Tag Archives: Saint Therese

16 December: Generous II

From Saiint Davids Cathedral

Part II of Sister Johanna’s reflection on our generous creator and father in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Thank you once again, Sister!

Yesterday we were looking at the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Mt.20:1-16), and we meditated on how God the Father, represented by the vineyard owner, searches for us ceaselessly. Today I would like to look at what happens when the time comes for the workers to be paid. .

Looking at this parable of Jesus strictly from the point of view of how to run a business, it is not a very cogent treatment of the subject, as yesterday’s post pointed out. Economics do not figure, for Jesus. Or rather, Jesus seems to be making the point that the ‘economics’ of the Kingdom are completely different from all others. Likewise, the justice of the Kingdom is emphatically not what we would expect. It was this latter point that always tripped me up when I was younger. The older I get, the less this trips me up, but let’s explore it anyway.

It used to be that when I read this parable, I would feel sorry for the workers hired in the morning, who worked hard all day long (as they are at pains to point out) ‘in all the heat’. Bad luck for them, I’d think, when the late-comers slouch in to receive their salary, and it comes out that the late ones are being paid as much as those hired early in the day. Because if the early group had known that this would happen, they could have slept late, and then strolled out to the marketplace for a few beers, and then pulled a pathetic face when the vineyard owner walked by, begged for a job, worked an hour and made a small bundle.

But I don’t think like that any longer. Age, life-experience, and self-knowledge have changed my perspective. My first thought now on reading the vineyard owner’s question, ‘Why are you envious because I am generous?’ is “Lord, I am not envious because you are generous. Relief is all I feel.” Many kinds of relief. Let’s start with the question of “when.” I learn here that the Lord ‘hires’ into the life of grace according to a timing that is entirely his own affair. This consoles me when I pray for people who do not seem to be in the Lord’s employ. I sometimes ponder the mystery of why some souls do not seem to know the Lord, or even want to know him, cannot seem to see that those who work in his vineyard are blessed beyond telling – the whole thing seems alien to them, even empty, delusional, ridiculous. But, in this parable I find that the question of when is simply not my problem, with regard to other souls. It is entirely the Lord’s prerogative to hire according to timing that only he understands, but is unquestionably right for those whom he hires. The thing to remember, the thing that gives me comfort here, is that he goes out and looks for us, as we saw in yesterday’s post. Repeatedly. Until the eleventh hour.

Then there is the matter of what this vineyard really stands for in the parable*. I like to think of the vineyard as heaven. In this interpretation, our Lord wants us to know that heaven is not a place where its inmates sit around and spend all their time singing alleluias: they work. St Therese used to say, ‘I’ll spend my heaven doing good on earth’. I think she would support this view of the vineyard. So, how wonderful that those who are ‘hired’ late in life, who late in life find the Lord and, late, learn to love him, may hope to be admitted as workers in the heavenly vineyard, along with those who received their working papers as young children. What a relief! I cannot be envious of the vineyard owner’s generosity here.

If the vineyard also stands for the life of grace on earth, which it probably does, well and good. To ‘work’ there is our joy, our greatest joy on earth. This is what makes the complaints of the workers in this parable so wrong-headed. For them, life in the vineyard is one big grind, evidently, its work something they want to do as little of as possible so that they can spend the rest of their time… doing what, exactly? Loafing about? (How boring). Living an exciting life of sin? (How addictive and miserable). Making money, becoming famous, and playing power games with people in order to get ahead? (Ditto). Doing what they want when they want? (Ok for a short time, but ultimately, no). What they don’t seem to get is that the life of grace is itself the ‘payment’. One of our deepest human and spiritual needs, after the need for love, is the need for meaning. A life in the Lord’s vineyard fulfils both needs, gives us both love and meaning. This is our payment – and this is why everyone who works for this vineyard owner receives the same payment.

Finally, there is a third reason why this parable no longer bothers me anymore. You might say that I am in the category of those who were hired early in the day. But how many of us from that category can claim, by the time we reach, let’s call it, a “mature” age, to have been faithful at every moment? Have we all worked straight through the day in all the heat? Really? Or did we occasionally lapse, flake out, slack off, waste time at the water cooler? Perhaps we are still there, in flake-out mode. Are we afraid to return to the vineyard, afraid of what the owner will say to us? This parable allows us to hope that the Lord may be generous with his mercy to us, also.

SJC.

Note:

*Scholarly treatments of this parable usually say that the vineyard stands for the covenant; those first called stand for the Jewish people, privileged since Abraham’s time. The Lord opens up the membership, invites the world in, offers them everything. The first called have no right to be jealous of this.

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15 October: Women as Apostles, by Saint John XXIII

john xxiii

John XXIII’s opening paragraph really applies to any baptised Christian, and so does much of this extract. John concludes by reminding us that women were there from the beginning of the Church, and perhaps he challenges us all to act as one in what he calls a fusion of souls.

No soul consecrated to the Lord is dispensed from the sublime duty of continuing the saving mission of the Divine Redeemer.

The Church expects much from those who live in the silence of the cloister, and especially from there. They, like Moses, have their arms raised in prayer, conscious that in this prayerful attitude one obtains victory.

ther3So important is the contribution of women religious of the contemplative life to the apostolate that Pius XI wished to have as co-patron of the missions—and a rival therefore of St. Francis Xavier—not a Sister of the active life, but a Carmelite, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.

May the Church militant feel that you are present wherever your spiritual contribution is needed for the good of souls, as well as for real human progress and human peace.

May those who are dedicated to the active life … strive in obedience to study and obtain the degrees which will allow you to surmount every difficulty. Thus, in addition to your merited and proven capability, you may be better appreciated also for your spirit of dedication, patience and sacrifice.

There is, moreover, the presage of further demands in the new countries which have entered the community of free nations. Without lessening one’s love for his own country, the world has become more than ever before a common fatherland. Many Sisters have already felt this call. The field is immense.

Not even the Sisters dedicated to contemplation are exempt from this duty. The people in certain regions of Africa and the Far East feel a greater attraction to contemplative life, which is more congenial to the development of their civilization.

The consecrated souls in the new secular institutes should know also that their work is appreciated and that they are encouraged to contribute toward making the Gospel penetrate every facet of the modern world.

 May the spirit of Pentecost prevail over your chosen families and may it unite them in that fusion of souls which was seen in the cenacle where, together with the Mother of God and the Apostles, several pious women were to be found (Acts 1:14).

We thank God for the families we have been given, but also for our friends who are sisters, especially the Littlehampton Sisters, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Saint Joseph and the  Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, who were all part of the community at the Franciscan International Study Centre.

 

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October 1: The Little Beggar of Christmas

Why Christmas in October? Well every day is Christmas, for every day Jesus is with us. But this is a verse from a play by St Thérèse, and this is her feast day. Happy Feast Day to all you Carmelites! We hope to have a Carmelite writing for the blog soon, just watch this space.
In this scene Thérèse has an angel speaking on behalf of baby Jesus, who cannot yet speak for himself. Jesus is begging for tenderness and praise from the sisters, as he is from us. May our indifference to him be burnt away by our growing love.
This post opens a short season on beggars.

For Jesus, the Exile from Heaven,

I have met in the world

Only a profound indifference

This is why I come to Carmel.

So that your tenderness

And your caresses

And your praises

Oh sisters of the angels!

Be for the Child.

Burn with love, delighted soul,

A God made Himself mortal for you.

Oh! touching mystery

The One who is begging from you

Is the Eternal Word!…

Read more of this English version of Thérèse’s play.

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27 February: Judgement III

footwash

Father Daniel concludes his reflections on Judgement by looking at grace as the force of love. On the eve of Passover, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet; Fr Daniel reminds us of another favourite saint, Thérèse, who so faithfully loved a particular sister in her community. Thank you for these reflections, Daniel!

To love those who in some way repel me is not possible without grace, without the love of God. It is all about the decision to love. Once I make the decision to love them, to feel the awkwardness and do it anyway, I am drawing strength from Jesus mysteriously present in that person. Jesus who is King of the Universe yet stooped to wash the feet of the Twelve, who hides Himself in the Host and Chalice, at the mercy of our reverence (or otherwise).

In the convent with Saint Thérèse, there was one sister whom she found most difficult to live with, and who constantly criticized her. – The reality of community life! Yet, at the investigations for her beatification, this sister truly considered herself the favourite of Thérèse …

Famously, Saint Thérèse wrote: “I will love Jesus more than He has ever been loved before on earth!” – and she did! And ALL in hidden acts of love, searching for Jesus where on the surface he appeared to be absent….

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Next time you are at Mass and preparing to offer to Almighty God with thanks the sacrifice of love – the death of His Son – and to receive Him hidden in the Host, let us each ask ourselves: am I aware enough of my own poverty and wretchedness to look for it in others – and to love the Christ hidden there?

At the first death, when we make our own unique passage from this life to the next (should that happen before He comes again), the Just Judge will ask us the same question He asked Peter, standing on the shore of the lake all those centuries ago:

Do you love me?

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3 February: A week with Rabindranath Tagore: VI

“We, the rustling leaves, have a voice that answers the storms, but who are you, so silent?”

“I am a mere flower.”

Stray Birds XXIII

Saint Thérèse says:

‘Jesus  multiplied his graces in his little flower – he who cried out during his mortal life “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”’ (Luke 10: 21)

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1 October: Feast of Saint Thérèse

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Thérèse was born in 1873, before Pius X encouraged Holy Communion for younger children; as a teenager she had to seek permission to receive the sacrament on major feast days. Her sister Marie prepared her each time as she had done for her first communion.

‘I remember once she talked about suffering, telling me that I probably would not walk that path, but if I did, the Good God would always carry me like a child …

‘Soon after my First Communion, I made another retreat for my Confirmation. I prepared with great care to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), not understanding why people paid little attention to the reception of this sacrament of Love. Usually there was one day’s retreat before Confirmation but as the Bishop could not come on the date set, I had the consolation of two days of solitude. To give us something to do, our teacher took us to mount Cassin where I gathered handfuls of moon daisies for Corpus Christi. Ah ! how joyful my soul was ! like the apostles I was happy to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2,1-4) I was overjoyed at the thought of soon becoming a perfect Christian, and especially of having for eternity the mark of the mysterious cross which the bishop would trace on my forehead … I felt the gentle breeze that the prophet Elijah felt on Mount (1Kings 19,11-13)

‘That day I received the strength to suffer, for soon afterward my soul’s martyrdom began… After these lovely, unforgettable feasts, my life went back to normal – that is to say, back to boarding school which was so painful for me. I was forced to live with girls who were very different, dissipated, not wanting to keep to the rule, and it made me quite unhappy.’

Mont Cassin is now the site of two World War II cemeteries, one German, the other Commonwealth. St Desir cemeteries

These men were forced to live and die with others who were very different, and if not dissipated, certainly would have preferred not to be under King’s Regulations.

Reader, pray for them.

Saint Therese, pray for them.

MMB.

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July 16: Light VII: And they shall see his face.

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And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.            Revelation 22:1-5.

At the end of the Bible comes John’s vision of the City of God – cue all those resounding phrases in ‘Immortal, invisible’. But wouldn’t you want to be in a back row, like a good Catholic? Heaven sounds overwhelming, as John describes it: all those sonorous attributes! And won’t you miss a good night’s sleep?

But wait, there is room for us: John says that God’s  servants … shall reign for ever and ever, even while serving him. We won’t be at a loose end, and we won’t need Peter Smith’s candles to stand in for us, as the Lord God will give us light, and we shall see his face. This, I’m sure will not be a passive experience:

In this world and time, Tito the dog actively uses nose and tongue to ‘see’ with when he comes to visit. Watching and learning from dogs and young children, we can look for God’s reflections all around us and and count our blessings. Therese says, ‘Jesus  multiplied his graces in his little flower – he who cried out during his mortal life “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”’ (Luke 10: 21)

Let’s pray: ‘O help us to see ’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.’

Picture, Public Domain: Apsis mosaic, Santa Pudenziana, Rome photo Sixtus enhanced TTaylor.jpg

 

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Light VI: Silent as light.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

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To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee.

Walter Chalmers Smith.

John Betjeman commented on the first line of this hymn, ‘Happily wisdom isn’t the only attribute of God – clever people can be very tiresome.’ He has a point: all the apocalyptic imagery here can be off-putting. Nevertheless, I return to the last line, ‘only the splendour of light hideth Thee.’ Light pollution can be physical but also mental and spiritual.

Like Newman, we should be wary of the garish day, and join Vaughan, deciphering the glimmers in the night sky – after all, until GPS came in the stars were used for navigation, even leading the Wise Men to Jesus. If it is dark outside, may we trust with Therese and John of the Cross, who   ‘had neither guide nor light, except the one shining in my heart’, who will lead us home.

 

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July 13:Light IV – They Are All Gone into the World of Light! (continued)

milkyway

NASA photo showing the Milky Way

We continue with Henry Vaughan:

If a star were confin’d into a tomb,
Her captive flames must needs burn there;
But when the hand that lock’d her up gives room,
She’ll shine through all the sphere.

O Father of eternal life, and all
Created glories under Thee!
Resume Thy spirit from this world of thrall
Into true liberty.

Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill
My perspective still as they pass:
Or else remove me hence unto that hill
Where I shall need no glass.

I cannot help but think of Therese and John of the Cross, reading the lines: ‘If a star were confin’d into a tomb, Her captive flames must needs burn there.’ John’s prison cell  and even Therese’s Carmel must seem like prisons to some of us. I’ve certainly had moments when I’ve just had to escape from certain rooms and get out of doors. I believe it may have something to do with the harsh artificial light in there. And Traveller friends have described feeling oppressed even by spending too much time indoors in friendly places. 

But Therese and John still burned in their confinement, and shine through this sphere today, enlightening many with their wisdom. We can pray for God to disperse the mists that fill our lenses – Vaughan is surely peering through a telescope as the words come into his mind. And we can look forward to the city on a hilltop where we will live by the light of the Lord God.

I hope the stars will still be there!

MMB

 

 

 

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July 11: LIGHT II – Saint Thérèse, Saint John of the Cross and inner light

Thérèse is writing about her early experiences of the light of her vocation bursting forth in her heart, and refers to another Carmelite, Saint John of the Cross. See http://www.livres-mystiques.com/partieTEXTES/Lisieux/Histoire/fol36a53.html

The path I was walking along was so straight, so luminous, that I needed no other guide but Jesus.

When a gardener takes great care of a fruit that he wants to ripen before its season, it is never to leave it hanging on the tree, but in order to bring it to the table, beautifully served. It was something like that that Jesus had in mind when he multiplied his graces in his little flower – he who cried out during his mortal life ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’ (Luke 10: 21)

mercylogoHe wanted to make his mercy erupt in me; because I was little he came down to me and in secret taught me about his love.  Ah! If any scholars who had passed their lives in studies had come to interrogate me, doubtless they would have been astounded to find a fourteen year old child understanding the secrets of perfection, secrets that all their science could not reveal to them because to possess them one must be poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:3)

As St John of the Cross said in his Canticle: ‘I had neither guide nor light, except the one shining in my heart. This light guided me, more surely than the light of midday, to the place where He who knew me perfectly was waiting for me.’ That place was Carmel.

(For each of them!)

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