Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

St. Therese of “The Little Flower” – Following Her Road Map & Compass To God

Hello everyone. I hope you had a restful and enjoyable weekend.


Little Flower”

Today was a joyous and exciting day here in Rome.

It began with a meeting and meal at our Titular Church, Santa Maria della Vittoria The Church of St. Mary of the Victory, with the Friars of the order of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers. It was a very nice gathering and wonderful to break bread with the good Friars. We saw the Church early in the day and they had dressed it up beautifully and there was great anticipation and enthusiasm. Everyone was looking forward the ceremony and Mass this evening.

We chose this date to scheduled the Titular ceremony and Mass to correspond to the Feast of St. Therese, who is referred to as the Little Flower. She was a Carmelite Nun who died very young after not even 10 years of religious life. But, she was a great spiritual writer and was named a doctor of the Church. There was great devotion to her soon after her death. The Church is very famous because of the statue of St. Teresa of Avila, who was the patron saint of St.Therese.

In my homily today, I refer to the three Teresas, the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was named after the Little Flower, St. Therese.who was named after St. Teresa of Avila. These were three extraordinary women in the Church. They lived at very different times in the history of the Church. But all three had enormous impacts on the life of the Church.

These three women made such an incredible impact on their contemporaries..and made such an important contribution to the life of the Church. Hopefully they will continue to inspire many Catholics with the example of their lives, their spirituality that theyve taught, their sense of service, and their passion for the poor.

In the Church today, in most parishes, so much of the leadership of the parish and the ministries are carried on by women – both religious and lay women – as catechists, youth ministers, working with the elderly and so much more. Anyone who doubts the important role of women in the Church is not looking carefully at what the reality is. The Church could never function without women and their leadership, work and efforts.

St. Teresa of Avila was, to a great part, responsible for the reform of the entire Church in Spain. She was also a great literary figure and a great poet, as well as a great writer. She was also a doctor of the Church in other words, her spiritual writings reflect a very sound theology.

St. Therese was a cloistered Carmelite Sister who had such devotion for the missions that she was named Patron Saint of the Missions. Her writings have been inspirational to generations of Catholics.

Mother Teresa, of course, is well known for the wonderful work that her Sisters do for the poorest of the poor. Even here in Rome we were able to see the shelter that they run for the homeless, that was established by Mother Teresa at the request of Pope John Paul II. Wherever one goes in the world, especially on the poorest areas, youll find the Missionaries of Charity, who are the community of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Santa Maria della Vittoria is probably one of the most beautiful Baroque Churches in Rome. The quality of the statuary and the paintings is exceptional, museum quality actually. The Church has been very well maintained over the years. It certainly is a true jewel.

I learned an interesting story about Santa Maria della Vittoria while I was here. One of the very first Cardinals to have this Church as Titular was an uncle of Napoleon Bonaparte. Apparently Napoleon wanted to take the famous Bernini statue of St. Teresa back to Paris with him sometime during their invasion. His uncle stopped him, fortunately, otherwise today that famous Bernini statue would probably be in the Louvre instead of being in our Church in Rome.

We left for the ceremony and Mass at approximately 6:00 and we were given a one-car police escort, which as you can imagine produced an interesting adventure of a drive through the tight streets and traffic of Rome lol. Im certain that we would have made it there safely without the escort, but I believe that the escort is a courtesy and tradition organized by the Vatican. We had a bit of a chuckle on the way there, because the officer in the passenger seat of the police escort was leaning out the window of the cruiser and had in is arm a long red stop wand that he was waving at cars, scooters and pedestrians to move them out of our path. It was quite a scene as he waved the wand at everyone he passed, nearly actually striking cars and pedestrians alike.

We pulled up to the front of the Church and there was a large crowd of photographers, paparazzi, snapping pictures as soon as we pulled up. Im not sure where they were all from, but a guess well find out soon enough. There were also a number of very impressive uniformed Carabinieri officers of the Italian military police. Two of the officers were in ceremonial dress and stood at attention inside the Church during the entire Mass.

After we arrived and I exited the car, I walked up the steps of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The ceremony began immediately at the front door as the rector, Fr. Stefano, presented a Crucifix for me to kiss as a sign of reverence. I then went into the Church and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, then went to the sacristy to be vested for Mass. We all processed from the outside, back into the Church. At the beginning of the Mass, the official proclamation was read by the Rector, establishing me as the Titular.

It was a very moving ceremony and Mass. I was gratified to see so many people from the local community, as well as priests living in Rome, and the different Bishops who joined usincluding Cardinal Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State, Bishop Calderon from Spain, who is here working at the Vatican, Archbishop Schleck, who belongs to the Holy Cross Fathers, and Fr. Hugh Cleary, the Father General of the Holy Cross Fathers, who was also once at Stonehill College. I was also pleased to see the Paulist Fathers at the Mass. Peter Martin from Dedham also joined us…he’s been working here in Rome for anumber of years in a position at the United States Embassy to the Holy See.

There were many more who came to the Mass and I realize that run the risk of forgetting someone if I try to mention everyoneso Id like to thank everyone who cameI was honored by, and grateful for, everyones presence. There were also a number of people from Boston in attendance, including the Order of Malta group. It was also wonderful to see so many parishioners from the area who joined us for the ceremonies.

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my thoughts and reflections about “The Little Flower,” which I shared with those who were able to be with us at Santa Maria della Vittoria:


Mass for the Feast of St. Therese of Liseaux

I come to you as a Cardinal sent here by Pope Benedict to be your priests and to link you and the people of Rome to the Holy Father and his ministry as Bishop of Rome.

Like the Portuncula in Assisi, Our Lady of the Angels, this precious jewel of Santa Maria della Vittoria is tiny but exceedingly beautiful. The beauty of the place calls us to a nostalgia for God, the source of all beauty.

The Carmelite Friars tend to the pastoral needs of this community with such devotion and generosity. I am so grateful to be associated with you and your people. I assure you of my friendship and my prayers.

In my life there are three Teresas: Mother Teresa of Calcutta whose patroness was St. Therese, the little flower, whose Patron was St. Teresa of Avila, the big flower.

St. Teresa of Avila was a charming woman whose teachings lead her to be declared a doctor of the Church. The Bernini statue brings so many to this ChurchSt. Teresa who says to us, Nada te turbe, nada le espante. Solo Dios basta. Only God is enoughnothing else will do. Here in the beauty of this Church we see a reflection of Gods beauty and love.

It was here that the young Therese Martin came to pray during here visit to Rome described in her autobiography. It is such a joy to take possession of this Church on her feast day.

St. Therese promised to spend her time in heaven doing good on earth. We ask her to intercede for us, for this community, for the Holy Father, for the Church of Boston and for my ministry there.

The saints are Gods masterpiecestheir lives brighten the landscape and point the way to the Kingdom of God. We are here tonight to rejoice in one such masterpiece and bask in the light that emanates from her life and witness.

The Little Flower has always captured peoples imaginations. The beautiful young man who dies of consumption like Mimi in La Boheme. Today I would invite you to reflect on the message of her life and spirituality for us as we prepare to begin a new millennium.

The first thing that strikes me about St. Therese is her family. She was a little flower, but planted firmly in a beautiful garden, an exceptional garden. At first glance, the Martin family appears to be the typical bourgeois family that is often characterized by a little snobbishness, hypocrisy, materialism and a propensity for social climbing. None of these things could be attributed to them. But closer examination reveals that their home was a home where God reigned. The Holy Fathers often talk of the Catholic family as a domestic Church. At the Martins housethe only thing missing was the steeple. They were all so committed to the Lord that they nurtured and shared each others spirituality. Just as we see families that possess a great musical talentlike the Trapp Family or a penchant for politics like the Kennedysthe Martin family was focused on God and became a family of saints.

Thereses parents were exceptional Catholics. Both of them had considered a religious vocation early on but discovered their vocation in married life and of the nine children, the youngest was Marie Francoise Therese Martin who later became Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, O.C.D.

Four of the older children died in infancy and Thereses mother, Zelie Martin, a lace-maker, died before Therese reached her 5th birthday.

We can see that Therese was born into a family that immediately served her as an image of heaven. Her family, with its customs and its relationships, acted as a kind of picture book for her, in which she learned to spell out the reality of the Christian faith. Everything in the book was concrete, speaking directly and intelligibly for it was composed in the simple language that God has devised for His children. The world is wholly sacramental, its appearance an effective symbol of the Spirit of God, working through appearances and matter.

At the center of her family was the Father, Louis Martin, a watchmaker. Therese loved him, almost idolized him. At a glance, she saw in him the unbreakable unity of love and authority. She looked toward her father, her father looked toward God and so she learned to look to God. Therese was still quite small when her father took her to Church.

During the sermon, he bent over and whispered: Listen carefully, my little queen, he is talking about your patron saint. Therese writes: I paid great attention, but I looked at my father more than at the preacher. His face was so eloquent to me. Many times his eyes filled with tears that he tried in vain to keep back. When he was listening to the eternal truths, it was as though he no longer belonged to this world. As she knelt beside her father during evening prayers, she says: I only needed to look at him to learn how the saints pray.

St. Therese was a precocious child. She could read and write at age three. To me, one of the most telling incidents recorded from her childhood involved the public execution of a criminal named Pranzini in 1887 when Therese was 14. Therese had a great desire to save souls. Hearing about an unrepentant sinner about to be executed, Therese prays and makes many sacrifices on his behalf. Therese went to the newspaper and read that Pranzini had been unrepentant up until the moment before placing his head in the noosethen, suddenly, he had taken hold of the crucifix held out to him by the priest and kissed the wounds of Christ three times before he died. Therese felt a deep joy over the conversation of her first child of grace, and her desire to bring people to God grew and grew.

It is no wonder that she was named patroness of missionaries. From her cloister, she was close to missionaries and filled with zeal for souls and concern for people in need.

Many people are surprised that St. Therese was named a Doctor of the Church this month in Rome. People think of Doctors who are great theologianslike Thomas Aquinas, Dun Scotus, a wise, old bearded creaturewhy the Little Flower, a 24-year-old cloistered nun?

We often get caught up in anecdotes and examples of Thereses love and virtue, and we fail to see that Thereses sanctity and vocation are inexorably linked to a theological mission.

In the Mass of her canonization, Pius XI explains how God has spoken to the Church in her life. I quote: Above all, she nourished heart and soul with the inspired Word of God, on which she meditated assiduously, and the Spirit of Truth taught her what He hides from the wise and the prudent and reveals to the humble. Indeed, God enriched her with an exceptional wisdom so that she was enabled to trace out for others a sure way of salvation. The Holy Father makes frequent reference to, a new message and a new mission, and new model of sanctity. The Pope speaks of her as a master in matters of spiritual teaching. Hers is a modern asceticism based not so much on external acts of mortification, but a rigorous internal discipline which allowed her to pick up a pin off the floor with the love and devotion of someone performing the most challenging act of piety. How many times do I pick up a pin now saying, Jesus let me pick up this pin with the same love that St. Therese had.and, besides, I dont want to step on the pin in my bare feet J.

For Therese, being a spiritual child meant total trust and dependence upon God. She used to say: To be little means recognizing ones nothingness, expecting everything from our good God, as a little child expects everything from its Father. Even among the poor, a little child is given everything it needs so long as it is little; but as soon as it grows up, its father will no longer feed it and says: Work for yourself.

Thereses spirituality knits together the themes of St. Paul and the Gospel; she writes:

We must do everything that is within us: give without counting the cost, practice the virtues at every opportunity, conquer ourselves all the time and prove our love by every sort of tenderness and loving attention. In a word, we must carry out all the good works that lie in our powerout of love for God. But it is essential to put our whole trust in Him who alone can sanctify our work, who can indeed sanctify us without works, since He may even bring forth children of Abraham from the very stones. It is necessary for us, when we have done all we can, to confess that we are unprofitable servants, while hoping that God, in His grace, will give us what we need. That is the way of childhood.

How many people come to this Church to follow the route of Angels & Demons of Dan Brown, to see where fictitious Cardinals were killed. The Life and teachings of the Little Flower are the real road map and sure compass on our journey toward God. May we travel that road joyfully and faithfully until we reach the final Victory with our Risen Lord and with Our Lady of Victory in whose house we celebrate this holy Mass.


Santa Maria della Vittoria The Church of St. Mary of the Victory


The Friars placed my Coat of Arms above the Church’s door.


Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” He created the masterpiece in 1646 for then Cardinal F. Cornaro of Venice.


Close-up view of Bernini’s beautiful work.


Another view.


From below.


The Vatican and the police provided an escort to the Church – it was an interesting drive through the busy streets of Rome….if you look closely, you can see the officer waving the “stop-wand” out the window lol.


Entering the Church to begin the ceremony.


To begin the formal ceremony, the Pastor, Fr. Stefano presented a Crucifix for me to kiss as a sign of reverence.


Praying before the Blessed Sacrament.


Vesting before the Mass Beautiful vestment was from the 16th century.


When Cardinal Sodano arrived, the paparazzi camera flashes filled the sacristy.


Processing into Santa Maria della Vittoria.


Entering the Church.


Fr. Stefano reads the official Titular proclamation.


Beginning the Mass.


You can see just how beautiful the High Altar is in this picture. The original Altar was actually destroyed by fire in 1833 and was rebuilt in 1880.


View of the High Altar from the pews.


Shrine dedicated to The Little Flower next to the High Altar.


After Mass, signing the official Titular documents.


The Friars hosted a very nice reception following the Mass for everyone who came to the celebration.


Earlier in this post, I mentioned that Mother Teresa established a shelter for the homeless right here at the Vatican in Rome. This is the door to the shelter.


Sisters of the community of Mother Teresa of Calcutta here in Rome.

Today was a very joyous day and a wonderful way to conclude my time in the Eternal City. Im very happy that I was able to share the joy of this day with you, here on my blog.

Thank you for visiting.

Until tomorrow, my final post from our time in Rome.

God Bless,

Cardinal Sen