The Little Flower — St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Fifth in a Series by Albert H. Dolan, O. Carm.

Veneration of the Little Flower's Relics

And God worked more than the usual miracles by the hand of Paul; so that even handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out (Acts 19: 11-12).

St. Therese Relic

Since we so often venerate the Relics of the Little Flower as a part of our devotions, a word about their veneration will not be out of order.

Let us try to imagine some scoffer witnessing the close of the Little Flower devotions and crowds of people pressing to the front of the church to kiss the Relic of the Little Flower. What would the scoffer say or think? "What nonsense," he would say, "what absolute superstition, to think that there is any virtue or power in that small piece of bone from a dead nun! What idolatry! Who can deny, after witnessing this scene, that Catholics are what they are so often called—unthinking, over-credulous, superstitious idolaters, hopelessly behind the times?"

I wonder how many could answer this scoffer's objections. I hope that everyone who is sufficiently well instructed in the Catholic Faith would be able to answer, if asked, "Why do you kiss that relic; what is the teaching of the Church concerning relics; why is the veneration of relics not a superstitious, but a reasonable, intelligent practice of which no Catholic need be ashamed, but of which he may rather be proud?"

Lest there be some who are not thoroughly informed in their practice of venerating relics, let us explain briefly the Catholic doctrine concerning relics and their veneration.

The word "relic" means something which remains, that which is left, and therefore some part of the body or clothes (or other frequently used items) remaining as a memorial of a departed Saint. The Relic in our monastery is a piece of the rib of the Little Flower.

Now, in the first place, the Church emphatically does not teach, nor does any intelligent Catholic believe, that there is any magic power or physical curative efficacy residing in the relic itself. There is no power intrinsic to any relic. There is no virtue whatsoever inherent in any bone or part of the bone of any Saint. So much for that erroneous interpretation of our practice of venerating relics.

Secondly, notice, my dear friends, that we use the expression "venerate relics." We do not adore them—that would be idolatry. (We even avoid using the word "worship;" although it can have a correct connation here, it is too often misunderstood.) We venerate them, that is, we honor them; we honor relics with a veneration which, though it is bestowed on material objects such as bones, ashes or garments, does not rest in these material objects, but goes beyond them to the Saints they commemorate. When we honor a relic we are in addition, and chiefly, honoring the Saint whose relic is concerned.

Little Flower Relic

What practice could be more reasonable and intelligent than to honor relics of the Saints? It is an impulse that is common to all men to hold in honor everything that is intimately connected with the person whom they love or esteem. If Catholics are to be condemned for honoring the relics of the Saints, then must he also be condemned as superstitious and unintelligent who preserves a lock of the hair of his beloved mother long since dead. So must they be condemned as superstitious who revere the sword of Washington or the pen with which Lincoln signed the Act which freed the slaves. So must they be condemned who preserve and honor the original handwriting of General Grant in his monument in New York City, or who preserve the home of Shakespeare and the letters of Longfellow. If there is nothing superstitious in preserving and honoring the homes and handwriting and the weapons of "great" men, how much less superstitious is it to honor, not so much the home or the handwriting, but part of the very body of one who is especially dear to God; part of the body that was once the temple of the Holy Ghost and which will one day be raised up unto the likeness of Jesus into Heaven, where the soul that once inhabited that body now dwells.

Should we be ashamed of such a practice? On the contrary, we are proud and happy that we have such a memento of the Little Flower to honor. We all love her and there are those of us who love her much and who in venerating the relic give expression to their ardent love of her who has let fall upon them a shower of roses. As we present the relic at each service to the people we say to ourselves, as every once in a while some lover of the Little Flower kisses the relic with more than usual fervor, "There is a soul who has been touched by the beauty and sweetness of the life of the Little Flower, whose heart has been moved to great gratitude by the favors of the Little Flower. There is a soul to whom the Little Flower is a friend and companion." No superstition there; no, only love—love for the dear little Saint of our own times who has done so much for us all.

In conclusion, although we do not believe that relics have any inherent or indwelling magical power or curative efficacy, yet we do know that God, in response to prayerful veneration of relics, has often chosen to make those relics the instruments of miracles of grace and healing. The Gospel of St. Matthew relates an instance of Our Lord's use of a material thing—His garment—to work a miracle of healing: "And behold a woman who was troubled with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind Him, and touched the hem of His garment. For she said within herself: 'If I shall touch only His garment I shall be healed.' But Jesus turning and seeing her, said: 'Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.' And the woman was made whole from that hour" (Matt. 9: 20). We hope for such graces when we kiss the relic and our hope is not a superstitious, but an intelligent one. What wonder if God Who answers prayer should choose, as His instrument of answer to prayer, the revered memorial of the body of her, who on earth lived only for Him and gave Him naught but love? We know of many instances in which God chose the relic of the Little Flower—our relic—to work, not miracles perhaps, but marvelous favors.

Our scoffer, I think, is answered. Let me add that the most unintelligent and illiterate and uneducated person who kneels at this altar railing and kisses in love the relic of the Little Flower and hopes to obtain thereby some favor from God, knows more than the most highly educated, but unbelieving, university professor. For the illiterate person knows what the proud professor does not know: that God exists, that God listens to prayer, that when we honor His Saints and their memorials, we honor Him, and that He is often pleased to grant to the humble veneration of a relic of a Saint a miracle of grace. Therefore, my dear friends, let us venerate the relic of the Little Saint reverently and lovingly, not believing that there is any magic power in it, but hoping that God will use this portion of the body of the Little Flower as the instrument of His answer to our prayers.

The Little Flower Still Lives

St. Therese, made glorious by thy Spouse after death, pray for us.

(This sermon was preached in 1925, on the first Feast of the Little Flower, September 30, the anniversary of her death.)

Death of the Little FlowerTwenty-eight years ago today, at seven o'clock in the evening, St. Therese, the Little Flower of Jesus, died. During her last illness she had said, "The death I desire is the death of Jesus on the Cross." Her prayer was heard to the full; her agony was intense. Toward the end she asked the Mother Superior, "Mother, is not this the agony?" and the Mother replied, "Yes, my child, it is the agony." The Little Flower once more made an act of perfect resignation and with a loving glance at her crucifix, she added, "Oh—I love Him—my God—I love Thee."

These were her last words. Scarcely had she uttered them when her pure soul fluttered from her body and flew to the throne of God in Heaven.

The Little Flower was dead—and yet on this anniversary of her death we do not grieve, but we rejoice. Why? Because she is not dead. Only after her death did she begin to live. On that day of her death, twenty-eight years ago, she did indeed leave her convent cloister, but only to walk in two worlds—the peaceful realm of Heaven and the troubled realm of earth, and she has been vitally active in both worlds ever since. When the Little Flower died, no one outside the convent heeded the passing of her soul; even in France, to say nothing of America and other distant countries, there was no one aware of her life or of her death. And yet almost overnight, the whole Catholic world knew of her and raised suppliant hands to her. And immediately, in answer, and in fulfillment of her promise, "I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth," her smile fell like a benediction upon all mankind. Twisted limbs were straightened; hardened sinners looked into her pure eyes and sought the confessional; faith came back like the rushing tide into souls that had denied their God. She passed the boundary of the Catholic world and sought out the homes of unbelief; she brought Protestant ministers to the feet of Peter and Pagans to the foot of the Cross. She was with the missionaries in Africa and China, and the foreign missions were soon put into her hands, put under her protection. She became the friend not of women only, but she sought also and won the hearts of mature men. Soldiers of France in the great War placed themselves in her keeping as they went over the top. French aces carried her picture in their machines and dedicated their planes to her. Oh, no, the Little Flower is not dead. She continues today to teach our age lessons of modesty and innocence more powerful than all the preaching from Cathedral pulpits.

Little Flower RelicIn Heaven she is vitally active. It is reported that lately she appeared to a Carmelite in France and said, "In the Kingdom of Heaven, I am like a queen; I distribute graces according to my pleasure."

And here at her American National Shrine she lives. She moves among us, a vital beneficial presence. She filled this church ten times today, and for the last nine days, and she fills it that often every Tuesday the year round, in any and all weather. She is alive to the crowds who come. She smiles into their eyes; she catches and holds their hearts with the spell of her charm. They open their arms to receive her roses—roses of healing, roses of greater love of God, roses of strength against temptation, roses of relief from trial and tribulation, roses of resignation, roses of the gift of prayer, roses of the virtues of humility, patience, purity. The roses drop and are caught by the members of her Society here and it would be impossible to convince them that their Little Flower is not alive. Day after day her roses fall and day after day the Little Flower becomes dearer to our hearts as we fall deeper into her debt. Surely today we who love her will resolve to become more like her, to make her known to others, to help her to live in the hearts of others and to do in others' hearts the work she has done in ours.

May the roses which you now hold in your hands, my dear friends, be the symbols and the promise of the heavenly roses which the Little Flower shall let fall upon each of you today, today which is not so much the day of her death as her birthday, the birthday of God’s favorite child to whom, because she never refused God anything upon earth, God refuses nothing in Heaven—the birthday of God's favorite child "made glorious by her Spouse after death."

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