Homily of His Excellency Archbishop Charles J Brown
Shrine of St Therese of the Child Jesus, Newport
October 1, 2021
Transcribed by Gel Katalbas. Photos by Lorenzo Atienza
Video: Shrine of St Therese of the Child Jesus, Pasay
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, it gives me so much joy as your Apostolic Nuncio to be here in this absolutely beautiful and splendid Shrine of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus here in Pasay City.
I want to thank in a most special way His Excellency Oscar Florencio, the 7th Bishop of the Military Ordinariate in the Philippines, who has invited me to celebrate this feast, this mass with all of you devotees of Saint Therese here in this absolutely beautiful shrine.
I read on the internet this morning that the shrine was originally completed or consecrated back in 1983. Dedicated to Saint Therese of the Child Jesus by one of my predecessors as Apostolic Nuncio, the famous Bruno Torpigliani, who consecrated a much more modest church here back in 1983, which has now been replaced by this glorious and beautiful shrine. And it gives me, as I said, as a representative of Pope Francis, so much happiness and joy to be with you this morning to celebrate this mass on her feast day.
The Greatest Saint of Modern Times
I have a great love for St. Therese of the Child Jesus because she was the patron of the parish where I lived as a boy growing up in New York and I celebrated my first mass in her church, back in May of 1989 in the Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Windham, New York. So from Windham in New York, here to Pasay City in Manila, all of us are celebrating the feast day of this wonderful saint, this great apostle of Jesus Christ.
Pope Pius X, the St. Pius X, described Therese of the Child Jesus in a private audience. In an audience that was given to a missionary, he described Therese as the greatest saint of modern times. St. Therese is the greatest saint of modern times. And now from Pasay City throughout the entire world, we have churches dedicated to this young woman, to this beautiful saint, who is certainly among the most loved in the Catholic Church.
I think, brothers and sisters, if you go into any church, anywhere in the world, you will find a statue of St. Anthony of Padua always and almost always, indeed, I would say always a statue of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.
She is one of the most loved saints in the entire Catholic Church and she's loved because her intercession is very powerful.
All of us who have prayed to Therese know that, and she, many times, sends a rose as a sign of her intercession to us when we pray to her. She is before Jesus in heaven. And her intercession is incredibly powerful.
Childlike, Beautiful Spirit
We heard in the Gospel this morning how the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who's the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And Jesus told them, “Unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” These words are not a joke. They're not false. They are true. Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And that is what we see in Therese - her childlike, beautiful spirit.
We have these two words in English. Don't we have the word 'childish'? And we have the word 'childlike'.
Childish is kind of the characteristics of a child that we find negative. Childish means, like when your mother tells you, “Don't be childish.” She's telling you, Don't be immature. Don't be foolish. Don't be infantile. Childish.
And we have the word 'childlike'. What does it mean? It's the positive characteristics of a child: being innocent, trusting and dependent. A child is innocent. A child trusts. A child depends on others. And that is what Jesus is telling us: we must be childlike if we're going to be great in the kingdom of heaven - not childish, but childlike.
In the eyes of the world, many times, we as Christians appear to those who have no faith as being childish, not childlike. But to ourselves we see each other as being like children because that is what Jesus asks us to imitate.
Our Names are Written in Heaven
This summer, in America, a brilliant theoretical physicist who had won the Nobel Prize in Physics back in 1979, came to the end of his life. He finished his life and he died. He was known for popularizing the view that the universe is pointless. There's no cosmic plan. He's quoted as saying, “We are not actors in the drama that has been written with us playing the starring role.” There are laws, we are discovering these laws, but these laws are impersonal. Impersonal. They are cold. Cold, impersonal cosmos.
Let me contrast that for a moment for you. Let me say, in parentheses, that you have beautiful windows, representing different episodes in the life of Saint Therese. I want to refer to an episode that's not in a window or not yet in a window here. And it's when she was a little girl, walking with her father at night when there was a starry sky. She writes about this in her autobiography of a soul. And I want to contrast what Therese writes with what this brilliant theoretical physician, Nobel laureate, wrote about the pointless universe.
She writes this - Therese - in her autobiography The Story of A Soul: “When we were on the way home” - she with her father - “I would gaze upon the stars that were twinkling ever so peacefully in the skies and the sight carried me away. There was especially one cluster, one group of golden stars, that attracted my attention, and gave me great joy because they were in the form of a T, the letter T. I pointed them out to Papa and I told him that my name was written in heaven. Then, desiring to look no longer upon this earth, this dull Earth, I asked my father to guide my steps, and not looking where I placed my feet, I threw my head back, giving myself over completely to the contemplation of the star-studded firmament of the heavens.”
So we have this image of a little girl at night with her father, seeing the stars and seeing some that looked like the letter T, and her name of course, as Therese, and believing that her name, this little girl, was written in heaven.
The Psalmist, traditionally Saint David the Psalmist, writes, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. And the firmament shows forth the work of his hands. Day unto day takes up the story. And night unto night makes known the message.”
This little girl discerned the mystery. She discerned the message in heaven. But her name is written in heaven. And your name is written in heaven.
That is the message that Therese tells us today. And she confirms what Jesus says in the Gospel,
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to little children.”
Don't we see that in the contrast between the great physicist, Nobel Prize winner, in the cold, impersonal universe, and this little girl following her father, hand in hand, not looking where she's placing her feet, but looking into heaven where her name is written?
Love: the Hinge of My Vocation
The Psalmist, as I said, says that, “...night unto night makes known the message.”
What is the message? What is the message? Therese was wondering about that her entire life. What is the message? What is the reason? What is the point of the cosmos? What is the point of my existence.
And she struggled with that - “What is my role in the world?”
She found it in St. Paul. When St. Paul says “Set your desires on the greater gifts and I will show you the way that surpasses all the others.”
For St. Paul writes that, “...the greater gifts are nothing at all without love.” And this same love is surely the best path leading to God.
That is what St. Therese writes in her autobiography. And she says, “At last I had found peace of mind. When I looked upon the Mystical Body of the Church I recognize and I tried to distinguish myself in that Mystical Body.
"Love appeared to me to be the hinge of my vocation. Indeed, I knew that the Church has a body composed of various members. But in this body, the necessary, most noble member was not lacking. And I knew that the Church had a heart, and that such a heart appears to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action and that if this love was extinguished, the apostles would no longer have the gospel to proclaim, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw, I realized that love sets off the boundaries of all vocations. That love is everything.”
That is what St. Therese teaches us. And that is why her name is written in heaven. That is why this little girl, this simple girl, teaches us the most important thing: that the cosmos, the universe, has a reason. And that reason has a name and a face. That reason is in the Greek, the logos, it is Jesus of Nazareth, who is portrayed on the cross, and in your beautiful retablo which we bless this morning. That is the reason for the universe.
And that reason is His love for us. That is what St. Therese teaches us - that love is everything. "In the heart of the church, my Mother," she says, “I will be love. And thus I will be all things as my desire finds its direction.”
”Love moves the heavens.”
That is what Dante says when he reaches the highest heavens in the Paradiso. When Dante gazes, he gazes on the love in heaven that moves the stars. That moves the stars.
The cosmos has a reason. And this little girl discovered that.
Love those who are unlovable
And she discovered that to love means also to love those who are unlovable.
And I will refer now to an image that is reflected in one of your beautiful stained glass windows and is in the second window when you come in on the right - the image of a man about to be guillotined in France in August of 1887.
When Therese was 14 years old, she read in the newspapers about a terrible criminal who was going to be guillotined, who was going to be executed for his crimes of triple murder. And she writes, “I felt in the depths of my heart that he would be converted. I felt in the depths of my heart, certain that our desires - that is the desire for his conversion - would be granted. I told God that I was sure he would pardon this poor, unfortunate man, Pranzini.”
And she began to pray with her sister, praying for his conversion. “I believed that even if he went to his death, that he would be in the mercy of Jesus.” But Therese begged Jesus for a sign of his repentance before he died back in August of 1887, this horrible murderer. And then the day after his execution in Paris, Therese went to the newspapers, even if her father had told her not to read the newspapers, but she thought, in this case, she would be able to make an exception to her father's command and read the paper.
Let me read what she writes about the execution of Pranzini. “My prayer was answered to the letter. In spite of Papa's prohibition that we read no newspapers, I didn't think I was disobeying when reading the passages pertaining to Pranzini. “The day after the execution I found in the newspaper" - La Croix, which still exists today - “I opened it quickly and what did I see? Oh, my tears betrayed my emotion. Pranzini had not gone to confession but he had mounted the guillotine and was preparing to place his head to be decapitated when suddenly, seized by an inspiration, he turned to hold the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the wounds of Jesus three times. Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declared that in heaven there would be more joy over one sinner who repents than over 99 who have no need of repentance.” And Therese writes, “I had obtained the sign I requested.”
Her love for God overflowed in her love for humanity.
Even for humanity in its most unlovable. What is more unlovable than a murderer who killed three people and is going to be executed? Yet Therese loved him and prayed for him and obtained, we can believe, his conversion right before he went to his death.
Love knows no bounds. We receive that love of Jesus as Christians in the Sacraments of the Church beginning with Baptism and then always nourished in the Eucharist.
Our names are written in heaven, brothers and sisters, like Therese’s was. The universe has a meaning and the meaning is the love of God. And that love of God is poured into our hearts by Jesus in the sacraments.
So as we celebrate this beautiful feast day of St. Therese, this great saint, this humble girl, this patron of the missions, and of course here the Philippines as we celebrate 500 years of Christianity, and this year dedicated to the Missio ad Gentes, we think especially of St. Therese who never left her monastery after she joined and yet is patron of the missions because the missions, as she says, are motivated by one thing: by God's love. And if we have that love, we become missionaries whether we're going throughout the world as overseas Filipino workers or right here at the airport in Pasay City or in the Military Ordinariate.
So dear brothers and sisters on this feast, gives me so much joy to be with you. I greet you in the name of Pope Francis. You know he has a special affection for the Filipino people. God-willing, I will see him in about two weeks time in Rome and I will be sure to bring him your greetings as I bring you now his affection and his blessing.
May God bless you on this wonderful feast day. Thank you.
Watch the Homily of Archbishop Brown
on the Feast of St Therese of the Child Jesus. October 1, 2021