Posted by: catholicrelics | September 20, 2009

A Pilgrimage in Reverse

Bishop David McGough’s Homily, St Chad’s Cathedral, Saturday 19 September 2009

Anointing of the Sick in the Presence of the Relics of St Therese

We come together today in the presence of the relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux.

From the earliest times in the Church the faithful have gone on pilgrimage to Holy Places to feel closer to the events that unfolded in those places, to feel closer to Holy men and women who were at buried in these places.

Today the pilgrimage is reversed. The relics of Saint Therese have come to us.

Many people would question what we are doing, gathering around the mortal remains of a young woman who died in seclusion over a hundred years ago in the convent of Lisieux.

I feel that the story of the resurrection in the gospel helps us to understand what we are doing as we gather here.

The disciples and the women who had laid Jesus in the tomb after his death were drawn back to the place of his burial. They could not deny his mortal death, but somehow they were drawn back to the place of his burial. That was a very human reaction.

When they arrived at the tomb they were greeted by the angel. “He is not here, he goes before you into Galilee. There you will meet him.”

As we gather around the relics of Therese, something deeply human that draws us here. We want to be close, we want to be near.

In the faith of the resurrection we know that these relics, while they are, so to speak, a stepping off point. are not the whole story.

She has gone before us to be with her Lord.

Her own words describe the manner in which she is with us today.

“I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.”

Whenever we confess our faith at Mass in the Creed, we proclaim that we believe in the communion of Saints.

We come together to celebrate the Mass not as individuals, but as a people called together by God to become his saints.

We are not alone. We are, in this celebration of the Mass, that glorious communion of saints described in the book of revelation.

Therese, who never left her Convent in Lisieux, although her religious sisters in Hanoi and China has wanted her to join them in the missions, is with us today. She prays with us, and most certainly she prays for us.

Within this Mass we are to celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing, the assurance that the Lord continues in his Church to minister to the sick, to heal and to prepare us for a death that becomes the sharing in his resurrection.

Therese would have known and loved this sacrament. She would have known it not only as a young person who died of tuberculosis at a very young The sacrament and assurance of the Lord’s presence would have attended her mother’s illness and death when Therese was but a young child. She would have known the comfort of this sacrament in the fever that nearly took her life even before she was able to enter the Convent at Lisieux.

Throughout the painful illness that was to lead to her death, she embraced the presence of her Lord in the celebration of this sacrament.

Therese knew what illness and infirmity does to those we love, what illness and infirmity does to each one of us.

We can sometimes be a little romantic about illness patiently borne.

Infirmity of any kind, whether it be in body or spirit, whether it be through disease or advancing years, diminishes us.

We are robbed of many of things we were once able to do. We cannot be as useful as we once were to those around us. It can feel as if we are forgotten in the background, as if our useful life is slipping away.

It is here that Therse, who is the patron of the sick, can be our inspiration.

She struggled with a terrible illness that took her life at a very young age. Throughout her life illness was never very far away. As I said earlier, her mother died when she was very young and her father was desperately ill when she was in the convent.

By her little way Therese shows us the way to sanctity, a way that is open to us all, a way that lies open to all. A way that speaks to us particularly in our infirmity, when all that remains to us are the little things.

When she entered the convent, Therese realised that the heroic acts that had been the hallmark of so many saints lay beyond her. Her life was hidden. Though she longed to join the sisters of the order in the missions, that also was denied her through ill health.

When she read the many books that outlined the path to sanctity, she found them beyond her.

The path to sanctity was, for her, simple.

“It is enough to realise our own nothingness and give ourselves wholly, like a child, into the arms of God.”

This was her little way, and she saw herself as a tiny flower flourishing in the presence of God.

I am reminded of the psalms.

Lord, my heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things to great nor wonders beyond. Like a child in its mother’s arms, even so is my soul at peace.

In her little way, Therese saw each and every action of the day as the opportunity to be one with Christ. The way in which we greet each other, a smile, a word of encouragement.

The way in which we are when something comes to try us, when we are irritated, when we seem to be overlooked or misunderstood.

For Therese these little things that fill every life became the opportunities to grow in the ways of Christ.

It is significant that Therese’s name in religion was not simply – Sister Therese of the Infant Jesus, but Sister Therese of the infant Jesus and the Holy face.

The face of Jesus, imprinted on the linen cloth used by Veronica to wipe the face of Jesus on the way to Calvary became an inspiration to her.

The least, and the most insignificant of our actions, like Veronica’s cloth, can bear the image of Christ.

This was Therese’s path to sanctity. It is faithful to the words of the Lord. Whatsoever we do, be it no more than offer a glass of water, if it is done in his name, it becomes the face of his presence in the world.

We too are called to become Saints. Our lives, for the most part, are hidden. So was the life of Therese. We are not, by and large, called to heroic deeds. Neither was Therese.

Our lives are filled with little, tiny things. In these for us, as for Therese, is the path to sanctity.

Let us go from this place resolved to do the next thing, whatever it may be. in the spirit of Christ.

It will probably be something as simple as getting the tea, washing the dishes, getting on with our family. These are the little things, the little things by which we become saint.

The only way I can show love for God is in every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and doing the least action for love.

Those were the words of Therese, words that have inspired little people, like ourselves, to sanctity.

Amen

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