As the relics of St Thérèse continue their visitation of Australia, Mother Teresa of the Carmelite monastery in Kew (Melbourne) provides an appreciation of the significance of this "pilgrimage of grace".
Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face wrote in 1896, one year before her death at the young age of 24 years: "I would like to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would like to be a missionary, not for a few years only, but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages" (Story of a Soul, p. 193).
On 4 October 1897 she was buried very quietly, with only a handful of mourners present, in the Lisieux municipal cemetery.
With hindsight we can say that like all the simple events in her ordinary life, even the secular legislation of the time, forbidding burial within monastery enclosures, proved providential. For the next twenty-five years hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world were drawn to visit her grave. Everyone could find her and relate to her as a person, a friend, a helper, a source of never-failing graces in all sorts of needs. And so it continues.
To honour and commemorate the beatification of Thérèse of Lisieux, on 29 April 1923, the people of Brazil designed and offered to Thérèse the beautiful Reliquary which now holds her earthly remains and which has been on Pilgrimage round the world since 1997, when Pope John Paul II proclaimed her Doctor of the Universal Church.
Australia is the twenty-third country this Reliquary has visited. It weighs 400 kilograms and is a magnificent composition of jacaranda wood and gilt silver. For security, it is covered with a clear, permanent plexiglass which has been carried, touched, kissed and covered with a sheen of love and prayer by millions of people of all races, cultures and nations. It has been welcomed as a gift of grace, a symbol and icon of God's abiding presence among His people - a treasure far greater than the human remains of the greatest saint of modern times.
Now, when the jacaranda trees are in full flower throughout Australia, Thérèse's Reliquary on its Pilgrimage of Grace will pass, it has been estimated, within an hour's drive of 80 per cent of our population. Blessed indeed are those who are able to see this sacred symbol and blessed too those who are not able to be present, but still believe, because for everyone St Thérèse brings fresh vision, filled with hope and promise in a loving God who loves us beyond our wildest dreams.
Thérèse's presence in this symbol of a Reliquary is powerful indeed. It evokes a profound depth of warm, human devotion and bonding so characteristic of faith and devotion to the human and divine person of Jesus at its heart and hearth in the Church.
Pope John Paul II said, "Of St Thérèse of Lisieux it can be said with conviction that God chose her to reveal directly to the men and women of our time the central reality of the Gospel, that God is our Father and we are His children."
With direct simplicity, Thérèse went to the heart of the Gospel, the Good News. She revealed anew the true face of a most loving and caring God who is very involved in the humanness of this world. "Prayer which burns with a fire of love," God's love in a human heart, is a power uniting heaven and earth, breaking down barriers and boundaries, creating the unity of the Communion of Saints. The Reliquary - and its presence - helps us to focus our attention anew on this central reality of our faith. Jesus walked this earth too, and now beyond death in His resurrected body, the hope given us all, He has never left the earth.
"If God answers my requests, my heaven will be spent on earth up until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth." It's a startling, challenging statement given the general idea of heaven then and now, as an idyllic place of peace and rest far above and beyond the miseries of this world! "I will return! (will come down!)".
The visit and presence of St Thérèse's Reliquary is a most providential and timely symbol which reminds us all of what we are and what we will become. It speaks to our hearts; so often hurt and broken, longing for union with our departed loved ones wherever they may be; it evokes our deepest best and yearnings for fulfilment and wholeness, all these things which Thérèse found in her only and greatest love, Jesus. He is the only One who can change sunset into sunrise, because He Himself is the radiant Son, the fullest revelation of the Father, His Father and ours. In the pilgrimage of this sacred Reliquary, St Thérèse's presence reminds us simply of the dignity and greatness to which we are all called and gifted as human beings. It is as she said, "Tout est grace". Everything is a grace; it is a gift.
Thérèse is coming to Australia with a message and a little way of great confidence, unity, hope and trust in the tender God of Jesus Christ, who is alive and well in the third millennium.
For information about the relics' itinerary contact Jean Cornish, National Coordinator, tel (03) 9926 5726, fax (03) 9926 5723, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org