St. Therese and the Priesthood Reflections, Part II
|Fr. Joseph Mary, Br. Paul, and Br. Justin helping Sr. Esther celebrate her birthday on Sept. 19th|
There is an amazing phenomenon amongst priests. I am sure it has been the case for quite a while, but its something that just struck me recently: Priests LOVE St. Therese. So many of my priest friends turn to her as to a sister and friend in all their needs. There was a time when St. Therese was looked upon by some as ‘saccharine’, ‘overly sentimental’, and 'childish'. WHAT A MISUNDERSTANDING of this strong and amazing and REAL saint - who knew and embraced reality! With the help of some wonderful authors and devotees, the true spirit of Therese is being seen in all its splendor! So many priests and faithful turn to Therese as a powerful intercessor, a tough guide, and a spiritual warrior.
Why are the priests of the 3rd millennium so devoted to St. Therese? Why is she termed the greatest saint in modern times? I believe a key to unlock the Therese trend is to realize that LOVE EMPOWERS. Many priests (and many faithful for that matter) know – through her words and through the experience of her intercession – that Therese LOVES them. And this LOVE EMPOWERS them to incorporate her doctrine of spiritual childhood into their own lives.
On her deathbed, Therese said: “ I believe my mission is about to begin, my mission of making souls love God as I love Him, my mission of teaching the little way to souls. If my desires are fulfilled,” she says, “I shall spend my heaven in doing good upon earth. She continued later, “I will send down a shower of roses.” A Sister asked her: “Will you look down?” “No.” Therese answered, “I will come down.” Continuing in the same vein she said to her sister Marie: “I will begin my mission. I will come down to aid missionaries and to obtain the baptism of pagan children before they die.” Her sister Pauline told her they would put a palm branch in her hand after her death. Therese responded: “Yes, but I will have to let it slip from my hands b/c I will use them to shower graces.”
She has made good her promises. How many priests have experienced this love? How many priests have been transformed by this love? Therese’s mission is caught up with the mission of priests.
To know the love of a saint is to get a glimpse of the love of God. To know the love of this saint is to grow in a desire to make her Spouse known and loved. It is a LOVE that EMPOWERS. Therese says so plainly: “How great is the power of prayer. Like a queen who has free access at all times to the king, and can obtain all she asks.” Yes, Therese understood so well that LOVE EMPOWERS!
St. Therese understood both the dignity and the humanity of priests. Throughout her entire life, St. Therese fostered a deep love for the Priesthood. In 1887, when she was 15 years old, she went on month long pilgrimage with a group of people including her father, sister Celine and several priests. In Story of a Soul she says the following: “I understood my vocation in Italy…I lived in the company of many saintly priests for a month and I learned that, though their dignity raises them above the angels, they are nevertheless weak and fragile men. If holy priests, whom Jesus in His Gospel calls ‘salt of the earth’, show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid? Didn’t Jesus say too: ‘If the salt loses its savor wherewith will it be salted?’ How beautiful is the vocation which has as its aim the preservation of the salt destined for souls!…To be apostles to the apostles. We are to pray for them while they are preaching to souls through their words and especially their example.”
If we want to follow in the footsteps of our beloved saint, then we must imitate the realism of Therese. She teaches us that we must respect the dignity of the Priest, to love the Priest, to intercede for priests. To be an aqua duct of grace for priests is to affect more souls than just the priests. There is a great multiplication factor when we pray for priests. We support and strengthen just one priest through our prayers, then he in turn is a powerful instrument for many, many souls. Then it goes on from there...these 'converted souls' touch the lives and hearts of others...and on and on! If we love souls, then we will be drawn to pray for priests.
G.K. Chesterton once said of St. Francis of Assisi: “He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men, possibly a much rarer and mystical gift.” The same can be said of St. Therese. She loved souls. She lived for souls. Why? Because she loved Jesus and wished to imitate His own love for souls: The Word becoming Flesh, living in poverty, laboring, experiencing fatigue and hunger, being betrayed and denied by those who were closest to him, dying to save us, remaining with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament... St. Therese understood the Heart of Christ. She understood the heart of men. Love understands.
Such a love inspired the following words to her spiritual brother, Fr. Maurice Belliere: “When I shall have arrived at port, I will teach you how to travel, dear little brother of my soul, on the stormy sea of the world: with the surrender and the love a child who knows his Father loves him and cannot leave him alone in the hour of danger…The way of simple love and confidence is really made for you.”