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.
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.