"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

“The Kenosis of St. Therese of Lisieux” – Homily by Fr. Nathan

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ez 18:25-8; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32) “The Kenosis of St. Therese of Lisieux”  PDF Version  

Homily for the 26th Sunday of OT, Year A (2017): Ez 18:25-8; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

During my studies at Mt Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, I was blessed to study alongside more than 200 men discerning to become priests in various dioceses across the United States, Canada and American Somoa. Most of us were discerning the call to be diocesan priests, but we also studied alongside brothers from religious communities such as the Benedictine Monks, the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit and the Discalced Carmelite Friars.

I will never forget my first meeting with the Carmelites. We were buying textbooks for the coming semester and after saying hello to two Carmelites, they immediately asked me “have you read the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux?” Filled with a touch of pride and wanting to impress the brothers, I replied that I had as my grandmother had given me a very old edition of her autobiography.

The brothers quickly informed me that this was an inferior version of her seminal writing, and they directed me to a book shelf that was selling the most accurate translation of her autobiography, one that best captured the simple yet elegant writing style of the youngest Doctor of the Church.

St Therese of Lisieux’s “The Story of a Soul” allows a reader to enter into the spiritual joys and tremendous sufferings of this young Carmelite nun who died after a horrific battle with tuberculosis at the age of 24. There is little doubt that the harsh conditions of the Carmelite monastery contributed to the decline of this young woman whose health had been fragile throughout her entire life. 24 years old and already a young life was snuffed out. Some may be inclined to cry out in the words of the prophet Ezekiel that “The Lord’s way is not fair!”

Do we often feel this way when we hear the life of young person cut short? Could not have God granted them better health and allowed them to go on to do many great things? If perhaps St Therese had not chosen the rigours of the Carmelite monastery, she could have regained her health and lived a life with far less suffering? Some might even say she was reckless in saying yes to such a life and that God should have waited for her to be more adequately prepared to serve Him and His Holy Church?

Had St Therese of Lisieux said yes to serve the Lord, but then opted to avoid her vocation because of the challenges it presented, she would have become like the servant in the Lord’s parable who said yes to his Father but then failed to do his will. Instead, she was more like the first son, though for her there was never a moment of failing to say yes to her call to be a Carmelite Nun.

In fact, when she was told she was too young to enter the convent, she took advantage of a family trip to Rome to make sure that when she had a chance to kiss the papal ring of Pope Leo XIII, that she would break Vatican protocol and speak to the Pope, begging him to grant the necessary permission for her to become a Carmelite nun!

Though the Holy Pontiff said she must wait a little longer to enter the convent, her audacity and sense of urgency showed that for her, whatever crosses and pains she would endure behind the cloistered walls of Carmel, were worth embracing if it allowed her to live her vocation and become a mystical bride of Jesus Christ.

In saying yes to Christ and not looking for find ways to delay living her vocation, St. Therese embodied, in both her flesh and soul, those poetic words of St. Paul who spoke of Our Lord as “emptying himself”, humbly taking on our weakness and being obedient to death, even death on a cross. Our Lord’s life was like that of a chalice filled with the best wine, wine that he desired to be poured out upon the earth, that through His sacrifice many might taste and see the goodness of The Lord and know the depth of a love that no one has nor will ever offer again.

So too, little Therese of the Child Jesus wanted to imitate her Lord in all things, emptying herself of any attachments to people or things in this life and seeing in her poor health and her excruciating death by tuberculosis as the culmination of a life spent giving everything to Jesus, holding nothing back for herself.

Now lest one become too romantic about her sufferings, it should be noted that her final days were also marked by intense spiritual attacks about whether or not God loved her and if there was indeed a heaven that would be her reward for heroically offering her suffering to God, and having strived to live a life free from attachment to sin.          Consider these words from her autobiography that have been removed from some additions of this spiritual work:

“I get tired of the darkness all around me. The darkness itself seems to borrow, from the sinners who live in it, the gift of speech. I hear its mocking accents: ‘It’s all a dream, this talk of a heavenly country, of a God who made it all, who is to be your possession in eternity! All right, go on longing for death! But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will only mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence!’”[1]

One of her fellow Carmelite sisters who acted as her nurse until death gave the following testimony about the depth of suffering that St Therese endured:

“Three days before she died, I saw her in such pain that I was heartbroken. When I drew near to her bed, she tried to smile, and, in a strangled sort of voice, she said: ‘If I didn’t have faith, I could never bear such suffering.’”[2]

The Little Flower was under no illusion that it was the gift of faith in God that allowed her to persevere until her final breath. Despite temptations to think heaven was a hoax, she continued to allow Jesus to empty her of everything that she was so that she could be united to Him to whom “every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

On this Sunday, which is also the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, let us ask the Little Flower, as she is affectionately known, to intercede for us in saying yes to be about the vocation that God has called us to, resisting that temptation to say yes, but then to never follow through in our promise.

Let us also ask her for the grace to empty ourselves as she did in imitation of the redeeming sacrifice of our Saviour. The Little Flower was fond of saying her vocation was to be love in the heart of her mother the Church. May we strive to love as she did and discover that to love in this way is the path to genuine happiness now and in the eternity that is to come.

[1] Found in an online article by Joe Sparks entitled “Censoring St Therese: Five Things You Didn’t Know About The Little Flower” http://www.catholichousehold.com/censoring-st-therese-5-things-didnt-know-little-flower/

[2] Ibid

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Categorised in: Fr. Nathan's Homilies, Homilies