HOPE AND LIFE: AN ADVENT JOURNEY WITH SAINT THERESE
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
Every year, starting from 1982, a huge Christmas Tree has been adorned and placed in the center of Saint Peter’s square to add joy and light to the festive Season in Rome. This year, visitors from all over of the world who come to the Eternal City will enjoy the beauty of a 28-metre-high spruce tree which is given by the Archdiocese of Elk, in North-eastern Poland. Last year, in his remarks to thank the donors of the Christmas Tree and those who participated in its decoration, Pope Francis asserted that the splendor of the tree “is an invitation to contemplate the Creator and to respect nature, the work of his hands.”
On the afternoon of December 7th, 2017, together with some other Carmelite Friars, I was grateful to be at the Inauguration of Lightening Ceremony of the Christmas tree and the Christmas Crib. As a sign of hope and life, the evergreen fir tree fits very well to the current liturgical season of Advent and provides a good preparation for us to celebrate the upcoming Christmas. The lit tree and festive music actually remind me of a famous Saint, my spiritual sister in Carmel, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, particularly of her account on the Christmas Grace. Let us take some time to reread Therese’s story and allow Christ the Word Made Flesh speak to us:
It was December 25, 1886, that I received the grace of leaving my childhood, in a word, the grace of my complete conversion. We had come back from Midnight Mass where I had the happiness of receiving the strong and powerful God. Upon arriving at Les Buissonnets, I used to love to take my shoes from the chimney corner and examine the presents in them; this old custom had given us so much joy in our youth that Céline wanted to continue treating me as a baby since I was the youngest in the family. Papa had always loved to see my happiness and listen to my cries of delight as I drew each surprise from the magic shoes, and my dear King’s gaiety increased my own happiness very much. However, Jesus desired to show me that I was to give up the defects of my childhood and so He withdrew its innocent pleasures. He permitted Papa, tired out after the Midnight Mass, to experience annoyance when seeing my shoes at the fireplace, and that he spoke those words which pierced my heart: “Well, fortunately, this will be the last year!” I was going upstairs, at the time, to remove my hat, and Céline, knowing how sensitive I was and seeing the tears already glistening in my eyes, wanted to cry too, for she loved me very much and understood my grief. She said, “Oh, Thérèse, don’t go downstairs; it would cause you too much grief to look at your slippers right now!” But Thérèse was no longer the same; Jesus had changed her heart! Forcing back my tears, I descended the stairs rapidly; controlling the poundings of my heart, I took my slippers and placed them in front of Papa, and withdrew all the objects joyfully. I had the happy appearance of a Queen. Having regained his own cheerfulness, Papa was laughing; Céline believed it was all a dream! Fortunately, it was a sweet reality; Thérèse had discovered once again the strength of soul which she had lost at the age of four and a half, and she was to preserve it forever!
Like the evergreen tree which stands for a living hope during the harsh weather of winter, let the story of Saint Therese add more hope and faith to our Advent conversion. What happened to Therese on Christmas of 1886 will hopefully happen to us.
The Carmelite Friars from CISA participated in the event, (from left to right) Joseph Tri Phan, O.Carm., Gerard Kpadhing, O.Carm. (Polish Province), Jan Wozniak, O.Carm. (Polish Province), Joseph Diep Dinh, O.Carm.