A Divine Appointment with *St. Thérèse of Lisieux
by the Rev. Nigel Mumford
*Thérèse Martin later to be known as The Little Flower of Jesus. (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897).
“When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” Therese de Lisieux
I don’t know about you, but I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth!
For eight years I was the director of a healing ministry in Connecticut called the Oratory of the Little Way. The Oratory is a four acre property with an eight bedroom retreat facility in Gaylordsville, CT in the USA. (www.oratoryhealing.org_).
Living on site for those eight years, I had some interesting experiences with St. Therese. Though I was not brought up venerating saints … except perhaps St. George, the patron saint of England,
As a Boy Scout and later, a Royal Marine Commando; we were called to take part in a church parade on his feast day. It was a time of pomp and pageant, all rather fun actually. But that was the extent of my knowledge of the saints!
The Oratory had been dedicated to St. Therese’s Little Way of Trust and Love. It was built in the 1960s by the Rev. Ben Priest. While living at the Oratory, I often smelt roses and was reminded of her. Funny as it may sound now, I actually felt I was getting to know St. Therese and her little way while I resided there.
Once we called an engineer to the property to check the nearby electric pylons magnetic field. After he had checked it out, the engineer playfully showed us the electrical energy from the microwave and oven; both machines had registered a high response.
I then showed this chap, The Chapel. I don’t recall why, but he actually applied the wand to the wooden statue of St. Therese and we watched in shock as the needle went off the charts. The engineer was visibly shaken. He said that wood could not register such a response … that it was scientifically impossible! He then asked me about God and the Lord and finally gave his life to Christ right then and there! A divine appointment and a bit of a faith lift for me, as well!
I had many encounters with St. Therese, especially during prayers, when her presence was known to me in a deep and pleasant way. As I prayed for the sick and dying, the scent of roses would waft through the air and overtake my senses, providing extra faith in the moment.
I learned that St. Therese had died at the age of twenty-four (24) of a lung disease. Strange to think back on now, as my own lungs have been compromised by 37% since my bout with H1N1 in 2009. But she always seemed to be there to help whenever I needed it.
In 1990, Betty Hannerman, a dear soul who had been healed by the Lord through the ministry at the Oratory, sent me on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was the trip of a lifetime. I was so blessed visiting all the holy sites where Jesus had walked and performed His miracles.
One evening, while at Tiberius, after spending the day at the Sea of Galilee, our group of about 25 pilgrims met for a daily debrief in the hospice library. Tired, amazed, bewildered, and thoroughly filled with the love of Jesus, I sat taking it all in. “Wow!” I thought to myself, “This is where it all happened!” Everything I learnt in Sunday school is true! As I sat and listened to the discussion of the day my eyes were drawn to the many books behind glass doors all along one wall.
I spied one book, amongst at least a thousand others, that seemed to say to me, “Get me off this shelf, you need to read this!” I wondered whether I had eaten some “St. Paul fish” that was off! It was a black book with a gold embossed title on its spine which I couldn’t make out from where I was sitting. I chose to ignore the voice and listened, instead, to the conversations around me.
At the end of the debriefing, I walked toward the glass shelf where the book was, convinced it was locked. I was stunned when a woman pushed past me, opened the glass door, and to my astonishment, took the very book I had been drawn to. I could not believe it. I wondered whether I should say something…say excuse me…make a fuss? I just stood there silent, in shock. Why had I been drawn to that book, only to have it snatched out of my view in an instant? What to do?
I stared at her passively. She scanned the book, closed it, and handed it to me. Looking me right in the eye, she said, “You have to read this book”. Okay … by now it was getting a bit spooky, but I obediently took the book into my hands and went to my room. I stayed up all night and read the book from cover to cover; finally finding the connection exactly half way through the book.
The next day I asked the front desk if I could keep the book, after explaining this story to them. They graciously consented. The book was entitled, “The Shadow of His Wings” and was the story of a German seminary student named Gereon Karl Goldman who had been studying for the priesthood when WWII broke out. The Nazis demanded that all seminary students become SS officers.
Gereon carried a gun, but didn’t use it. He often brought the Holy Eucharist to the wounded in battle. To become ordained, he actually pointed his weapon at a French bishop and ordered him to ordain him. When he later met with the Pope, his pistol was removed from his person! Gereon asked the Pope to ordain him, but the Pope refused acknowledging that Gereon had already been ordained!
At the end of the war, Fr. Gereon Karl Goldman stopped at a Carmelite convent on his way home from Italy. He knocked at the door, and when a novice peered at him through a small grill in the door, she screamed, and ran away. A while later, Mother Superior came and welcomed him; saying that they had prayed for him throughout the war, and were expecting him!
Half way through this book the story of Therese Martin and the Little Way of St. Therese is told! I was dumbstruck. How on earth did God orchestrate this? Out of all the books on those shelves, He led me to that book! Even the title of the book spoke to me in its reference to Malachi 4:2: “But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” I spent the next day in a daze…
Before returning to the USA, I visited my sister, Julie Sheldon in England. At breakfast the next day I shared this whole story. My dear brother in law, Tom, without saying a word to me, rose from the table, went to the phone, and booked passage for me to cross the Channel on the auto ferry! Before I knew it, he handed me the keys to his car and sent me on my way to Lisieux!
My pilgrimage was continuing, a direct result of the book, “The Shadow of His Wings.” There I was motoring an English car, all alone, in France. Not exactly a safe idea since the French do not drive on the same side of the road as the British! Somehow I made my way to Lisieux and to the Carmelite convent where St. Therese had lived.
I parked the car and knocked on the door. I imagined how Fr. Gereon Goldman might have felt. How would they receive me? As a matter of a fact, a very stern French nun shouted at me for not booking a cell in advance! She told me that they had just one left and I was welcome but if they hadn’t had that one cell, I would have been sleeping in my car. Of course, this dressing down was given in very broken English! I was led to my cell. Once that nasty nun left me, I fell on my knees in prayer. I spent the next day at Therese Martin’s house, and a huge Basilica perched on a hill overlooking the beautiful, but very French town of Lisieux.
The following day I went to Mass at the convent. Wonderful as it was, I couldn’t understand a word of the homily, said in French that lasted well over an hour. I was anxious to leave myself plenty of time to take the ferry back to England. But when I walked to the car and tried to put the key in the door lock, it would not fit! I tried again and again, but it would not open! So I stopped and prayed.
The Lord said “walk.” So I walked. I walked back to the small chapel where St. Therese had been buried. I now noticed a shrine that I hadn’t seen before. At first, I held onto the metal bars of the gated tomb and said a prayer, the sound of which evaporated in the midst of all the prayers of the other pilgrims. I then sat and prayed, contemplating St. Therese’s hair, on display, from the time she had first cut it to become a nun. A sign was posted that said the saint prays for priests. I wondered if I would ever become one. Suddenly I was alone. The silence became deafening.
I returned to the black metal bars and stared into the tomb again. I was just standing there when it happened…
I felt the presence of the Saint. In the Spirit, I saw her rise and walk toward me. It seemed as though time had stopped. I saw her walk toward me and, then, she walked right through me. Had I just been blessed by St. Therese? It was an astonishing experience. I felt as though I had, had a private audience with her and she had made her presence known to me. She blessed me. I felt filled with the purest love of God. St. Therese of the Christ Child and the Face of Christ had supernaturally moved right through my being.
I just lost it. I sat and wept…and wept. One of the quotes attributed to her reads, “Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.”
Suddenly I remembered I had a ferry to catch and a stubborn car door to unlock. Huh! The key fit the first time I tried it upon my return. The next memory I had was driving onto the ferry. It was as if someone had picked up and moved me from one place to another … car and all! What had just happened?
I made my way back to my sister’s house. A British Anglican blessed by a French Catholic Saint? Really? What just happened? The next day, looking out of the jumbo jet portholes as I winged my way back to the States, I pondered all these things.
The car belonging to my brother in law — the one I had driven to Lisieux, was stolen a few days later. Taken by teenage joy riders who drove so fast that they broke the drive shaft which nearly killed one of the teens when it came into the car. The car then rolled a few times before coming to a rest. There were no serious injuries, but the police arrested all of the youth.
Coming back to the Oratory of the Little Way after such a spiritual adventure was quite strange really. It took me three months to settle down. I had walked where Jesus walked in the Holy Land and had been blessed by a Saint in France! I had a lot to tell dear Betty Hannerman who had gifted that trip to me.
I was so moved by all that had happened … I wrote to the Vatican and requested a first class relic of my beloved St. Therese. A postcard was sent to me, advising that I was going to get one, and it would be blessed by the pope, but it would be forthcoming as the nuns were rather busy. A week later a fragment of St. Therese’s body arrived by mail. The postmistress was fascinated that I had received a package from the Vatican.
Eventually I did become a priest … only by the Grace of God, a couple of dear bishops, and a blessing from St. Therese! Happy to say, that I did not have to put a pistol to any of their heads!
Ask St. Therese for a rose…
“May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.” St. Therese
“May you be content knowing you are a child of God.” St. Therese
I pass this on to you. I pray that you may be blessed as I was by this remarkable saint.
Be well, do good works and for the sake of God love one another
Information on St. Therese:
Virgin and Doctor of the Church
Born: 2 January 1873 Alençon, France
Died: 30 September 1897 (aged 24) Lisieux, France
Honored in: Roman Catholic Church
Beatified: 29 April 1923 by Pope Pius XI
Canonized: 17 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI
Major shrine: Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux, France
Feast: 1 October. 3 October in General Roman Calendar 1927–1969,
Patronage: Missionaries; France; Russia; AIDS sufferers; florists and gardeners; loss of parents; tuberculosis; the Russicum.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897), or Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, was a French Carmelite nun. She is also known as “The Little Flower of Jesus”.
She felt an early call to religious life, and overcoming various obstacles, in 1888 at the early age of 15, became a nun and joined two of her elder sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. After nine years as a Carmelite religious,