Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
September 24, 2001
Venerating Thérèse's bones
Gravesite of 'Little Flower' is coming to our neighbourhood
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
This summer my family visited the gravesites of my wife's father and grandparents in the town cemetery at Bentley. We walked around the graves and Nora showed our girls the mountain ash tree planted at the time of her father's death nearly 40 years ago. We said a few prayers and left.
We came not to communicate with the dead — and certainly not to worship them — but to respect them and witness to the fact that they are in our hearts. And, by coming, we implicitly looked forward to the resurrection when we will all be reunited in God's glory.
On Sept. 30-Oct. 1, Alberta Catholics will pray at the "gravesite" of another companion. In this case, the "grave" of St. Thérèse of Lisieux will come to Edmonton — and later to Calgary and Medicine Hat — in the form of her relics.
Again, our visit is not meant to console someone as one might try to console a person on her deathbed. We want to honour this saint, perhaps pray for her to intercede with the Father to grant us some favour and to be inspired by this holy woman's way of life.
In my case, I was raised in a parish dedicated to St. Thérèse-Little Flower Parish on the east end of Regina. However, I did little thinking about St. Thérèse in my childhood and youth. In our church, there was a large stained glass of Thérèse and one of those sentimental statues that look nothing like the woman herself.
I remember a teacher telling us of Thérèse's "little way" and her promise that after her death she would let fall a shower of roses. All of this was nice but had little impact on a boy who was interested more in football than in flowers.
Since then, I've come to see St. Thérèse as a most important saint for lay people. Although she lived in a Carmelite monastery, her life and writings show how we can heroically follow Jesus in our daily lives in "the world."
Thérèse went to Carmel to serve God and the world, not to run away from it. Everything in the monastery — relations with demanding nuns, physical suffering and even her own sins — became occasions of God's grace.
Her life is a model for our generation, which too often believes personal fulfillment is achieved through fun, fame or fortune. There's nothing wrong per se with those things. But if that's all we pursue then we're on the road to emptiness.
Thérèse found fulfillment in another way, through a loving relationship with the Father. It brought her to her knees and made her realize that all she had to offer were empty hands ready to receive God's grace.
The lay person's vocation is similar to that of Thérèse — to be faithful in small things, to act lovingly in the face of life's little persecutions, to strive to be fully aware of God's presence in each moment.
Homemaker, journalist, stockbroker, teacher. That's what we have to do. "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). This is authentic living — not necessarily doing great things, but being faithful "in a very little," and trusting that God will turn it into something great.
That's why we turn to Thérèse. She was faithful in little things, trusted God and God made her little things bear great fruit.
The Catholic veneration of relics is sometimes misunderstood. We are seen as worshipping the dead bones of a mere human being — a macabre and idolatrous practice if it were true.
However, we want to honour, in this case, a great woman who has much to teach us. We want also to reflect on the meaning of her life. And we want to enlist her as an ally as we storm heaven with our joys and sorrows.
In one sense, it hardly matters that she is dead. Thérèse is part of the Church triumphant, united in one body with those of us still on pilgrimage to eternity.
She can be our soulmate, even if her bones, for now, are not united with her soul. In venerating her bones, we look forward to the final trumpet after which all will be made whole and we will see God — and our sister Thérèse — face to face.
(Last of a series)
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