Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
In the Memorial Chapel at the back of the church there is a plaque which reads: “In commemoration of Monsignor Vernon Johnson 1888-1969. Founder of the Association of Priests of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Served as curate in this parish from 1948-1957”. Like many of us at Spanish Place, Monsignor Johnson was brought up as an Anglican: he was a member of a Franciscan religious community, the Society of the Divine Compassion, which was then based in Plaistow. A chance visit to the Carmel at Lisieux drew him to seek communion with the Catholic Church, and set him on the path of his life’s apostolate of spreading knowledge about the writings and spirituality of Lisieux's saint: Thérèse’s own blood sisters were still alive at this time and Monsignor Johnson was able to get to know them and gain unique insight into the formation of someone who died so young (aged 24 - in 1897) and who was canonised so speedily (in 1925 – less than thirty years after her death) . “No one did more than Vernon Johnson to bring Thérèse to the attention of the English speaking world”.
This Wednesday, 1st October, is the feastday of Saint Thérèse, but wherein lies the attraction which so many continue to feel for her? At first sight it is not easy to determine. A stuffy bourgeois upbringing in late 19th century provincial France – a young life scarred psychologically by the early death of her mother – entry into the enclosure of a Carmelite convent at 15 – her few adult years spent behind its walls – a painful death from tuberculosis having apparently achieved little. In her final months, Therese, under obedience to her superior, was asked to write an account of her life: this autobiography which has come to be known as “The Story of a Soul” formed the basis of the death notice circulated to other Carmelite monasteries, but such was its clarity in revealing God’s loving invitation to communion with those he has created it became an instant best-seller. Millions of copies have since been reproduced and a significant number of them found their way into the trenches of the First World War and led to the clamour throughout the Catholic world for the author’s canonisation.
But, again, one asks why? The simple answer is that the "Story of a Soul" is the story of every soul. Anyone, from any background, from any culture, can find a mirror within the experience of this young Carmelite nun which reflects something of their own potential. Thérèse was familiar with the writings of Saint John of the Cross and her understanding of his concept of “nada” - as she struggled to come to terms with God’s apparent absence during the last eighteen months of her illness - has a contemporary ring for a society increasingly alienated from any understanding of Divine intimacy. The outwardly little, fragile, Thérèse shows that her heart and soul are pure steel as she constantly renews her faith while devoid of any consolation and assailed by doubt and temptation. Here is courage which we can only hope and pray to emulate in our own testing times.
Perhaps Thérèse’s most appealing characteristic is her humility - the recognition that her way to God is the “little way” of just being herself, and trying to do the small things of everyday life to the best of her ability. Thérèse sees (and helps us to accept) that sanctification comes usually not through the grand gesture or the significant event, but by trying to do ordinary things in an extraordinary spirit: thus holiness of life is not for the few but is the common vocation, open to all, because achievable by everyone. In her early years as a Carmelite, Thérèse knew she was in the right place, but remained unsettled – she discovered the fullness of her vocation by reflecting on St Paul’s writing to the Corinthians on charity: she saw that she was to be "love at the heart of the Church". She came to understand (rightly) that without that willing offering of a loving heart every other facet of the Church’s life and mission would seize up. It is worth asking ourselves what personal relevance that understanding might have. In what ways are you and I trying to be “love at the heart of the Church”?