Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The idea of venerating someone’s bodily remains may not be appealing, even though there is good warrant for it in Scripture and Christian tradition. But the key is this: when we venerate relics, we venerate a person: someone who lived holiness in a bodily life and will rise embodied from the dead. So, it is Thérèse in person who comes to visit us. This can only be an occasion of grace.
She was a remarkable person. She died in 1897. Her life was short. It was limited in scope and opportunity. Her schooldays were unhappy. She lost her mother when she was four and her father was incapacitated from the time she was sixteen. She entered the local Carmelite convent when she was fifteen and lived from then on in strict enclosure. Her spiritual life passed largely in the half-light and latterly in darkness. Tuberculosis claimed her when she was 24. ‘If you only knew what this young nun is suffering,’ said the doctor. Perhaps similar lives are not rare. Her gift to us, though, is the way she lived it. She lived it with Christ, fully alive. She lived it with inner luminosity and courage. It became a life transformed, complete and whole, rich in meaning, its limits turned into opportunities. Quietly revolutionary in her attitudes, she broke new paths. She was one of those ‘mere children’ to whom the Father revealed the kingdom (cf. Mt 11:25). She left behind the fear that marked the faith of many at that time, and made straight for the heart of the Father of mercies. She realised the kind of disciple Jesus wanted: poor in spirit, pure of heart, full of trust rather than self-reliance, confident of forgiveness, small, a child – the marks of her famous ‘way’. She grasped the occasions for love of Christ and neighbour hidden in ordinary life. She used love’s power to transfigure the negative into the positive. She expressed all this in her writings. Her sense of the universal reach of prayer and her dark night of faith brought her close to her atheist contemporaries; she understood them from the inside and carried them. She even re-imagined heaven and foresaw it as an occasion for further loving: ‘I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.’ Her last words, ‘My God, I love you’, were the sign of victory. Her life, and her subsequent renown, perfectly illustrate today’s Gospel: ‘Anyone who humbles themselves will be exalted.’
Her relics arrived in Scotland on 30th August and will be venerated at Carfin this Sunday. They will visit our diocese from the 9th to the 12th September. They will be available for veneration at St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen from the 9th to the 11th , at Pluscarden Abbey on the afternoon of the 11th , and at St Mary’s, Inverness, from the evening of the 11th to the 12th .
For more than a century St Thérèse has been experienced by people as someone close, a ‘citizen of heaven’ very much alive and on our side. May her visit be a blessing to our bewildered country, to our struggling Church and to each of us!
Yours devotedly in Christ,
+ Hugh OSB