My devotion for St Therese of Lisieux began in the summer of 1987 when I made hitch hiking pilgrimage to Jerusalem from England, staying in monasteries on the way. Traveling through Northern France, I stopped at Lisieux. I was a young Anglican priest at the time, and I knew next to nothing about St Therese, and what I did know I didn’t much like. It all seemed sentimental Catholic Frenchy stuff. More about me meeting with St Therese and my love for the Little Way can be found in my book, St Benedict and St Therese–the Little Rule and the Little Way.
Well, today I took a ride out into the South Carolina countryside with my buddy Michael and we are going down highway 14 into the mountains when we tool past the large statue of Our Lady of Vietnam. I notice that a group of Vietnamese are there praying the rosary. Well, my new parish, Our Lady of the Rosary, is the HQ for the Vietnamese ministry in the upstate. My predecessor, Fr Dac Tran OFM was the pastor and he built up a beautiful ministry to the Vietnamese refugees in the area.
So Michael and I pulled in and got off our bikes and joined them. The singing of the rosary and the hymns following were simply beautiful, delicate and haunting. Then I was recognized and it was my first meeting with some of my new parishioners. They greeted me with extraordinary warmth and kindness. Suddenly I was overwhelmed because a connection was made:
When I first met Therese of Lisieux so many years ago I learned that she prayed for priests and said, “Maybe you will pray for me even though I am not a full member of your family.” Over the years I have felt her presence, her prayers and her friendship on the remarkable journey I have made, though so unworthy to become a Catholic priest. When I was actually ordained I sensed her pleasure and the power of her prayers.
Then today, when I met the Vietnamese I remembered that St Therese longed to be a missionary, and actually applied to be sent to (you guessed it) Vietnam. She also said that she desired to spread the gospel to every nation. Before she died she said, “I believe that the good God has granted me all my desires.” How did he grant her desire to be a missionary? Through the mystery of the whole body of Christ.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta took her name and inspiration from the Little Flower, and her Missionaries of Charity are an amazing way that St Therese has had her desire to be a missionary to every nation fulfilled. In addition to this, wherever Therese’s relics are taken around the world the gospel is preached and thousands turn up to venerate her. Then today, in this small way a connection was made in my own life: I consider myself her priest, and through God’s amazing providence, in South Carolina of all places, I am sent to minister to the Vietnamese.