Friday, 9 October 2009

St Therese at Aylesford (2)

I arrived at Aylesford just as the last of the coaches of school children were leaving after the welcoming service. The weather was, by this time, overcast and threatening rain. The field being used as a car park was comfortably occupied, but not full. We were able to enter the Relics Chapel to visit St Therese Relics after only a short queue, and spent about half an hour there before Mass. These are my photos ...

As you can see from the first photograph, the arrangement of the casket in the chapel allowed for people to move through the chapel, to move close up to and to touch the casket, or to position themselves away from the casket towards the walls of the chapel for a longer time of prayer.

Attendance at the 4.30 pm Mass was probably smaller than anticipated - the prospect of serious rain was quite apparent by this time, and probably meant that some went home who would have otherwise stayed for Mass. The relics were moved to a position before the altar on the main shrine area - which is open air - for Mass. The rain duly materialised during Mass itself; we were definitely wet by the end of Mass. I could cope with the rain. I found it rather more difficult to cope with the notion aired in the homily that Therese was someone who "wrote her own narrative" and was a "risk taker" for God. What on earth (or, indeed, in heaven!) these categories really meant in reference to St Therese escaped me altogether - I think she very much tried at all times to write God's narrative rather than her own, and few Christians have lived their lives with the utter conviction with which Therese lived hers. That she was taking a "risk" simply would not have occurred to her.

The rain drops on my camera lens, and visible on the surface of the pond, give you some idea of how wet it was at the end of Mass.

After a return to the car for a few minutes shelter and a repast of chocolate, sandwiches, fruit and cake, we tracked down a hot drink before returning to the Relics Chapel to spend some more time with St Therese. There, emerging from the celebration of Evening Prayer we met someone we both knew, though through different ways. He was staying at Aylesford, on retreat, during the visit of the relics.

I had decided to visit at this time because I hoped it would be less busy than at other times during the weekend, and that we would catch a kind of lull between the welcoming service and people arriving later in the evening after work. A less busy time, I thought, would allow us to spend more time in the presence of the relics, and to spend that time more prayerfully; we would not be hindering other people's visits. This turned out to be exactly what happened for us. We were able to spend as much time as we wanted with Therese.

The sense and the power of that time spent in the company of Therese lived up to every expectation that I had had of it. It was utterly irreplaceable, so much so that at one point I thought I might have difficulty leaving. In the end there came a quite natural time to take my leave.

I had intended to print off the interview with St Therese to use as my prayer during my visit, but forgot. Instead I prayed Madeleine Delbrel's meditation "We, the ordinary people of the streets".

We find that prayer is action and that action is prayer. It seems to us that truly loving action is filled with light.It seems to us that a soul standing before such action is like a night that is full of expectation for the coming dawn. And when the light breaks, when God's will is clearly understood, she lives it out gently, with poise, peacefully watching her God inspiring her and at work within her. It seems to us that action is also an imploring prayer. ...

As I prayed this paragraph, I felt as if I was in the position of the comma between "understood" and "she" - knowing what I should be doing, but not yet doing it. And the fact that it was dark outside added depth to the sense of the expectation for a coming dawn.

Our feet march upon a street, but our heartbeat reverberates through the whole world. That is why our small acts, which we can't decide whether they're actio­n or contemplation, perfectly join together the love of God and the love of our neighbor...

Is the doorbell ringing? Quick, open the door! It’s God coming to love us. Is someone asking us to do something? Here you are! … it’s God coming to love us. Is it time to sit down for lunch? Let’s go … it’s God coming to love us.

But, perhaps more fundamentally, I simply spent some time with Therese looking towards the Lord. And this is what I shared with all those others also visiting the relics at the time, and to whom it may not have occurred to pray with the words of Madeleine Delbrel.

I finished my time of prayer with a votive Evening Prayer of St Therese of Lisieux, having prayed a similar votive office at Morning Prayer; and with a few moments knelt, touching the casket.

And with a last look back towards the main shrine area, and some photographs, before returning to the car to come home.

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