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Tuesday 21 January 2014

Thérèse of Lisieux

St Therese of Lisieux intrigues me. I read her autobiography several times in my youth and, whereas others found it inspiring, it seemed cloying to the point of nausea to me and she was not a saint I would have chosen to imitate (although her 'little way' was very appealing). 
Nonetheless, there is something about this saint which still has enormous meaning for me (although I am no longer a Catholic) and it doesn’t surprise me that she was a major influence in the lives of such diverse people as Vita Sackville-West (who wrote a book about her) and Edith Piaf – both of whose lives were very far removed from that of a ‘little’ nun in an enclosed convent!! According to Wikipedia:   
"Shortly after her birth Edith developed a cataract. She was blind for almost three years. Her grandmother, Louise, took her to Lisieux. She saw. It was a real miracle for Edith. She always believed this. Since that time she had a real devotion to St Thérèse of the Child Jesus...she always had a small picture of the saint on her bedside table."
Many years ago, I spent the summers working in Lourdes. The first time I went to work there, I was just eighteen and had not been abroad alone before. Being the only English person in the place where I was working, I initially felt extremely lonely and wondered how I would get through another 2 1/2 months of it. I wandered, almost by chance, into the underground basilica where there is a small chapel dedicated to Therese and I sat there for a few minutes, just looking at her picture and thinking how lonely I was. Five minutes later, as I left the basilica, a group of Italian people from the place I was working happened to be passing and they asked me to go with them for a walk. All the way there they spoke in English (simply because I was English and didn’t speak Italian – how delightful the Italian people are!!) and laughed and laughed about all kinds of things and within 10 minutes I could not imagine how I could have felt at all lonely. From then on, I absolutely loved every moment that I worked there – it was one of the happiest times of my life and I often think back to it, and how truly miraculously my whole attitude changed after just 5 minutes or so in Therese’s 'company.'
I firmly believe that there are many ‘non-physical’ beings – angels, saints or simply ‘friends in high places’ – who are ever ready to help anyone in any circumstance and one’s religion, beliefs, spirituality etc. etc. (or lack thereof) and way of life are totally irrelevant to them. I think it is only humans who judge by such outwards trappings.
Fascinating, too, is the way in which Therese's autobiography became an almost overnight bestseller - one of the least likely books to do so, one would have thought. I have to say that as someone who received countless rejections from publishers before my books suddenly started to sell well, that, too, always fascinated me and I have no doubt that these 'friends in high places' help facilitate it for me!
Here is a little tribute to the saint for which I wrote the words, and Tony Croft wrote the music. The song was performed by a local primary school, dedicated to St Therese.  I hope you like it...

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