation is love.”

Let us ask her to pray for us in this Novena to help us to love, as she loved, as Jesus loved. Where there is no love, pour in love and you will bring out love, as St John of the Cross said. It is love that changes the world and changes us as it changed Mahana.

1 Corinthians 13:              What love is?

Matthew 22:34-40:          The greatest commandment


Matthew 19:14

Matthew 19:14


(Tuesday 27 September 2016)

At the time St Theresa lived there was, in the Church, a lot of preaching about the devil, about mortal sin and hell, and an overemphasis on the strictness of God and the difficulty of getting to heaven. There was a lot of stress on good works which God rewarded. The result was that people were unsure whether they could measure up to what God demanded.

The image of God was that of an accountant or a policeman who was always checking up on people and ready to punish them if they were not living up to His expectations. The result was that people lived in fear and dread that when they died they would be found wanting and go to hell.

Holiness was seen as a never ending struggle of weeding out faults and piling up virtues. It was a do-it-yourself way to God. This was the spirituality St Theresa grew up with and was also the spirituality that many of us older people grew up with. In my own parish the Redemptorists used come with their hell fire preaching and put the fear of God into everyone with long g queues lining up for confession. 

There was a woman who came to our parish on one occasion and sat in front of the preacher completely unmoved by his hell fire preaching so much so that after the ceremony he met the woman and asked her why his preaching was making no impression on her and her rely was, “Sure father I am not from this parish at all.”

St Theresa completely changed this approach to God. She tells us in her autobiography that she always wanted to be a saint but when she compared herself to the great saints like St Paul, St Augustine and Theresa of Avila, she was discouraged. Compared to her, these saints, she said, were like mountains lost in the clouds while she was a small grain of sand, trampled underfoot by a passer-by and were very discouraged until she found a new way to God which she called “The Little Way.”

In her autobiography she describes this way: “We live in an era of inventions. For example, these days one doesn’t have to bother to climb stairs because the wealthy have lifts in their houses to replace them. Me, I would like to find a lift to take me all the way up to God, because I am too small to climb the harsh staircase of perfection. I searched the Holy Books to find an indication of the lift, the object of my desire. I found it when I read these words in the book of Proverbs.

Little Therese

Little Therese

“If someone is very little let him comes to me (Prov 9:4)”

Then I said, “My Lord, I want to know, what you would do to the little one who answered your calling?” I continued my search and this is what I found:

“Like a mother caresses and comforts her child, so I will comfort you. I will carry you close to my breast and rock you on my knees (Is 66)” and then the moment of insight:

“Jesus, your arms are the lift which will lift me to heaven. I must remain small. I must become smaller and smaller. I must surrender and abandon myself to God and let Him carry me.”

What Theresa discovered is already in the Gospels for Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 1:1-4).

In another part of her autobiography, Saint Theresa explained further The Little Way:

“First picture yourself as the smallest of children. By the practice of all the virtues, raise your little foot in an attempt to mount the stairways of sanctity, but do not imagine that you will be able to go up even the first step. God only asks for your good intentions. At the top of the stairway, He watches you lovingly. Soon His love will be conquered by your vain efforts and He will come down Himself to carry you up in His arms.”

God as Theresa says only asks for our good intentions and then abandon ourselves into the arms of Jesus and allow him to carry us in his arms through life. As one person put it the journey of life is not a points race but the journey of a child who sleeps without fear in its father’s arms. “My way”, she says, “is all about confidence and love.” Put simply Theresa’s way is that we should approach God as a child approaches a loving father, abandon ourselves to Him with confidence in love knowing that he will do everything for us. All He wants is our good intentions. She compares herself to a little bird that cannot fly very high and her God like a powerful eagle who sweeps down and takes her to himself. Her spirituality is that of the good thief. Her spirituality is about God’s mercy and human weakness.

When Theresa quotes Jesus: “Whoever is little, let him come to me,” she is not only speaking about our relationship with God but also how we relate with the things we do not like about ourselves and would prefer not to have – our own littleness as she calls it e.g. health or disability issues for ourselves or someone dear, break down of relationships etc.

There is a true story about a Jesuit priest in America called Jim Conlan. He walked with a limp as a result of contacting polio in childhood. The disease left him with one leg shorter than the other. As he grew up, he became painfully aware of his handicap and bitter about what it did with his life. He was not able to play basketball like his classmates and at dances he stood by the wall watching. One day as he was on his way home from classes, he saw a priest coming towards him on the sidewalk. As they were about to pass each other, without warning the priest stopped and asked him a question, “Why are you walking with a limp, polio is it? “Yes,” Jim answered. “Are you glad you have polio?” Jim froze and shot back, “No, I’m not glad I have polio.” The priest replied, “Let me tell you something, son. Until the day comes, when you can say to God and really mean it, ‘Lord, I’m glad I have polio’ you’ll never amount to anything.” The priest walked on and Jim never saw him again. On the way home Jim was very angry with the polio, with God and with the priest and when he got home he could not eat and went straight to bed, the anger and resentment growing all the time. He could not sleep and spent the time crying. When he stopped crying, he began to pray and got an amazing grace. He suddenly felt that God was very near. At length, he found himself saying, “Lord, I’m glad I have polio” and he knew that he meant what he said. This moment changed his life and he later became a Jesuit priest with a special gift for people with disability.

What Jim did that night was to put into practice Theresa’s doctrine of littleness and whole hearted acceptance of ourselves with all our weaknesses, whether it be health, family, work problems, sins that seem to entrap us and which we cannot shake off. Therese never taught us to seek suffering. What she did teach us was simply to love and accept life the way it is and ourselves as we are, to love what she called our littleness. By this she meant our poverty, our diminishments, our failures, the things we are ashamed of, the things we do not like about ourselves. Therese teaches us to accept what cannot be changed – even to welcome it as God’s holy will for us even to be glad about it as Fr Conlan was about his polio.

This might seem a bit up in the clouds but St Paul says the same thing. He pleaded three times for a thorn in the flesh which he had, to be taken away from him (we are not clear what the thorn in the flesh: an eye problem? Epilepsy? persecution by the Jews?) God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you: my power is made perfect in weakness. So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12: 7-10). Here was a man who was content with his weakness, even happy about it. He had a Jim Conlon experience or if you want to put it another way, Jim Conlon had a St Paul experience. St Theresa put it another way: “Grace is everywhere.”

When I was in the seminary there was a book written by James Robinson, an Anglican Bishop,

Therese: All is Grace

Therese: All is Grace

called “Honest to God.” At one stage in his life he got cancer and next Sunday he went to preach in his village church and told the congregation that he had cancer and went on to say: “God is in the cancer as He is in the sunset.” If he isn’t He is not the God of the psalmist, who said, “even though I should pass through the valley of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.”

St Theresa put it more simply when she said, “Grace is everywhere” but it is important to remember that grace does not come in advance but is always there when we need it as in the case of Jim Conlon and Bishop Robinson.

“Whoever is little let him come to me …Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”

Hosea 11:1-9:                   “I was like someone who lifts an infant close against the cheek.”

Matthew 18:1-4:              “Unless you are converted….little children

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