Posted by: catholicrelics | September 18, 2009

Canon Bart Nannery’s Homily from the Mass of Welcome at Plymouth Cathedral

St Therese at Plymouth Cathedral I have lost track of the number of times in the last week I have been asked why all this fuss about St Therese? What is so special about her? Why have the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales invited a tour of her relics to criss cross the country. How is she different from other saints? Well, recently I got a glimpse into the reason why St Therese has something very special to offer our Church and our World at this particular moment.

Yesterday, early afternoon I took a call from a member of the news team at the BBC in London who was very anxious to know what we were doing in Plymouth. He told me they were planning to highlight the visit and perhaps make a permanent record of it. My curiosity couldn’t resist asking him how familiar he was with the story of St Therese to which he replied: “I never heard of her until this morning but with many of my colleagues I am bowled over by her story and the power and clarity of her message”.

“I can see,” he said “why her message is good news and has the power to change lives.”

When I put the phone down I said to myself that’s why St Therese’s relics have been invited to nearly forty countries.

St Therese from a very young age had an incredibly ability to flesh out the Gospel in simple terms that even a child could understand. That’s what makes her one of the best loved and most attractive saints of modern times. She brings God within the reach of everyone irrespective of religion or background.

Her understanding of the great commandment ‘This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you’ and the practical living of it in the community at Lisieux provide a model for all of us priests, religious and laity. it sets a headline for the Christian in interpersonal relationships. It involves patience, tolerance, and the acceptance of people as they are. It follows the model of God’s mysterious love for us.

St Therese was born into a Church which delighted in presenting God as a harsh task master, a God of whom it was difficult to please or appease. Yet from her reading and praying the scriptures that is not the God she was discovering. Having been frustrated at not being able to do all the great things that were deemed necessary of somebody who wanted to please God.

She tells us in her own words “you can imagine my joy having searched the scriptures I found these words” ‘whoever is little let them come to me of such are the Kingdom of Heaven’. She learned to love her littleness, her weaknesses, her nothingness she saw them as the highway to humility which lead’s to God’s choicest Graces. She never tired of telling her novices ‘love your powerlessness’.

Her greatest eureka moment has to be the time she was frustrated at not being able to be a missionary again in desperation she consulted St Paul to the Corinthians to learn that while the Church needs the skills of apostles, prophets and Doctors, these gifts are useless without love. And then reading on a little further she tells us how she stumbled on this comforting phrase: “Prize the best gift of Heaven, meanwhile I can show you a way that is better than any other. Charity is the best way of all because it leads straight to God Now I was a peace. Charity – was the key to my vocation.

Therese was declared a Doctor of the Church by the late Pope John Paul II, the youngest of only three women in its entire history because of her great gift of illuminating the teaching of the Church. She liked to refer to this teaching as “The Little Way”. She did all the little ordinary things of everyday life with extraordinary love like helping and encouraging others and she did this without looking for thanks or ever complaining. She saw her nothingness, her littleness as major pluses because she had to depend totally on God. She was so totally aware of being completely dependent on God.

“The Little Way” of Therese is little only in the sense that little people can understand it, that is humble people who wholly trust in God’s merciful love. Like the woman with the Alabaster jar of ointment who gate crashed Simon’s party she had unbounded confidence that God loved her and it was conviction of this fact and this fact alone that filled her with Immense Joy and happiness despite all her much suffering.

She loved to say “I have never heard his speak, but I know he is within me. At each moment he guides and instructs what I must say and do”.

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