We're still about two and a half months from Christmas or 74 shopping days left, but we just learned we're going to receive quite a Christmas present on the final Christmas of the second millennium. And we don't even have to go shopping. It's coming to us free of charge as well as to you over the next ninety-plus days. That gift: the opportunity to venerate the first class relics of the newest Doctor of the Church Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face who died on September 30, 1897 at the age of 24 from Tuberculosis in Lisieux, France. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925 who proclaimed her "the greatest saint of modern times." He was also the same Pontiff who sanctified another French saint Saint John Vianney the same year. St. John was of course the beloved Cure d'Ars. Speaking of beloved, St. Therese surely is and it was a special moment when we discovered that the reliquary containing her bones in a gold-encrusted box will be on display for the next several months throughout the United States.
The reverent exhibit went on display a week ago in La Plata, Maryland at a Carmelite Monastery and then transferred to another Carmelite Monastery in Washington D.C. before residing this past weekend at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with a solemn Mass said by the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. That is just the first leg of a tour that will take the Little Flower's relics to over ninety cities through January 28th in Honolulu at which time the Bishop of the Philippines will escort the reliquary to the Philippine islands for a short tour of that area. The relics arrived a week ago at JFK direct from Buenos Aires during this special world-tour spanning the second and third millenniums.
This historic tour is sponsored by the five Carmelite Provinces in the U.S. with permission of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The reliquary is today in Philadelphia where Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who, by Godincidence, happens to be today's selection of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY, will celebrate a Solemn Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul tonight at 7:30 p.m. Speaking of the Top 100 Catholics, St. Therese received numerous votes but, because she did not live in the 20th Century unfortunately did not qualify, but it is a tribute to this sainted Carmelite that she did receive so many votes for the faithful truly love her and this is one way they can repay her by flocking to venerate her relics.
Some highlighted sites on this four-month tour will be this Friday, the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila - a fellow female Doctor of the Church - when Archbishop Thomas McCarrick will preside over an 8 p.m. Solemn Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey; Sunday, October 17 Cardinal John J. O'Connor will say a Solemn Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral at 5:30 p.m. followed by a special welcome to the current Auxiliary bishop of St. Therese's Diocese in France, Bishop Guy Gaucher of Bayeux-Lisieux. Two days later the Church will commemorate the second anniversary of Pope John Paul II declaring St. Therese the most recent Doctor of the Church (October 19, 1997) and only the third woman to receive the honor along with St. Teresa of Avila and Saint Catherine of Siena. Fittingly, St. Therese's bones will be lying in Brooklyn's church of Saint Thomas Aquinas, probably the greatest Doctor of the Church who is known as the "Angelic Doctor." Bishop Thomas V. Daily will preside at a Solemn Mass that evening.
On All Saints Day the reliquary will be at the Carmelite Monasteries in Erie and Loretto, Pennsylvania with Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, shepherd of the See of Altoona-Johnstone, celebrating a 7:30 Mass. On Wednesday, November 3, her relics will be on display at the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan with a Mass that evening by Cardinal Adam Maida, Archbishop of Detroit. The exhibit will be in the Chicagoland area for nearly a week from November 15 to 21 at various sites, beginning and ending at the National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, Illinois. On November 20, Cardinal Francis George, OMI will preside at a Solemn Mass at St. Gelasius Church in Chicago proper. On the Feast of the Apostle Saint Andrew on November 30, there will be a procession from the Carmelite Monastery in Arlington, Texas to the city's Convention Center where the bishops from both Dallas and Fort-Worth will concelebrate a Solemn Mass at the massive hall there for the faithful of the metroplex.
On December 3, Feast of Saint Francis Xavier and the saint who shares "Patron of the Missions" with St. Therese, her relics will reside at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio, Texas and on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the faithful in Houston can view her remains at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.
On Christmas Eve the relics will be available at the beautiful Immaculata on the campus of the University of San Diego where Bishop Robert Brom will celebrate a solemn Mass at 11 a.m. That afternoon the reliquary will be transferred to the Little Flower Haven, an inspiring monastery and rest home at the base of Mt. Helix in La Mesa just east of San Diego where there will be Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as well leading up to a midnight Christmas Mass. This is the one we would love to attend if our health holds up and our teen age sons will have the patience to spend more than an hour in church! One thing for sure - it will be crowded! The following day, after a morning Christmas Mass and a special Spanish Holy Hour, her bones will be moved at noon to the Carmelite Monastery in Normal Heights above Mission Valley and across from California's first mission Mission San Diego de Alcala; an appropriate setting for the Patron Saint of the Mission's relics to be on display from one to six highlighted by a Christmas Mass at four p.m. Yes, for the San Diego faithful it will be quite a Christmas!
On New Year's Eve, the faithful will pack St. Therese's Church in Alhambra, California in the San Gabriel Valley to welcome in the next millennium paying homage to the saint who set the tone for the second millennium. Bishop Patrick V. Ahern, the Auxiliary Bishop of New York City who has been appointed curator of the exhibit while it is in the United States, will accompany the reliquary during the 100 days of its exhibition and will celebrate a very special Midnight Millennium Mass in Alhambra where this editor's bride studied with the Carmelites in the seventies. On the following Sunday, January 2, 2000 on the Feast of the Epiphany and commemoration of St. Therese's birthday in Alencon, France in 1873, Cardinal Roger Mahony will celebrate an eleven a.m. Mass. The relics will be in Duarte and Redlands on January 4th, the occasion of St. Therese's Baptismal anniversary 126 years ago.
On January 11th, the reliquary will reside in Seaside at St. Francis Xavier Church in Northern California. What is special about this is that the Co-Patrons of Missions will share with another great missionary for the relics of St. Therese will be placed near the relics of the Franciscan missionary Blessed Junipero Serra, founder of the missions of California. On January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul - the greatest of all missionaries - St. Therese's bones will be in Salt Lake City at the Carmelite Monastery there and subsequently the Cathedral of the Madeleine where Salt Lake's Bishop George H. Niederauer will officiate at the final Mass on the mainland for St. Therese as the relics are flown to Hawaii before heading on to the far east.
We have only touched on a few of the more than ninety sites over 100 days where the people can pay homage to these first class relics. For where her relics will be near you, we refer you to www.saint-therese.org/relics.htm for a detailed itinerary. All in all, it is an excellent one and very well-thought out liturgically. We are grateful to the Carmelites and the NCCB for this gift. We have always had a special affection for the Little Flower, especially this editor's bride. This editor has met two saints of modern times Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II and came oh so close to meeting another - Padre Pio in 1965 so to have the opportunity to venerate the relics of one who has taught us so much about the "little way" and inspired millions with her fiat to Christ and proved the merits of being a victim soul, that is very, very special and we encourage all to take advantage of this special opportunity when the Little Flower comes to your neighborhood.
It is refreshing that the practice of venerating relics of the saints is being revived with this tour. Since Vatican II it has been considered out-dated, passe and unimportant, but believe us, it isn't. If it were not important, why has the Church honored relics from the earliest days of Christianity. When Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch was thrown to the lions, his companions came by night and gathered up his bones. Christians collected the ashes of Saint Polycarp after he had been burned alive so they could venerate the saint and these relics and all others proclaimed saints by the Church deserve to be venerated for their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, instruments by which God worked. These same bodies, the Church teaches, will some day rise gloriously from the grave and be united with the soul in Heaven. God has shown His approval of veneration of relics by working frequent miracles at their application. Think about it. In some cases, the bodies of some saints have remianed incorrupt such as Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Catherine of Bologna and, of course, Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes. Consider that every year the blood of Saint Januarius or San Gennaro, kept in a vial in Naples, Italy, liquifies on his feast day of September 19th. Recall the words in Acts 19: 12, "God worked more than the usual miracles by the hand of Paul; so that even handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out."
Through authentic relics effective, and sometimes supernatural, graces are obtained while serving as a silent admonition to encourage us to imitate the saint whose relics we honor. As Bishop Louis Laravoire Morrow states in My Catholic Faith, "The numerous miracles worked through the use of relics were a result, not of the relics' power, but of God's, acting through them. The Gospel tells the moving story of the woman cured by touching the hem of Our Lord's garment. Yet even that sacred garment did not by itself work the miracle; Christ used His power, working through the garment. And so today relics continue to play a part in the working of miracles, in the suspension of the natural law, but always as mere instruments of Almighty God." And so, God is working through the relics of St. Therese in the same fashion and providing us a golden opportunity through this special exhibition spanning the second and third millennium. To those who say it is superstition, no explanation is possible for it is truly supernatural and that millions will realize as they pray to God while venerating the holy bones of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Carmelite nun who has touched so many. Though we may not touch the bones per se, just keep your hands in and your olfactory nerves acute for as you pray before the reliquary of St. Therese you just might sense the unmistakable scent of roses from the Little Flower!
The Carmelite missionary St. Therese of the Child Jesus, at the age of twelve, drew up a map of North America in her quest to bring the faith to the western hemisphere as well as China. But she was never able to set out on the mission she so wanted to accomplish while she was still alive. Now she is making the rounds as the missionary to the world, reaching more than she ever suspected, but God had special plans all along and now that is coming to fulfillment as we end one millennium and begin another. The times may be dark, but the light that the Little Flower sheds should brighten everyone's life. Truly, the Patroness of the Missions is on a special mission!