Homily on the life of St Therese
A powerful homily on the life of St Therese, delivered by Father James Grant at the recent Diocesan Vocations Mass. - I would like to begin tonight by sharing with you the unpromising tale of a 19th century family who were no strangers to misfortune at the door of their house: The parents had nine children in total but lost four children, three in infancy and another at five years of age. One of their children had what we would now call special needs and suffered from bad eczema, for years she endured abuse at the hands of a cruel adult, so not surprisingly she was a constant source of worry to her parents. The mother of the family died of breast cancer at the age of 45 when her youngest daughter was only 4 years of age. The father now found himself a single parent with five daughters support and look after. That same father later on in life suffered from mental health issues and was detained in a mental hospital for three years. Three years after the death of her father, the youngest child died from tuberculosis – she was only 24. They sound like a poor unfortunate family who would be very much at home in one of Charles Dickens novels. But this was no make belief family conjured up by the pen of Mr Dickens – this was the real family of Louis and Zelie Martin and their five surviving daughters. I speak of course of the family of St Therese of Lisieux. I speak of a family which in spite of such a discouraging and disheartening narrative produced three saints and one saint in the making. It all goes to show that vocations can be cultivated amidst the messiness of life. Good news for us who appreciate that life in general and family life in the 21st century can be very ‘messy’ indeed. Nineteenth century France is very far removed from 21st century Scotland. WE ARE ACQUAINTED WITH A DIFFERENT KIND OF MESSINESS, sometimes we tag them dysfunctional families, but, at the end of the day, its MESSINESS ALL THE SAME. I wanted to share that side of the Martin Family story with you first so that we don’t have a false picture that everything in the Martin garden was rosy, FOR THE REASON THAT, although it might seem a good idea to link in Vocations with the forthcoming tour of the relics of St Therese of Lisieux, there is a serious danger in presenting the Little Flower of Jesus as an example of religious life – by no stretch of the imagination could you say that her family background was typical. I have already described the heart-rending and misfortunate events which beset this family but now let me paint an alternative family portrait. Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelie, were particularly pious and had themselves both aspired to religious life – Louis was turned away from a monastery and the Zelie rejected by the convent and told to forget religious life because she did not have a religious vocation. Both are now canonized saints - the first-ever married couple with children to be canonized in the same ceremony. Louis and Zelie had nine children in all – four of them being taken from them in infancy. All five daughters of entered religious life the most famous of them, is of course, the baby of the family, MARIE FRANCOISE THERESE – (the Little Flower) but she was preceded to the Carmelite convent by her big sisters, Pauline and Marie and followed later on by Celine. Poor Leonie, the least talented of the Martin sisters and in some ways the rebel of the family had three attempts to enter religious life and was only successful at the fourth attempt when, at the age of 35 she was finally accepted by the Visitation Sisters. By the time of her death in 1941, at the age of seventy-eight, she was regarded as a saint, and her cause for beatification, only begun in 2015 is now proceeding with great speed. She now bears the epithet Servant of God, but I suspect that it will not be long before she will be known as St Leonie when she becomes the fourth canonized saint of the Martin Family. So, to assert that the Martin Family are not exactly your average family is surely an understatement which is why I wanted to reacquaint you with the more tragic element of the Martin’s story first in order to establish, as I have said already that vocations can still flourish in what I call the messiness of life. So in what sort of fertile soil were those religious vocations planted, and what was it about the Martin’s family life that enabled those seeds of a religious life to grow, blossom and flourish. Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelie ran two successful businesses, yet they still found the time and energy to be active in their parish; to form their five daughters in the faith. they were faithful to Holy Mass and prayer and to the works of mercy. Their faith was not reduced to mere piety, but translated into action. They supported the poor and the Church generously with their time as well as with money. Indeed, they had a whole food parcel industry of their own, dolling out food to those who called to their home on a regularly, assured that the Martin Family would help them out. They lived heroically their family motto: “God must be served first.” This was the fertile soil, of which I spoke. It was, within this environment of faith and practical love that Louis and Zelie’s vocation to married life thrived, the soil in which the vocations of their five daughters was planted and grew among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. St. Therese from her earliest years, as did her sisters, imbued a true Christian spirit within her home, their Catholic faith gave the entire family a sense of direction, and a way of life. It was within the family that the entire Martin clan lived out the fundamental vocation of every human being which is to love. At their mother and father’s knee they would have been taught…. CATECHISM answer God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this life and to happy with him forever in the next. All of us have been created by God out of love. He made us so that we could know his love, and share that love with others, and delight in that love forever in the glory of heaven. Sanctity – is the vocation of everyone. We are all called to be SAINTS. We may live in different times but good Catholic homes which treasure that fertile soil of love for God and love for our neighbour stand a better chance of ensuring vocations in the 21st century and I would suggest ‘twas ever thus!!! The first vocation of all of us is to love. Later on in her religious life, St Therese famously declared: "At last I have found my vocation. In the heart of the Church, I will be Love!" Had St. Thérèse simply discovered the common vocation of all of us, or had she found her own particular vocation? The answer is both. LOVE was both her special vocation and the universal vocation common to all of us? St. Thérèse gave herself completely to that which is the fundamental vocation of us all--TO LIVE IN LOVE. But Therese’s nature, from childhood, however was to WANT IT ALL. She never did anything by halves; for her it was always all or nothing. In her diary, she recalled an incident from her childhood involving her sister Leonie. Thinking she was too big to be playing with dolls, Leonie approached Celine and Therese with a basket full of dresses and pretty pieces. Celine politely stretched out her hand and took a little ball of wool… Therese confesses: After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out mine, saying, ‘I choose all!’ I continue to quote “This little incident of my childhood is a summary of my whole life. I feel within me other vocations. I feel the vocation of THE WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR. I feel within my soul the courage of the Crusader, the Papal Guard, and I would want to die on the field of battle in defence of the Church”. Yes, she wanted it all. Much is made of her declaration that she wanted to be a priest. In don’t think for a moment that Therese was advocating that the Priesthood should be open to women. It was, I think, her way of expressing her envy of the intimacy that should exist between the priest and Christ Jesus. She would have given anything to enjoy that same intimacy. I quote I feel in me the vocation of a priest! With what love, O Jesus, would I bear you in my hands, when at the sound of my words you came down from heaven! With what love would I give you to souls! As is well known, she loved the Priesthood for the privileges which the Priesthood entails – to change bread and wine into our Lord’s body and blood, to feed starving souls with the Bread of Life, to bring the loving mercy of God to repentant sinners, to take the Good News to the ends of the earth. The Priesthood offered Therese the capacity to fulfil the fundamental vocation of us all - the vocation to love God and love all God’s children IN SUCH A WAY THAT NO ONE ELSE CAN. Is it any wonder then that she held all priests up on such a high pedestal and felt a special calling to pray for priests. It is a timely reminder of the great honour and privileges God has given to we priests. We must never take these for granted – St Therese certainly didn’t. But not content with being a priest, she would have wanted to be a missionary priest another example of her yearning to have more than one vocation. She wrote these words “I'd like to travel all over the world, making your name known and planting your cross on heathen soil; only I shouldn't be content with one particular mission, I would want to be preaching the gospel on all five continents and in the most distant islands, all at once. And even then it wouldn’t do, carrying on my mission for a limited number of years; I should want to have been a missionary ever since the creation, and go on being a missionary till the world came to an end. As I said: THERESE WANTED IT ALL Her ambition to be a missionary of God’s love has now been fulfilled in over seventy countries in all 5 continent of the world – just as she dreamed. In just a few days time, we shall welcome Therese, the missionary, to Scottish soil. She comes to remind us of the fundamental vocation of all of us – the vocation to love. She comes to awaken in all of us that God created us out of love and wants us to return that love by loving others. She comes as a missionary to our land to teach us how to love, to share with us her ‘Little Way. She comes to renew our faith, our confidence and our trust in God our loving Father. May we welcome her to Scotland with open arms and listen with our hearts to what she wants to say to us, this Little Flower of Jesus, St Therese of the child Jesus and of the Holy Face. St Therese of Lisieux, pray for us and pray for Scotland. Amen.