Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Saint Thérèse

I am not a devotee of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Her autobiography was recommended to me soon after I returned to the Church, and I read it, eager to learn more about a relatively recent saint. I found it very hard to finish: the sentiments expressed were far too saccharine-sweet for my tastes. I preferred the acerbic qualities shown by St. Bernadette and St. Teresa of Avila.

However, it isn't every day that a canonised saint drops in for a visit, and when I heard that the relics of St. Thérèse would be coming to England, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life regretting it if I didn't make the effort to go and see her for myself.

Living on the outskirts of London, I considered going to see her relics when they were brought to Westminster Cathedral. However, I decided that this was probably not the best option for me, as I was sure there would be huge crowds, and I didn't fancy the idea of queuing for ages after having been on my feet all day at school.

Seeing the relics when they were at Aylesford seemed like a much better prospect. Aylesford is a relatively short drive down the motorway, and, even better, the relics would be there over the weekend. Although there were members of the parish UCM going early on Saturday morning (they'd been asked to stand watch over the relics for a while) and another group was going to attend the Mass on the Saturday lunchtime, I wasn't keen to get caught up with all the crowds. My knee and ankle have been playing up in the damp weather, and standing still for long periods of time, or walking in a slow-moving queue, is quite painful.

One of the Knights of St. Columba told me that there would be an all-night vigil on the Saturday night, and this seemed to be the ideal solution: I thought that there would still be lots of people, but a lot less than during the day.

Sure enough, the journey was an absolute doddle (no need to park a mile away) and, when I arrived at 10:40pm, although there were lots of cars in the parking area, the shrine itself was pretty empty...

I discovered that the all-night vigil had started with a Mass, and, on checking the programme, I realised that, since most people were at the Mass, this would be the perfect time to go to the Relic Chapel. The entrance to the Chapel was via the Rosary Way.

A large white tent had been erected as a sort of chapel, where large votive candles were burning and I asked the friar to light a couple for me, while I said a prayer or two before the statue of St. Thérèse.

I then made my way into the Relic Chapel itself, and was surprised to find it almost empty, apart from a very few people praying around the edges of the room...

I took a photo or two, and, not wanting to disturb anyone, moved in a bit closer, saying a few prayers. I felt drawn to the reliquary, but wasn't sure what to do next: after all, no-one else was moving. I waited a bit longer, and finally decided to ask the Knights of St. Columba if I could touch and venerate the reliquary.

"Yes, of course you can," came the response, "that's what it's there for."

I didn't need any further encouragement, and promptly laid my hands upon it, praying a Hail Mary or two, and then I kissed the reliquary (well, the perspex dome covering it) before moving back to sit and pray. All of a sudden, everyone else in the room converged on the reliquary, as though they had been waiting for permission!

The atmosphere in the Relic Chapel was very prayerful, and I felt intensely moved by the experience, and extremely privileged to have been able to get so close. I went back to the tent and got another candle and a rose, and I placed these on the reliquary: I believe that makes them third class relics! More and more people started to enter the chapel, and I realised that Mass had ended, so I went out, in order that others could have some time with the saint.

I shall wait and see what the fruits of this visit are: both for myself and for the country as a whole. The outpouring of devotion among so many Catholics must surely produce great things.


elena maria vidal said...

I did not have devotion to St. Therese, either, until she came into my life and took over. She is bold in that way.

gemoftheocean said...

Beautiful post. I'm thrilled for you.

You live close enough -- I highly recommend a trip to Lisieux to see the house she grew up in, the Carmel, and the basillica built in her honor. My mother and I went, as it turned out on our last trip to Europe together before she died, and I count our day side trip as one of the 10 best in my life. It was so moving. And I'd also gotten to see her relics when they came to San Diego. Once at the big public Mass, and later at a Midnight Christmas Mass in the small chapel that belongs to a nursing order of Carmelite nuns. By that time my mother had died, but I felt her very close by at that Mass.

Try reading some of Therese's correspondence. Her mother's correspondence is also available ( I don't know if available in English, I have it in French -- it makes for interesting reading.)

John the organist said...

Delighted that you were able to go to Aylesford. I know another person who went late at night,, also to avoid the traffic which I believe was very busy on Saturday. John and I were fortunate to catch the relics in 88 near Sydney but this week of course have indeed been at Westminster, both helping with stewarding and serving. The crowds have been huge, and it's been good to have a large screen outside for folk to see what others are doing inside. The liturgies have also been very moving, and the roses,,,,,.Liz.

truthfinder said...

(Cherry juice for the knee and ankle - taken internally, that is!)
It's dark, cold, and drizzly here, too. And I DO have SADS. Getting up in the morning while it is still dark is an Act of Penance, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise! Thank you for the photos. That's probably as close as I'll get to the relics. I'm caring for D.H. who is in the long recovery after surgery on a badly damaged rotator cuff and two torn tendons. It's a bit like having a small child again. Sigh. --- Rosemary in Missouri

Idle Rambler said...

Thanks for sharing your experience at Aylesford; your impressions and emotions - a beautiful post. Marvellous photos too.

Great to have you back BTW! :-)

Elizabeth said...

What beautiful photographs, without your blog many would never have seen Aylesford and the reliquary.
Please indulge us a bit more and tell us what the relics actually were, if that information is available.
Nice to have you back.

Dilly said...

I know this is going to sound utterly pretentious, but Story of a soul is better in the original French (though the Knox translation is ok). Also bear in mind that late 19th century French literary style is just as verbose to modern ears as Victorian English. Dickens rabbits on, but the basic stories are good. I identified with Therese, as she lived entirely in her head as a child and a teenager -and she was quite naughty and selfish at times. She could also be impatient, immature, priggish and intolerant. And she wrote about it all with absolute honesty and self-knowledge - which redeemed these faults. She turned them round so entirely, that she was able to use them in her spiritual growth. Some she recognised , and offered up - such as her humiliation and discomfort at others' habits. Some, like her stubborness she turned into virtues, by using them only for good ends. Oh - and she could laugh at herself as well.

Mulier Fortis said...

Sorry, Karen - I tried to re-read the autobiography several times, the last one being quite recent, and DillyDayDream, I'm sure the French is miles better than any translation, but I rather loathe Dickens as well, and I'm sure it's just the literary style, but it just isn't my cup of tea...

Seeing the relics was, however, awesome...


Dilly said... scientists ;-)

I'm just jealous really, because I only got a teensy moment by the relics in Westminster Cathedral, and had my foot run over by someone in a wheelchair - and nearly (but not quite) ruined my plenary indulgence by expostulating under my breath.

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