Vigil with Allen Hall Seminarians before St Therese’s Relics
All Night Vigil for The Year of Priesthood opened by Bishop Bernard Longley
As we gather together in Vigil tonight in the presence of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux our thoughts and prayers have as their particular focus something very familiar to the young Thérèse Martin – that is the reality that in every generation our Lord calls people to particular vocations within the life of the Church. We are blessed that this remarkable Saint’s relics are with us in Westminster Cathedral during the Year for Priests and that the Seminarians and Staff of our Seminary at Allen Hall are keeping prayerful watch during this night.
Thérèse had a very strong sense of what it is to be called by God to a life of prayer and dedication. After the death of her mother in 1877, when Thérèse was only four years old the family moved to Lisieux. Here she became aware of the prayerful witness of the Carmelite Sisters and it was here that her own sense of vocation grew. Thérèse was nothing if not determined about how to respond to God’s call and she perceived it with astonishing clarity from the earliest age.
This clarity of vision on the part of Thérèse testifies to the depth of her prayer-life and her ability to listen to God speaking in the depths of her being so that she could discern clearly what He was asking of her. As a consequence she had the temerity to badger her own Bishop and even asked the Pope to intervene on her behalf. Against all the odds she was received into the Carmel at Lisieux and her life as a Carmelite began when she was only fifteen.
For us as Seminarians and as priests the example of St Thérèse offers important insights into the discernment of our vocation and the need to renew our understanding and commitment frequently throughout our lives. The events of life will from time to time throw opportunities and challenges before us. These moments invite us to re-assess the direction that life is taking and to re-examine our initial response as well as the enduring impact of the decisive commitment we made to the priestly calling and that the Church made to us at Ordination.
It is chiefly in prayer that we hear most clearly the voice of our Lord and where we can find the necessary wisdom and resources to answer him with generosity and courage. We do need the insights of others – our own friends and those to whom the Church has given the responsibility of guiding and supporting us – but it is in prayer that we can understand those insights most clearly and find within ourselves the right response.
St Thérèse has influenced countless men and women in their vocational choices since her death in 1897 at the age of twenty-four and especially since the Church recognised the holiness of her life and example at her Canonisation in 1925. She has also helped many people to take that decisive step to join the Catholic Church in full communion with us and with her. I am pleased to recall with gratitude tonight the impact of St Thérèse on my own mother’s decision to become a Catholic the year that I was ordained priest. Long before she was received into full communion with the Catholic Church she had a particular devotion to the Little Flower and St Thérèse always remained an influence for good and a guide towards truth.
During these weeks preparing for the visit of St Thérèse’s relics contemporary photographs of the saint have once again familiarised us with the look of her face. I am more and more struck by the child-like frankness of her expression and the evident beauty of holiness about her appearance. This is as true of the earliest photographs of her as a child as it is of those images recording the final days of her illness and frailty.
Her look is intelligent and searching, compassionate and above all open in a way that communicates readily. It is clear to me from the photographs of Thérèse why she should be patroness of the Church’s missions – in a simple and direct way her look communicates faith and draws us into an interior world where God is to be found. And there is a profound joyfulness that sustained her at the deepest level, even when all the consolations of faith had abandoned her and she continued to believe as an act of the will.
St Thérèse reminds us that as priests our vocation is sacramental, so that in all that we say and do and in the manner of our actions and our speech others should be able to discern the presence of Christ the High Priest. Like her we must try to shape our lives from within so as to reflect the reality of Christ’s priesthood in a needy world.
Each one of us will bring our own particular petitions to be united to the intercessory prayer of St Thérèse. But together let us ask her to strengthen the resolve of those who are contemplating a call to priesthood at this time and to inspire all our Seminarians to follow their calling, faithfully obedient to the voice of Christ. Let us pray for any of our brothers in the priesthood who are struggling because of temptations, problems or ill health. And as we listen to the words of our Lord: do not neglect the gift that is in you, let us give thanks with all those who celebrate their special anniversaries of ordination this year, or who are simply grateful day by day that the Lord has entrusted us with the gift of the priesthood.
St Thérèse of Lisieux…..Pray for us.