Here is how my daughters and I celebrated the feast of St. Therese, (October 1) when they were growing up, and we still do!
After dinner on the evening of St. Therese day, we read the book God’s Little Flower, the story of St. Therese. Even after the girls were “too old” for this book, we still read it. I still have it, and whoever is home, we read it after dinner. It’s a very good book, and is a good introduction to the life and spiritual discoveries of St. Therese for adults as well. In fact, we have used it for that purpose to good effect in the past.
After that, having bought earlier in the day, as many roses as we could possibly afford, my girls and I, and whoever else wants to participate (friends, boyfriends, whoever) go out and randomly hand out roses to people.
We feel that no explanation is necessary with people when you give them a rose.
We don’t preach or give anybody anything to read. The roses are just free, like the love of God!
If people ask, and sometimes they do, why we are handing out roses, we tell them about St.Therese and that we honor her promise to “let fall a shower of roses from Heaven,” and to “spend [her] Heaven doing good on earth.” But otherwise we just hand them to people, or ask them, “Would you like a rose?”
You should try this! People who get roses always will feel great and you, the giver, will too. It is truly amazing how uplifting and fun a project “random roses from St. Therese,” can be.
I promise if you do this, especially if you do it again and again over many years, you will have some great stories you will tell again and again. We sure do!
Often, I will make a St. Therese Rose Petal Pound Cake. Here’s the recipe.
You will need:
1 lb sweet butter, softened
3 cups sugar
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons rose water (yes, it’s edible and at your grocery store)
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 cups flour
a little powdered sugar for dusting
Baker’s sweet chocolate (about half a 4 oz. box)
organic rose petals (Please don’t use store bought roses for this as they might be sprayed with insecticides… another choice would be to use them but take them off before you eat!)
Preheat oven to 350.
Cream together butter and sugar
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
Sift together dry ingredients.
Mix together milk and rose water
Add dry and wet to butter mixture alternately.
Mix gently by hand after each.
Pour into buttered and floured tube or bundt pan (or two loaf pans). Bake 1 hour, or till toothpick or fork into center comes out dry.
After the cake cools ten minutes, turn out onto a plate.
Drizzle with melted chocolate
Dust with powdered sugar
Sprinkle with rose petals
We usually had a brief family prayer service in honor of St. Therese, based on Evening Prayer for her feast day, but adjusted for the age of the audience. 🙂 For the Littles this might be a few short prayers and a song. Older kids can pray the Liturgy of the Hours with parents… especially with cake at the end.
We enjoy showering one another with rose petals, and also throwing them to the crucifix.
With constant developments in the news about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, and constantly breaking political news, these are extremely stressful times. How do we keep some equilibrium so we can be any use to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in these dark, difficult and divisive days? Every day it seems like there are more bomb shells. How do we sustain them?
I messaged a friend the other day, “How ARE we going to keep calm these crazy days?” She wrote back:
“I’m going to be drinking! You don’t drink, so you shall have to pray, I suppose. :P”
I do plan to pray a lot, in whatever way I can, but most of all, I plan to pray in ways that simply keep me connected to God.
As a Carmelite, I have a strong belief that cultivating a constant, loving awareness of the presence of God within is a service to the world, and that it has a gracious effect on everything, and everybody.
I believe that when I am recollected, and in conscious contact with God, I have opened the fountain of living water in my soul. By doing so, I become a channel of grace for the world.
Unsealing the living fountain of the Holy Spirit in my own soul mysteriously helps others do the same, and somehow they are helping me as well. To me, this is part of the Communion of Saints.
“Let us draw from the springs of salvation
for our selves, and for the entire parched world.”
~ St. Edith Stein
Also, staying connected to God helps me to keep closer to His perspective when things get a little crazy.
It also reminds me that whether there is the earthly appearance of what I think is justice or not, God is going to win in the end, win in His kind of way, and that His win lasts forever. My sister in Carmel, Pat Thompson says that God’s will is always love. Whatever happens, I can trust that will of love is still at work.
So, in these days of fear, anger and chaos, grief, division and anxiety, I hope to remain connected and recollected.
I know I will have to be focussed about this commitment to myself, to God, and to the world. Sometimes I might become overwhelmed with what’s going on. However, I hope to make a consistent effort to draw myself back to the center every time; that center of my soul, and the center of the whole of existence, where God is. Here are some tips about staying on track for inner peace during your day.
Make a plan for your day that cultivates peace.
Plan, whether you are at work, or at home today, and the days ahead, to cultivate serenity. It’s not going to help anything or anybody for you to freak out, right?
It may be a good idea to limit your engagement with what’s going on during the day, and to limit your media consumption, to the minimum.
Visit the Blessed Sacrament. Even popping in for a few seconds helps. If you can’t get there, here is adoration live.
Plan some stopping points at certain times to settle down and re-center, and make a simple plan for what you will do. Sometimes you just need a few minutes with some calm music, a view of nature, something nice to drink.
Go to mass if your schedule permits.
Plan to pray The Liturgy of the Hours; however many of the set hours you can pray. (Morning, Mid Morning, Midday, Mid- afternoon, Evening and Night Prayer.) Universalis is a good site to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for free. You may also like The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on-line, a Marian version, so to speak, of the Liturgy of the Hours. Also free. Check in with the Liturgy of the Hours any time, and pray with others all over the world.
Plan to do acts of kindness and/or sneaky good deeds. You will feel great. Leave someone a flower. Pay it forward at a drive through. Give something to a homeless person or engage him or her in conversation. Do a chore for someone else in your household or at work, to lighten their load. Here is a list of acts of kindness if you can’t think of anything.
Make time in your day to interact with your pet. Even a quiet moment spent petting or brushing your dog or cat can raise your spirits and calm your heart.
Look at art that uplifts you. Plan ahead to do this, or check out I Require Art on Face Book. I love looking at that page. It is also on Twitter.
Have coffee with a friend and catch up. This does wonders.
Just for a Day
Pick one of these to do now and then. You can do something for a 24 hours period that would be overwhelming to do for a lifetime. But it is great training!
Hug people today, whenever possible. Seriously. This helps them and you.
Just for today, no fighting with anyone. Fight tomorrow. Not today. You can do it just for your waking hours in this next 24. Have a day like that now and then.
Have peaceful things to read that are helpful to you, comforting, or don’t get you emotionally stirred up. Don’t read anything else, just for today.
Plan to be extra caring with the people around you today. Remind yourself often that this is your intention today: to be kind. All day.
If you have a baby or a little kid in your family, read with him, cuddle with her. Spending time talking with a little kid can be healing. Plan on it. Make it part of your day today.
Eat comforting foods. It’s one day. Don’t worry about it. Plan comfort food meals for your family. Try to limit dinner talk to peaceful topics. Just for today.
Make peace your highest priority just for one day.
“Let nothing steal your treasure.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila
If you become overwhelmed, here are some quick ways to calm down:
Push your palms together for a moment.
Close your eyes.
Shake out your limbs.
Breath in through your nose slowly (count five) and then out through your mouth (count five.) Keep going with this for a while if it helps you.
Stop what you are doing- especially stop interacting with whatever or whoever is upsetting you. Turn off the T.V. Get away from that person. Get off social media. Whatever it is, stop it.
Tune in to the moment: Feel the floor (of whatever you are standing on,) hear the sounds far away, the sounds near you, the feel of whatever you are touching. Be conscious of your breathing. Look out of the window, at the sun, at the sky, at the trees or whatever is around you. Notice what’s going on in this present moment.
Go for a brisk walk. Pray the rosary or inwardly repeat the Holy Name of Jesus, or the sweet name of Mary as you walk. Let your inner, prayerful repetition fall into rhythm with your steps and your breathing. Pray with your whole body, mind and eventually, heart.
If you can’t pray the rosary, just hold it. Think of it as holding Our Lady’s hand.
Slow down your responses to anything agitating that people say. Think before you respond back. A good thing to remember before you speak is, “Is [what I am about to say] true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
Intentionally tense different muscle groups, and then release them. It’s very calming.
Make a list of five things you are grateful for, of five people you love, and even what you love about them.
Do a simple task you do all the time, but do it mindfully. Sweep the floor patiently. Wipe the table. Brush your hair. Water plants.
Wash your face, or sprinkle cold water on your wrists and dab it behind your ears.
Call a sympathetic, or light hearted friend. Say you don’t want to talk about current events. You want to talk about turtles or something.
Watch something funny (as long as it is not snarky, sarcastic or mean spirited.)
Litanies are awesome. My mom swore by these. She kept a notebook of them. “When you’re crazy, walk the floor if you need to, and pray a litany. Litanies are great when you’re crazy.”
A priest and I have met in a cool, bustling lobby on a hot summer day. We smile at one another. We don’t know one another really except by sight and a few short conversations. But we have a warm, positive regard for one another and I feel safe and encouraged as soon as he comes in. I am so grateful that he is here.
We are about to head up to bless the place where my brother committed suicide. I know this is not a light task to ask someone to come along and join in.
I came here twice before to make sure I could handle it. The first time I sat in stunned silence for an hour and a half without even realizing the time that had gone by. The second time I was pretty sad but I thought I was ready. I am ready.
I am impressed that this priest who barely knows me responded to my request so readily and agreed to come here for this. He seems to understand the need for healing, both emotional and spiritual for all concerned.
Our plan is also to commend my brother’s soul to God, and to pray in that place for my family’s healing.
Father walks with me toward the elevators, which we take to a high floor. We walk down a hallway, then through a stair exit, and out onto a tiny bare balcony overlooking a pool area.
“Just be however you need to be,” he says reassuringly.
This is the spot where my brother, Mark, sitting on the railing here, shot himself and fell down to the concrete below even as friends and family repeatedly called his cell phone and frantically texted him begging him not to do it while the police looked for him not knowing where to begin. I have thought of those moments over and over, tried to understand, tried to feel the way he must have felt, wondered why it had to be this way, watched my family and our friends do the same.
What is there to say in a place like this?
After a time of respectful silence, Father talks to me earnestly about how the Cross conquers everything. “I believe that,” I say.
He has such a kind face, I think to myself. It’s an easy, open, playful face, too. He is the kind of person who puts others at ease.
I get out my phone and show Father one of my favorite pictures of my brother. I briefly tell him about Mark, about my symbiotic relationship with him, and what happened to him as best I am able to understand it now.
This gentle priest takes all this in thoughtfully.
He tells me what he would like to do, how he would like to proceed now.
I show him what I have brought: a grocery bag full of rose petals, some bubbles; a small bottle for each of us.
He smiles. He says the bubbles are a great symbol for what we are doing with the commendation. He blesses them.
He puts a thin priestly stole over his shoulders and smiles at me.
We begin with the Sign of the Cross together. He prays the prayers for the blessing of a place, telling me we are also reclaiming this place for God. In our prayers we invite the angels to come and drive every trace of evil from here. We bless and bring healing to this place where there was so much pain, where there was such a tragic, senseless death.
Seriously and with purpose, he begins to fling holy water all around us; over the rail, down the stairs, all over the balcony, the walls of the building, and splashes it down to the concrete below. He blesses this place in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
I tell this dear priest how hard it is not understanding what happened, and how I agonize still about how my brother could do this. Didn’t he know we loved him? Didn’t he know that any of us who loved him would have forgiven anything, given anything, done anything for him? How could he do this to us?
Tears are running down my cheeks.
Father listens closely, nodding.
I tell him how I have come to understand that somehow, that for some reason I will never know, my brother wasn’t able to let our love and support change what he did. Maybe to him we seemed so far away, he just didn’t know his way back.
I have to cry a little bit.
“You’re being really strong right now.”
He reminds me that as Catholics we believe every soul is given a moment of choice at the time of death, an encounter with God’s merciful love and truth, so each of us has a chance to choose the embrace of mercy.
He mentions that our Lord is here on this balcony with us, and that our Holy Mother Mary is here with us, too, to pray with us.
I am moved to talk to her. I tell her I had never thought I would be OK again but now I see I can have a new life and that Jesus wants me to have life. I spontaneously renew my consecration to her offering my life to her and committing to follow her Son better than I ever have before.
I can hear Father quietly praising Jesus as I speak these words of my new hope to Mary.
I close my eyes and smile. I say, “I love you, God.”
In his gentle voice, the priest reads a reading from one of the Gospels, and we pray for my family’s healing. We pray the Our Father together. I pray for the deep inner healing of the Holy Spirit for each person in my family. We say Amen.
We talk. We pray more. I tell him about the evolution of my understanding of my brother’s death through the tenderness of God in my prayer life right through all the horror of this death, this overwhelming loss, and fear I had of finding out something that would make this even worse. I explained that I still needed to understand all the same, and how I feel God helped me in His ingenious ways.
I feel so much less alone as the priest listens quietly and with compassion to all I am saying. I don’t think even I knew how much this day would mean to me. I am grateful for his courage and kindness in coming here.
He said he would like to pray the Prayer of Commendation now, that we use for funerals. He says it is our prayer to send the soul to God, commending the person to God’s mercy and love. It serves as some release to us too, allowing us to send the person forth with love, to God.
So he prays the beautiful Prayer of Commendation.
Together we pray a Litany of the Saints.
We blow bubbles and watch them glide out shimmering, into the sun, cascading down the side of the building, drifting out over the pool. We send streams of them up into the blue and watch them float gently. We can’t help but smile.
I open the bag of rose petals and toss some out over the rail. I sprinkle some over Father. ‘Yay! Thank you so much!”
We grab more and more handfuls of petals and throw them out, everywhere, like confetti at a party. Some of the petals drop quietly onto the water below, some waft out on the breeze, some scatter themselves on the patio.
“Did you SEE that?!” he exclaims, as, amazingly, some of the petals suddenly spiral upward into the sky and away. Laughing we throw more and more of them everywhere, as if we are showering the world with roses.
He takes some holy water and blesses me with the sign of the cross on my forehead.
With trembling hands, I drape a rosary over the end post of the rail and fasten two white silk roses to it.
Something I need to say to my brother:
“You’re not that.” You are not the way you died.
You’re just… my beautiful brother.”
Smiling, Father and I take pictures of each other, of the balcony, of the draped rosary, and the scattered petals, so my daughters can see what this looked like today.
We hug, and peacefully we leave the rose petal strewn balcony.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O God. ~ And let perpetual light shine upon him.
She is so often portrayed as too pretty to touch, air brushed like a fluffy cloud or a pink puff of spun cotton candy. But she knew gut-wrenching grief. She cried real tears when she was widowed. Of course she did. Joseph’s death must have been a bottomless loss for her.
She walked the way of the Cross with her Son, wanting to die with Him as any mother would. But she stood at the foot of the Cross all the same, to love Him, and to go on doing whatever He told her. Maybe her toes clenched in her sandals as she stood there; toes that probably looked more like Mother Teresa’s than the dainty artistic feet that peek out from beneath her dress in so many representations. Maybe she took her sandals off because she knew that Golgotha had just become Holy Ground.
Her hands, likely bloodied from attempts to comfort her bleeding Son, were probably rough and work scarred from a lifetime of labor and loving service. These hands of Mary’s, so soon to be assumed into Heaven, had held babies, hauled water, kneaded bread, cared for the sick, worked in the fields, watered the donkey, expressed human affection, and were often raised to God in prayer.
What do you think of when you think of Mary’s Assumption? I don’t know why, but I always think of the hem of her dress; a dress which was doubtless as simple as a worn tee shirt and faded jeans would be to us today. I see its frayed, homespun cloth brighten as she is taken into the Light of Heaven. I want to see her feet. I always look for them under there.
I am sure that in the mysterious process of the glorification of her body, Mary’s calloused feet were much honored in Heaven; every scratch, each leathery sole, becoming what they always were: beautiful, heavenly bright. Maybe that’s what happens in Heaven. Things begin to look the way they look to God.
Thinking of my own mother’s dirty little feet when she came in from the garden tracking mud on the kitchen floor convinces me that Our Lady tracked dirt all the way to her Son’s throne. She brought the Earth with her, I’m sure of that.
We are a very Incarnation-al people, we Catholics. Earth is good, the body is good, because God is good, and Jesus is true God and true man; Incarnate in the flesh. In spite of the air brushed holy cards of Mary, in which her pupils seem far too small and she is painted to look like a pastel ghost, we know that the stars in Mary’s hair represent the way she looked to God: gloriously human, the humble and barefoot Spouse of the Holy Spirit who was lowly and invisible to the world, but brilliantly radiant to the Lord. Then again, our exalted Mother, as brightly shining as we see her in Revelations 12, shows us she is real and totally human. Even as Heavenly Queen, rather than sighing with celestial bliss, she wails in the pangs of birth.
That particular wailing is for us, I think. She is with us in our struggle with evil, in our determination to follow her Son, in our attempts and failures at practicing virtue, in the Church’s painful war against the powers and principalities of darkness.
There is a trail of glory that Mary left, but it looks a lot more like dirty foot prints to me as she runs to the Seat of Mercy with our burdens and pains, about her latest enmity with the Evil One, with her requests for us, her lost, suffering, fighting and dying children she wants to lead to her Son. Her Son, I like to think, must smile when he sees those clods of soil in the throne room that show she has been in. She will keep working for the Kingdom until her work of Queenly discipleship is done and there are stars in our hair too as we reign with God forever.
She was assumed into Heaven, body and soul. She is the Living Tabernacle of the New Covenant. She is Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Mother of us. She listens with a real heart, leads us to Christ with real love.
The Assumption reminds me of this: Mary is real. She’s tracking in dirt. She’s holding my hand. And she’s beautiful- the way God sees beauty. Not only that, but as Bishop Mike Sis said once in a homily, “The Assumption means God’s gonna win! God’s gonna WIN!”
In answering my Methodist friend, Paula, with an explanation of what the Assumption was, she exclaimed, “OH! Isn’t that what happens in the end to all of us?”
Can I get a “Heaven yeah?”
“Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps;
draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness. “
Once upon a time in Rome, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (in the third century), a young girl gave her life in witness to Christ under harrowing circumstances hard to imagine. She did this in spite of frightened parents, repeated and successively more cruel tortures, threats and even persuasive words and temptations from those around her. She also spent some time chained, bleeding, and broken in the Emperor’s dungeon. There Mary is said to have appeared to her and healed her, strengthening her resolve with the promise of victory and the hope of Heaven. Some of her tormenters were converted to Christ by this child’s astonishing courage, faith and perseverance through punishment after punishment.
Quite a long time later, in the year 2002, in a little chapel in San Antonio, a profoundly wounded young widow (that would be me) knelt to pray for healing for herself and her family as she faced another traumatic trial in life. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it sometimes. I had come on a day trip pilgrimage to the Lourdes grotto of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate with my sister-in-law, Jamie, to ask the intercession of Mary and for her motherly protection and wisdom for myself and my family.
On a small table at the end of my pew in the Eucharistic chapel there was a statue of an intense looking young saint that interested me. Her little pedestal said, “St. Philomena, Patroness of the Children of Mary.” Well then, she was the patroness of me.
Later at home I found a holy card of St. Philomena under our family Bible. I had no idea where it had come from. Did this girl saint have something to say to me in my painful struggle? I felt compelled to try to find out more about her.
I started to research her life and the devotion to her. Frankly some of the material about her was a little weird, even for me. She sounded like a fairy tale. But I eventually found the official web site of her shrine in Mugnano, Italy where her body is venerated. This site had a lot of solid information and beautiful art. It was Church sanctioned. The resting place of St. Philomena had even been visited by an impressive list of Popes.
St. Philomena’s body was found in 1802 in the catacomb of St. Pricilla in Rome. Her epitaph said, “Peace be with you, Philomena,” and showed the martyr’s palm, a drawing of arrows and an anchor; the instruments of the torture she had undergone for her faithfulness to Christ. Inside were the bones of a 13-15 year old girl. Present also was the phial of blood often collected by the early Christians when one of them was martyred. Miracles and signs surrounded the opening of her tomb, and even of the opening of the phial of blood that day in May, 1802, wonders which were witnessed by many.
It seemed God was saying to the world, “Get to know this young woman. She is very close to Me, and I have given her great works to do in My Name.”
It was hard to know anything more about her. The only accounts we have are private revelation that is approved but not as certain as written testimony from her contemporaries would be of course. According to this private revelation and the hints from the drawings on her tomb, she had been through and survived one martyrdom after another. She sounded like my kind of girl.
St. Philomena is the only saint ever to be canonized solely on the basis of her numerous miracles, some of them spectacular and public. She came to be called “The Wonder Worker,” and it was commonly said, “to St. Philomena, nothing is refused.” Among the countless people healed by her intercession is Ven. Pauline Jaricot who arrived at the shrine on the verge of death. She was dramatically healed amid shouts and rapping on the saint’s tomb from the crowd that was there. Philomena was St. John Vianney’s favorite saint. He talked to her every day, and had a small chapel built for the relic of her he was given. He encouraged devotion to her. Endearingly, he attributed all his miracles to her intercession.
I decided she definitely had something to teach me, and I began to cultivate a relationship with this mysterious little saint; thinking of her and speaking to her often, doing small things to honor her. I felt like she was with me and understood my darkness, fear, grief and trauma, very well. It seemed she was compassionate to me and laid a prayerful hand on me when I really felt I couldn’t take the suffering anymore. I think she helped me remember that in Christ I can do anything.
My daughter, Maire, took to St. Philomena so much after we read the book I Ask St. Philomena by Rick Medina, that she made her her patroness when she was 13. Maire’s eventual Confirmation name was Philomena. She always wore Philomena’s cord wound around her ankle or wrist as a kid. She still does. (It’s supposed to go around the waist but Maire never does anything the normal way.) Last year she had an anchor tattooed to her shoulder in her saints’ honor. “Look, Mom! It’s for St. Philomena!”
St. Philomena has been a good friend to us and accompanied our family through many crises and hardships. Her intercession even brought back two people who left the family. One of them, a young run-away, was found staying only a few miles from a church that had a bone chip of St. Philomena’s. It was like a wink from her. During family prayer of a novena to her we even heard a sudden knocking sound we couldn’t find the origin of. We wondered about it. Then we read that this happened all over the world to other friends of St. Philomena, too, and that it was a sign of her intercession. Another wink.
Other times she seems to have worked the even greater miracle of obtaining for us the grace and strength to accept whatever Christ asked of us, no matter how hard it was, no matter how many times He asked it, and to do it with love, faithfulness and trust in Him, as she did.
A tiny 2nd class relic of hers went with us to every radiation and chemotherapy treatment, scary doctor’s appointment and MRI my husband, Bob, had during his fight with the aggressive brain cancer, GBM. I anointed him with her holy oil before every procedure and prayed her chaplet during each one.
Bob made it two and a half years, which is an unusually long time for GBM, from his diagnosis to his death in 2012. As he often said, those years were the happiest of his life. He had an excellent quality of life almost to the end of it. He kept working. He kept helping people. He bloomed beautifully as a human being, started painting (very well, too), learned more about love than ever before, and inspired many people with his outrageous courage, sense of humor, undying hope and growth in charity during his struggles. He also fulfilled his heart’s desire of becoming a Catholic during that time. He died a beautiful, holy, love filled death.
St. Philomena has taught our family through her life and spiritual friendship over the years, that no matter what, it will be OK, and even if it’s not OK, it will be OK. Our lives are God’s. And we are going to Him. What else is there? As Bob said, “We love we, walk on”. And no matter what, “God is it.”
One way we honor St. Philomena in our family (besides having named Bob’s cat after her) is for all of us, and whoever wants to come along, to dress in red and/or white and go out for Italian food every year on her feast day, August11. Red and white are her colors. Red is for her martyrdom, the white for her purity. People sometimes ask what team we are from when they see us. ☺Here is St. Philomena Day in 2010.
In thanksgiving, we also try to let people know about her. No matter what your troubles are, and if you are suffering very much, St. Philomena will intercede for you in a special way and companion you on your journey. She never gave up. She will help you never give up either and follow Christ to the end. She may bring a miracle that is more than you asked for, or she might help you accept the martyrs’ crown, even with love and joy. She knows better than most that our tears become jewels on our garments in God’s Kingdom and that every one of our trials suffered with Christ helps us grow in the knowledge and love of Him.
We recommend to you her friendship in Christ, and we pray you find comfort in your sufferings and trials, that you receive more grace than you ever thought you could by the intercession and example of our good friend St. Philomena.
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. She was born into a Jewish family, but became a decided atheist in her youth. She grew into a brilliant intellectual, writer, and philosopher. Her search for truth lead her into the Catholic Church, and into religious life as a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the of the Cross. Eventually, under growing persecution, she was executed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She offered her life for her persecuted and suffering Jewish people.
These days we are anxious, worried and rightly horrified by many things. We wonder what we should do. Or maybe at times we fill our mouths (and our screens) with argument. Maybe we try to do our part, but we wonder what good we really do or of we are doing the right things? We are people of prayer, but perhaps we worry that it doesn’t seem to comfort us or anyone else. Maybe we wonder if our prayer actually changes anything.
What does the life and the death of Edith Stein have to say to us?
What tremendous inner power enabled her to continue to live deeply a life of prayer, love, and single minded searching for God and truth as the world darkened around her?
What motivated and empowered her, even on the train to the death camp, to brush the children’s hair and show them love when their own mothers had gone blank with terror?
What lead her to prayerfully and meaningfully offer her life, when she was executed, to God, for her people?
She would say that her love, spiritual intuition, and courage came from the practice of inner prayer, in contemplating the face of Christ, and the mystery of His Cross, from the magnifying grace Jesus fills His disciples with when they open their hearts to it.
She wrote beautifully about the mysterious power of drawing near to Christ. She knew the ability this gives us to be close to and to touch those who suffer anywhere and everywhere. She knew that in God, she could change hearts, and pour the love of Jesus into a world sickened by violence, indifference, madness, and fear.
When she was confronted by inhumanity and brutality, even as she suffered the same experiences the others were suffering, she was able to love and serve those around her.
By immersing herself in God’s love every day, she was prepared to be love in the most heartless of places, and to give her life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, releasing a tide of grace and mercy for all by her sacrificial prayer and offering. She turned evil on its head, echoing her beloved Lord.
We know from the Gospel that Jesus lifts us up when we pray, that He loves to give His healing power of mercy into our hands, as He did when He sent out the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and bring peace.
Edith Stein faced her death with sacrificial love and prayer, offering herself to God for others.
What if, in our own way, right now, we offered our lives, too?
What would that do?
When we unite ourselves to Christ completely, we free and open our hearts for Him to direct and guide, to fill with whatever graces He wants to see there.
In prayerful union with Him, we will be led where He wants us to be each day, and respond to each person and situation from a mysterious reserve of inner freedom, courage, and love.
In our prayer, God will take us all over the world like the wind of the Spirit; walking through doors, bringing the sweet breath of peace, calling others forth.
Then the floods of that divine love will flow into [your heart,] making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth. ~ Edith Stein
Maybe we can pray something like this:
God, I offer myself and my life to You, for those who suffer violence, for the persecuted, the unloved, the misunderstood. I offer my life and death for the relief of suffering, for peace, for the conversion of hearts to mercy and love; and that the knowledge of You will fill the earth; fill every relationship, every heart.
Wherever there is suffering, or a lack of love, where there is terror, fear, injustice, or a need for You, take me there, put me there- either in time and space, or in the super-imposition of prayer.
She remembers walking barefoot on pilgrimage up the road to San Salvador Mission as a child, praying the rosary together with her family and friends, each August, lead by her grandmother, Ouida, to commemorate a healing, a vision, and a community coming together in response to a message from Heaven to build a church.
She remembers her grandmother’s reluctance to talk much about the three apparitions she received at twelve years old from “a lady in black.” She only ever heard the story from her Italian American grandmother in broken English.
It’s a Scarmardo family story, a story of a community; and though it happened over 100 years ago, it is cherished and guarded by the family as a very special and somewhat private gift. To the local Catholic community it is the quiet, lovely legend behind a beloved little mission church out past the river, whose parent parish is St. Anthony’s in Bryan.
In 1894 getting to mass was very difficult for a small rural Texas community of Italian immigrants, as there was not a reliable bridge to cross the Brazos river and go to Bryan, where the nearest Catholic Church was. They mostly depended on a priest to come to them when he could, celebrating mass on someone’s porch.
One of these times, in the middle of mass, there was a sudden strong gust of wind and the crucifix fell onto the altar. The crash on the altar was so sudden and forceful, the people were uncomfortable and wondered what it meant.
The next day, in her family’s cotton field, in the wake of a gentle breeze, a young girl named Ouida (pronounced“Weeda”) suddenly saw a lady in black who asked why there was no church in this place. “There needs to be a church here.””
The girl told her parents about it, but they didn’t take it seriously at the time.
Then there was another appearance of the lady, possibly in a dream this time, during which she gave the girl more details about the church she wanted to be built there, even including a list of the men who were to build it.
The girl’s parents wondered but were still not taking this too seriously until there was a yet another apparition, and this time the lady asked why the church had not been built yet.
Ouida’s concerned parents decided to take her to talk to the priest in Bryan, Fr. Antonio Simone. It seems the priest soothed their worries about their child because what happened next was that the community discerned that they should and they could do as the Lady from Heaven, understood to have been Mother Mary, had asked.
Each family gave their first crops, another family donated land, and the church was built in six weeks.
It was named for the patronal feast of Cefalu, Sicily, the native village of these Italian immigrants, a feast they call San Salvador, “Holy Savior,” which is August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
First mass was said at its altar in October 1908.
Ouida had breast cancer at the age of 40 and vowed that she would make a barefoot pilgrimage to the church every year on the feast of San Salvador, the Transfiguration, if she was cured. She was cured. And the pilgrimage was made for many years, even revived by a third generation and walked for several more.
San Salvador Mission celebrated its centenary in 2008 with Bishop Gregory Aymond.
Today there are good bridges into Bryan, and not so many people still live near San Salvador Mission, which still stands in the midst of an expanse of farm land near a country road. But it is cherished nonetheless and mass is attended there still by those who love it.
The first time I went out to take pictures of it, I was surprised to find it locked. A red truck pulled up, and a kindly woman, who told me she grew up right next to the church and still lived nearby, let me in. In the course of our conversation, she let me know that she had come to check on the sanctuary light. When she is at home she gets a feeling when it is out and she goes and changes it to honor the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. When I remarked on how touching I thought that was, she said,
“When you get the grace to pay attention, it’s just an amazing life we live. “
San Salvador stands as a testament to a community that paid attention, and still does.
*Many thanks to Ouida’s granddaughter, Mary Jo (Scarmardo) Lindsay, and to her cousin, Judy (Scarmardo) Comeaux, two lovely women, for sharing their memories with me.
**Mass at San Salvador is celebrated the First Saturday of the month, at 7PM. You’ll find it at County Road 222 – 1/4 Mile off Farm Road 50 (County Road 286), Bryan, TX 77836
*** No approval for this Marian apparition was ever sought. It is a private revelation given to Ouida that was responded to by her community of faith.
We are sitting in a bar on a hot summer day. I stare at my dejected feet on the bar stool, then out the door at the hot day, the burning sidewalk, the occasional overheated human being passing by.
I don’t want to look at him, though I am relieved by his presence. I glance sideways at his calloused elbow resting on the dark, scratched wood of the bar; noticing, too, a scrape on his for arm. He always has at least one.
“Shawn, look at me. Can you look at me?”
I knew he was going to say that.
Reluctantly I look up to his face,
and am captivated
I am captivated because when one looks at Jesus, even without seeing, one knows by faith, apprehends by love, the radiant beauty of his features, the dark loveliness of his eyes, the gentle tenderness of his smile, the silent fire of his gaze, that comes from who he is.
Maybe the strangest thing about this looking at Jesus is seeing one’s own reflection. Stranger still is how different one looks reflected in the pupils of such eyes as these.
Jesus asked the Twelve: “Who do people say that I am?”
He listened to the various answers; all of them incomplete at best, though understandable.
Then he asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
I am going to stop right there. I am stopping because it is easy, seemingly, for me to answer, with all my heart, at one with Peter, “You are the Messiah, Son of the living God.” I know this to the depths of my soul. It is the guiding truth of my life: Jesus is Lord.
But today I have a question. I have this question because my heart is broken, forsaken, wounded, my life in ruins, and I have lost something in my suffering and dismay; something almost as important to my existence as who this Lord is who has captivated me and will for all eternity.
“Jesus,” I ask, “Who do you say that I am?”
What happens when you ask this question of the Lord?
What has happened for me is that he has been answering me in different ways ever since I asked; in verses from Scripture that show up at mass or in the Liturgy of the Hours, or that quietly come to mind as I pray or go about my day:
“You are sacred to me.”
You are “…beloved of God and called to holiness.”
“…a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord… a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God.”
“… light of the world…. salt of the earth.”
He has seemed to send the right song into my day at the right moment, drawing my attention to it, speaking straight to my heart.
He has sent unlooked-for love into my life and increased the strength of my soul.
He has brought me to understand that each of us are, on a certain level, and in a very real way, all the things he is, because he shares them with us and lives in us. We even share in his very being and his place in the Father’s Heart.
We reflect him. He reflects us back to ourselves.
And when we look at this Light of the World,
this Way, Gate, Shepherd, Truth, Bread from Heaven,
Life and Love itself – he who is gentle and humble of heart,
we are looking, Christian soul,
When we see ourselves in his eyes, his yoke becomes easy and his burden, even the cross, becomes light. He shows us who we are to him, and we are filled with his grace. Perhaps we can go forward after all, once we know who we are in the Lord, doing all things in him who strengthens us.
Maybe, even, we shine with glory from the inside as we make our way through the elements of this world, with our eyes fixed on him whom we radiate.
” I will give to each one… a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” ~ see Rev. 1:17b