Sunday, June 1, 2014

Gathering Flowers in a Broken World

What this child asks for is Love. She knows only one thing: to love you, O Jesus. Astounding words are forbidden to her; she cannot preach the Gospel, shed her blood; but what does it matter since her brother work in her stead and she, a little child, stays very close to the throne of the King and Queen? She loves in her brothers’ place while they do the fighting.

But how will she prove his love, since love is proved by works? Well the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of love.

Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for you than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.

I desire to suffer for love and even to rejoice through love; and in this way I shall strew flowers before Your throne. I shall not come upon one without unpetalling it for You. While I am strewing my flowers, I shall sing, for could one cry while doing such a joyous action? I shall sing even when I must gather my flowers in the midst of thorns, and my song will be all the more melodious in proportion to the length and sharpness of the thorns.
St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

Reflection – A little more St. Therese today. This is the kind of passage from her that leads some people to pass quickly over her writings, dismissing them as too sugary, too ‘pious’, too… well, flowery, to use the obvious word.

Now I’m not really a ‘flower’ kind of guy, to be honest. Flowers are pretty and all with the colors and the petals and so forth, but they don’t exactly send me around the moon. No offense, but on Corpus Christi when I see little girls strewing the petals from their baskets in the procession with the Blessed Sacrament, while the girls are very lovely and cute, about the flowers I mostly think ‘well, that’s a mess someone has to clean up!’

All of which is to say that I get why people might be put off by the imagery here, and it’s not exactly my natural style of expression. But as is always the case with the Little Flower, as soon as you dig even a bit into what she is actually saying, the flowery sweetness falls away and the stark reality of what she is living shines forth in splendor and majesty.

Essentially, she is saying that the raw material of sanctity (which is Love) is present in every life. As wild flowers grow everywhere, every life, even one day of one life, has ample material in it to make a soul into a saint. Simply, we are not to let one opportunity for love and sacrifice, for an offering to God, escape us. This is what ‘strewing flowers’ means for Therese, and there is no shortage of such flowers in anyone’s life.

‘I don’t want to waste anything!’ An elderly nun of my acquaintance likes to say that, both about the normal frugality of housekeeping and the spiritual frugality of the heart, and that’s what’s going on here. We all waste quite a bit, when we are lackadaisical or half-hearted, resentful and complaining, or simply heedless of the ample opportunities, piled up on every side, to perform acts of love and service and mortification.

They are ‘little’ acts, for the most part. Most of us are not rescuing babies from burning buildings, talking suicides off of ledges, or performing open heart surgery, at least not on a daily basis. The genius of Therese and her little way is that she saw that it is not the size of the act that makes for sanctification, but the size of the love.

I truly believe Jesus raised up Therese Martin in the life of the Church, at the very dawn of the 20th century when so many people would be broken under the wheels of history and so many truly tragic and painful things would happen in the world, to show that the materials for a genuinely successful life, a glorious life, do not come from what we think they come from—material sufficiency, emotional satisfaction, relational strength, professional accomplishment.

Under two world wars, a depression and the grinding poverty of so much of the world, these things would be denied a great proportion of humanity (we in North America, especially we younger ones, tend to be only dimly aware of that). St. Therese of Lisieux shows that even the barest and briefest of lives, even the most simple and basic level of subsistent living, is crammed, packed, jammed, with… well, with flowers.

Flowers to gather, flowers to unpetal, flowers to strew. Offerings of love that can be given to Love, and in that act of offering make the one offering into herself an offering, one with the Offering Himself. And that’s what it means, that’s all it means, that is the only thing that it means, to live a glorious, successful life.