The Catholic Thing
The Always Witty Little Flower Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 04 May 2012

I have written in these pages before how years ago I wrestled with my deep desire to become a Trappist; how it nagged at my heart for years; and how I eventually applied to Gethsemani Abbey and went on long retreats where I did little more than bounce off the walls and think about girls.

I never felt at home there, never felt at peace. Still, when I was away from there, back home at my job, that place was all I thought about. But every time I went there, awful.

I looked for a sign. Of course, the sign was there already. No peace, no vocation. But I thought this was my fault. I thought it was the fault of modern society that a modern man cannot quiet himself long enough to hear, actually hear such a call. So I kept trying.

In October of 1999, I asked my friends to pray a Novena to St. Thérèse of Lisieux for a clear sign of whether I had a vocation to the Trappists or a vocation in the world. I actually finished the Novena in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in front of a small box that contained the earthly remains of St. Theresa herself, which were on a 115-stop tour of the United States. This, I thought, would nearly guarantee a sign about my vocation.

A few days later I get on a plane to give a speech in the Philippines. This, of course, should be illegal. It is just too far to fly, too long to be cooped up in an airplane, especially for someone my size, tall and stocky.

I absolutely need a window seat, most especially on long hauls, so I can plaster myself against the wall and maybe get a little sleep.  I confirm several times that I have a window seat. The lady at check-in said, “We have a window seat in an emergency aisle. Would you like that?” Absolutely!

But instead of an emergency aisle window, I walk to my seat in the middle section up against the bulkhead. I panic. I grab a flight attendant and with genuine fear rising in my voice, explain my predicament. She goes to see if she can help. I grab another and another.  I actually walk off the plane and consider not going.

Finally, I resign myself to the inevitable torture of this flight and hope to make a change in Vancouver. We take off. A stewardess comes up and shows me how to use the TV. She offers me a drink. “A double,” I say. “How about a triple,” she says. All across the country, she keeps a close and quite loving watch over me.

      St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Donald Porter, 2007

Right before Vancouver, she tells me she’s arranged to move me up to business class for the long flight across the Pacific. And she also says she’s leaving. My angel was leaving. I ask, “May I know your name?” She says, “Rose.”

Praying for the intercession of saints is one of the things that chuffs our Protestant brothers the most. They think we are conjuring the dead or that we are worshiping someone other than Jesus whom we have a direct link to anyway. In fact, intercessory prayer is profoundly Biblical.

St. John depicts in Revelation the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God as golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” And the New Testament is full of passages recommending intercessory prayer. It is unfortunate to miss out on this immense community of love if you’re a Protestant and do not believe or if this practice has lapsed from your Catholic life.

St. Thérèse loved nature and saw herself as a simple wildflower, unnoticed, quietly giving glory to God. She called herself “the Little Flower of Jesus”. As she lay dying, she said: “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.”

Not long after her death, roses or the scent of roses began to appear, and miracles were attributed to her intercession. The Society of the Little Flower says it beautifully, “Roses are Thérèse’s signature. It is her way of whispering to those who need a sign that she has heard, and God is responding.”

After my Novena, and in my passing moment of need, the Little Flower had sent me a Rose, maybe not a flower but a person. How witty. How glorious.

But wait, what did it mean? Gethsemani or Manhattan?

And then it dawned on me. What an idiot. I asked a multiple-choice question!

In the end, it was peace of soul that was my answer. Gethsemani never gave me that except in my imagination.  When I met my future wife, it was peace of soul all the way.


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.

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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by Other Joe, May 04, 2012
To the Protestants, a life and the effects of a Padre Pio are suspect at best and demonic at worst. I happen to know more about him than other saints because of distant, but numerous connections. Like his Lord, he never wrote a book. He owned nothing of consequence. He had no worldly power at all. No one trembled at his whim. He had no army, no bodyguard and no television show. He never traveled. He was alleged to be of modest intelligence. Yet the world came to him, for no other attraction than his holiness. His effect continues after his death. He has brought uncounted people to God and to the peace that Mr. Ruse sought and so eloquently evokes. I contrast that with a person of my acquaintance who was once given the title of Person of the Year. That person died ten years ago leaving no trace behind. A real estate developer knocked down the person's house to put up an office building. Many of the relationships that resulted in acclamation are revealed by time to have been self-serving. Ashes to ashes. Saints live and continue to interact with the faithful.
written by Grump, May 04, 2012
Nice story, Austin. Bishop Sheen once told the story about a guy who was given two options and always chose the wrong one. Finally, he's given a choice of picking one of two parachutes as a plane is in trouble and picks one that doesn't open. As he's falling to the ground, he shouts: "St. Francis, help me!"

Instantly a voice comes from Heaven: "Which St. Francis?"

written by Nick Palmer, May 04, 2012
Like for some with the issue of saints, I've been wrestling with the idea of a guardian angel, even after its explication in Peter Kreeft's wonderful Angels & Demons. I just had a hard time seeing why God, almighty and all-powerful God, wouldn't just connect with me directly.

But, now I think I see a bit more clearly. Over the past few years was in a position to giving some advice to a person (now a close friend) with some very serious personal issues. While not directly related to those issues (I know, I know...), he had also been raised Catholic yet away from any idea of religious practice well into his fifties.

An unplanned offshoot of my assistance was this friend's return to Christianity in a very, very serious way. He's not yet back to the Catholic Church, but has made a truly extraordinary move back to Christ. Yesterday, he told me that it was my faith and regular Mass attendance that challenged his a-religiosity, and he gives me credit for bringing him back to Christ. Now, first of all, his praise seriously overstated. I have no right to take credit for this delightful transformation.

Yet, on another level, I seem to have been able to serve as a channel for God's grace. And, I cannot tell you how wonderful his thanks made me feel.

Now I see a bit more about the whole guardian angel thing. It's not for me, its for the angel. What a gift it is for we creatures to have the privilege of bringing God to another (even when God could darned well do it himself).
written by Manfred, May 04, 2012

I, for one, am pleased that the Little Flower intervened and led you to marriage; otherwise we would be denied your always interesting and topical columns.
written by Fr. Dominic Legge, OP, May 05, 2012
I myself have a similar story, and I can't help but share it.

When I was working in Washington D.C., and agonizing over whether I had a priestly vocation -- I had recently broken up with a woman I had thought seriously of marrying because of this question -- my Catholic book group decided to read St. Therese's autobiography. We hadn't planned it, but our choice coincided with the visit of her relics to Washington D.C. - I suppose it was the same tour of her relics as you recount in your article. What is more, when the head of the group and I were talking about where to hold the meeting, we were overheard by a Carmelite priest (sitting near us, in civilian clothes), who then invited us to meet at Whitefriars in DC, on the very night the relics were there, which meant we got to have some private time in the chapel with them before the general public was admitted.

I had never read the book, and I was quite moved and impressed. At the end of the meeting, one of the women in the group talked about the novena to St. Therese, and how she had received roses from her in reply. I was very skeptical, but having just gotten to know the Little Flower, I decided to try it anyway. So I printed out the novena prayer, and, in the morning before work, said the prayer and formulated my request like this: "Dear St. Therese, please help me figure out if God is calling me to be a priest. You don't need to send me roses - I'm skeptical about that anyhow - but IF you should decide to send them, then send me white roses if I'm supposed to be a priest, and red roses if I'm supposed to marry [my former girlfriend]."

The prayer said, I went to work and promptly forgot about it.

That evening, I went out to dinner after work and didn't come home to our group house until perhaps 9 or 10 pm. Now, I lived in a great group house in D.C., clean, but not fancy. We put very little effort into decorating it, and we certainly never had fresh flowers.

Imagine my shock when I walked into our living room to find, on the coffee table in the center of the room, a huge bouquet of fresh roses. I think there were 18 of them. I stood in the doorway, dumbfounded. She had answered my prayer, the same day I said it -- even after I'd forgotten about it. (It turns out that my housemate had been to a fundraising dinner, and had won, or been given, one of the centerpieces to take home.)

But the best part: all of the roses were a delicate shade of pink -- a perfect blend of red and white!

I took her to be saying: I've heard your prayer, and I'm watching out for you and helping you, but for this decision, it is YOU who have to decide.

And, of course, she was exactly right.
written by Austin Ruse, May 05, 2012

What happened? How was confession?! We all want to know!
written by Jim J. McCrea, May 05, 2012
Strictly speaking, God does not need anyone to do His work - He is omnipotent.

That He uses intermediaries is completely from His love.

He wishes to give us the dignity of being causes.
written by Catherine Therese, May 06, 2012
This is a great story! I've been sent roses after a novena to St. Therese, also. I love her.
written by Maria Dean, May 08, 2012
Austin, Your column is a "Rose" for my family and me!

My daughter was very ill when she was young, and my Aunt (who was a sister of St Joseph from Baden PA) offered a novena to St Therese the Little Flower for Julia’s healing. As soon as the novena was finished, she received a bouquet of flowers which included roses from someone who did not know of the novena. Julia’s middle name is… you guessed it. Therese.

Friday, May 4th, the day you posted that column is the day that Julia was confirmed in to the Church. And her confirmation name… Rose.

How fully that circle came to a close for us! Thanks for your story, and the timeliness of its appearance!


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