Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spiritual Beings

Frans Floris 1516-1570
The Fall of the Rebellious Angels
Oil on panel, 308 x 220 cm
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 -1682 )
Abraham and the Three Angels (1670 - 1674 )
Oil on canvas
236.2 x 261.5 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804)
The Sacrifice of Isaac mid 1750s
Oil on canvas
15 3/8 x 21 in. (39.1 x 53.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix (1798- 1863)
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel 1861
La Chapelle des Anges, L'église Saint-Sulpice, Paris

Gustave Moreau 1826- 1898
The Angels of Sodom circa 1890
Oil on canvas
Gustave-Moreau Museum, Paris

Jean Adrien Guignet 1816-1854
Tobias and the Angel 1846
Oil on wood 49.9cm x 40.4cm
Musée Rolin, Autun

Bravo Cecci 1607-1661
Agar et l'Ange/ Hagar and the Angel 1650
Oil on canvas 58cm x 72cm
Musée des beaux-arts, Dijon

Domênikos Theotokópoulos known as El Greco 1541-1614
The Annunciation 1570-1575
Paint on board, 49 x 37 cm (19 1/4 x 14 5/8")
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Ascribed to Carlo Maratti 1625 – 1713
Angel appearing to Saint Joseph seated on the ground
Drawing: Red chalk on paper 386 millimetres x 317 millimetres
The British Museum, London

The Annunciation to the Shepherds
Stained glass panel
About 1340
Clear, coloured and flashed glass, with paint and silver stain
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Baccio Bandinelli, 1488-1560
Dead Christ with Angel
Crypt, Santa Croce, Florence

Filippo Vitale 1585-1650
Saint Pierre délivré de prison par un ange/ St Peter liberated by an angel
Oil on canvas 129cm x 154cm
Musée des beaux-arts, Nantes

Hugo Simberg 1873-1917
The Wounded Angel 1903
Oil on canvas 127,00 cm x 154,00 cm
Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

The word angel in English derives from the Koine Greek angellos ('messenger') used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew mal'akh (yehowah) "messenger (of Y-----h)".

The prophet Daniel is the first Biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name

St Augustine said:

“'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel': from what they are, 'spirit', from what they do, 'angel.'” (St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 103,1,15: PL 37,1348)

St Thomas Aquinas said:

"The angels work together for the benefit of us all" (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 114, 3, ad 3).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hortus Eystettensis

Caryophyllus Indicus flore multiplici luteo pleno maior

Flammula recta.

I. Jasminum Indicum flore rubro & variegato. II. Gentionella Autumnalis folys Centauryminoris flore coeruleo. III. Centionellamulti flora Autumnalis ecoeruleo purpurascens.

Nolime tangere

Flos solismaior (Sunflower)


Basilius Besler (1591-1629) was a pharmacist in Nuremberg. During the rule of Bishop Johann Conrad von Gemmingen (approx. 1561-1612) he was in charge of the bishop's gardens in Eichstätt.

In 1609 Besler wrote a description of this garden. The precious work he then produced, his famous plant atlas Hortus Eystettensis (Garden at Eichstätt), was published in 1613 by Besler and Ludwig Jungermann and printed in large format, with the bishop financing it.

The work contains 1086 illustrations of plants from 367 copperplate engravings, most of which were depicted in their natural size. The copperplates were engraved by W. Kilian, R. Custos, Fr. von Hulsen and others according to drawings by Besler

The work depicts 349 German, 209 southern- and southeastern European, 63 Asian, 9 African and 23 American species.

'Hortus Eystettensis' was first published in a 300 piece edition and in 1613 was the most modern book on plants of its time

The above images are from the 1713 edition, Hortus Eystettensis in Eichstaett & Nuernberg. 1713. The prints are all Copper engraving / later handcolour . 48 x 40 cm

More of the prints can be found on the website of Fine Decorative Flower Prints by Besler Hortus Eystettensis

If you wish to see the edition of 1613, it is available on the website of the University of Strasbourg

The gardens were sacked by invading Swedish troops under Herzog Bernhard von Weimar in 1633-4, but were reconstructed and opened to the public in 1998.

Flowers are a frequently used metaphor in religious writings.

"…come, south wind. Blow on my garden, and spread the fragrance of its spices.”
(Song of Solomon 4:16)

"May your roots go down deep into the soil of God`s marvellous love.”
(Ephesians. 3:17b)

"Some from a misapprehension number Deborah [in the Old Testament] among the widows, and suppose that Barak the leader of the army is her son, though the scripture tells a different story. I will mention her here because she was a Prophetess and is reckoned among the Judges, and again because she might have said with the Psalmist:— How sweet are your words unto my taste! Yea sweeter than honey to my mouth. Well was she called the bee for she fed on the flowers of scripture, was enveloped with the fragrance of the Holy Spirit, and gathered into one with prophetic lips the sweet juices of the nectar."
(St Jerome, Letter 54: To Furia, paragraph 17)

"I might say that a rich man`s table of Scripture has been laid before us. We enter a meadow filled with flowers; here the rose blushes; there the lilies glisten white; everywhere flowers abound in all varieties. Our soul is drawn hither and thither to pluck the most beautiful. If we gather the rose, we leave the lily behind; if we pluck the lily, the violets remain. Likewise, in the seventy-seventh psalm, mystically fruitful in divine secrets, wherever you look the words are flowers of different kinds, and it is not possible to gather them all. We shall pick, however, as many as we can; from the few, we may contemplate the grandeur of the many."
(St Jerome, Homily 11 on Psalm 77[78])

"May you be praised, my Lord, for sister water, who is very useful and humble, precious and chaste. . .
May you be praised, my Lord, for sister earth, our mother, who bears and feeds us, and produces the variety of fruits and dappled flowers and grasses. . .
Praise and bless my Lord, give thanks and serve him in all humility"
(St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Creatures)

"[T]he Church is a garden filled with infinite flowers where there are flowers of different sizes, colours, fragrances: in brief, of different perfections. For they each have their price, their grace, and their substance, and make a most pleasing perfection of beauty in the gathering of of their rich variety"
(Saint Francis de Sales, Traité de l'amour de Dieu: Oeuvres complètes, IV, p. 111).

"My Darling Sister, -

I know quite well all you are suffering. I know your anguish, and I share it. Oh! if I could but impart to you the peace which Jesus has put into my soul amid my most bitter tears. Be comforted – all passes away. Our life of yesterday is spent; death too will come and go, and then we shall rejoice in life, true life, for countless ages, for evermore.

Meanwhile let us make of our heart a garden of delights where Our sweet Saviour may come and take His rest. Let us plant only lilies there, and sing with St. John of the Cross:

" There I remained in deep oblivion,
My head reposing upon Him I love,
Lost to myself and all!
I cast my cares away
And let them, heedless, mid the lilies lie.”
(St Thérèse of Lisieux: Letter to her sister Céline, October 14, 1890.)

"When one visits a botanical garden, one is impressed by the variety of plants and flowers, and spontaneously thinks of the fancy of a Creator who has made on earth a marvellous garden,... An analogous sentiment washes over us when we consider the spectacle of sanctity: The world seems to be a 'garden' where the Spirit of God has called forth with admirable imagination a multitude of men and women saints, of every age and social condition, of every language, people and culture.

Each one is distinct from the others, with the uniqueness proper of the human person and of a particular spiritual charism. All of them have, though, the 'seal' of Jesus, that is, the imprint of his love, witnessed by way of the cross."
(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience 11th April 2008)

Monday, September 28, 2009

“Ne craignez pas, petit troupeau”.

The British Press and Television continues to ridicule of the Visit of the Relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux to England and of the pilgrims who come to venerate the relics.

Ignorance cannot really be the excuse. The website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has an excellent presentation about the Visit and a very full explanation of what is going on.

Perhaps a reminder of a past pilgrim to the Relics of St. Thérèse in Lisieux is worth recalling. He confessed that he was profoundly moved and overjoyed to be there at Lisieux to pray at the relics of the Saint

He had a great devotion to the Saint. The relics of the saint meant a great deal to him. At his death, he was universally hailed as one of the greatest men born in the twentieth century.

On 2nd June 1980, while on an Apostolic Visit to Lisieux, Pope John Paul II gave a talk to the Enclosed Carmelite Sisters of Lisieux.

The talk in full is on the Vatican website

Unfortunately it is only in French.

“1. ... Je dois dire d’abord ma profonde émotion de pouvoir prier près de la châsse qui contient les restes de sainte Thérèse. J’ai déjà exprimé longuement mon action de grâce et mon attachement pour la “voie spirituelle” qu’elle a adoptée et offerte à toute l’Église. J’éprouve maintenant une grande joie à visiter ce Carmel qui a été le cadre de sa vie et de sa mort, de sa sanctification, au milieu de ses Sœurs, et qui doit demeurer un haut lieu de prière et de sanctification pour les carmélites et pour tous les pèlerins. C’est de là que Je voudrais vous affermir toutes, quelle que soit votre famille spirituelle, dans votre vie contemplative, absolument vitale pour l’Église et pour l’humanité.

2. Tout en aimant profondément notre époque, il faut bien reconnaître que la pensée moderne enferme facilement dans le subjectivisme tout ce qui concerne les religions, la foi des croyants, les sentiments religieux. Et cette vision n’épargne pas la vie monastique. A tel point que l’opinion publique, et hélas! parfois quelques chrétiens plus sensibles au seul engagement concret, sont tentés de considérer votre vie contemplative comme une évasion du réel, une activité anachronique et même inutile. Cette incompréhension peut vous faire souffrir, vous humilier même. Je vous dirai comme le Christ: “Ne craignez pas, petit troupeau”. D’ailleurs un certain renouveau monastique, qui se manifeste à travers votre pays, doit vous maintenir dans l’espérance.

Mais j’ajoute également: relevez le défi du monde contemporain et du monde de toujours, en vivant plus radicalement que jamais le mystère même de votre condition tout à fait originale, qui est folie aux yeux du monde et sagesse dans l’Esprit Saint: l’amour exclusif du Seigneur et de tous vos frères humains en Lui. Ne cherchez même pas à vous justifier! Tout amour, dès lors qu’il est authentique, pur et désintéressé, porte en lui-même sa justification.

Aimer de façon gratuite est un droit inaliénable de la personne, même - et il faudrait dire surtout - lorsque l’Aimé est Dieu lui-même. A la suite des contemplatifs et des mystiques de tous les temps, continuez d’attester avec force et humilité la dimension transcendante de le personne humaine, créée à la ressemblance de Dieu et appelée à une vie d’intimité avec Lui.

Saint Augustin, au terme de méditations faites autant avec son cœur qu’avec son intelligence pénétrante, nous assure que la béatitude de l’homme est là: dans la contemplation amoureuse de Dieu! C’est pourquoi la qualité de votre appartenance d’amour au Seigneur, aussi bien au plan personnel qu’au plan communautaire, est d’une extrême importance. La densité et le rayonnement de votre vie “cachéé en Dieu” doivent poser question aux hommes et aux femmes d’aujourd’hui, doivent poser question aux jeunes qui cherchent si souvent le sens de la vie.

En vous rencontrant ou en vous voyant, il faudrait que tout visiteur, hôte ou retraitant de vos monastères puisse dire ou du moins sentir qu’il a rencontré Dieu, qu’il a connu une épiphanie du Mystère de Dieu qui est Lumière et Amour! Les temps que nous vivons ont besoin de témoins autant que d’apologistes! Soyez, pour votre part, ces témoins très humbles et toujours transparents!”

A rather free translation of this passage would be:

“1. ...First, I must speak of my deep emotion to be able to pray at the shrine containing the remains of St. Thérèse. I have long expressed my thanks and my commitment to the "spiritual path" which she adopted and made available to the whole Church. I now feel great joy to visit this Carmel which was part of her life and her death, her holiness in the midst of her sisters, and which must remain one of the most important places of prayer and sanctification for the Carmelites and for all pilgrims.

Whatever your spiritual family, I wish to strengthen you all in your contemplative life, which is absolutely vital for the Church and for humanity.

2. While acknowledging our deep love and respect for the contemporary world, we must acknowledge that in everything concerning religion, the faith of believers, religious feelings, modern thought is locked in relativism. And that vision does not spare the monastic life. So much so that public opinion, and unfortunately, some Christians sometimes more attracted to the way of positive action, are tempted to consider your contemplative life as an escape from reality, an anachronistic activity and even useless. This misunderstanding can cause suffering, and even humiliate you. In the words of Christ, I say to you: "Fear not, little flock" Besides, a monastic revival which is now appearing all through your country must give you encouragement

But I also add: take up the challenge of the contemporary world now and in all times. Live even more radically the mystery of your original vocation and charism, which is regarded as foolishness to the world but which is fully in accordance with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit: the exclusive love of the Lord and your fellow human beings in Him. Do not even try to justify yourself! All love, when it is authentic, pure and disinterested, carries its own justification.

Love so freely given is an inalienable right of the person, even - and we should say especially - when the Beloved is God himself. Follow the way of contemplatives and mystics throughout the ages. In this way continue to give strong and humble witness to the spiritual element of the human person who is created in the likeness of God and is called to a life of intimacy with Him.

St. Augustine, after much meditation and with his heart and with his penetrating intelligence, assures us that the happiness of man is this: in the loving contemplation of God! Therefore, the quality of your vocation to love the Lord, at both the personal and at the community level is of paramount importance. The degree of commitment and the radiance of your life "hidden within God" must raise questions with men and women today and must pose questions to young people who so often seek the meaning of life.

Should any visitor, guest or person on retreat to one of your convents meet or see you, that person should at least feel that he has found God, that he has experienced an epiphany of the mystery of God who is Light and Love! The times we live require witnesses as well as apologists! Be  these very humble and always transparent witnesses! “


Maerten van Heemskerck (1498, -. 1574)
Family Portrait
c. 1530
Oil on wood, 118 x 140 cm
Staatliche Museen, Kassel

Gabriel Metsu (1629, - 1667)
The Sick Child
c. 1660
Oil on canvas, 33,2 x 27,2 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Johann Anton de Peters (1725, - 1795)
The Happy Mother c. 1775
Watercolour, 573 x 420 mm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723, - 1792)
Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons

Oil on canvas, 141,5 x 113 cm
National Gallery, London

Thomas Cole 1801 - 1848
The Voyage of Life: Childhood, 1842
Oil on canvas
Overall: 134.3 x 195.3 cm (52 7/8 x 76 7/8 in.) framed: 162.9 x 224.8 x 17.8 cm (64 1/8 x 88 1/2 x 7 in.)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington

George Baxter (1804-1867), after S.B. Hallé (1824-1899)
The First Lesson
Baxter print
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

George Bernard O’Neill (1828-1917)
About Fairies
About 1879
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Mary Cassatt (1844–1926)
Gardner and Ellen Mary Cassatt 1899
Pastel on wove paper, originally mounted on a stainer
25 x 18 3/4 in. (63.5 x 47.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Mary Cassatt 1844 - 1926
Mother and Child, c. 1905
Oil on canvas
Overall: 92.1 x 73.7 cm (36 1/4 x 29 in.) framed: 114.3 x 95.2 cm (45 x 37 1/2 in.)
Chester Dale Collection
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Maerten van Heemskerck`s portrait of a family is one of the most important works of portraiture in 16th-century Netherlandish art.

The youngest child in the mother's lap holds out to the viewer the crucifix that hangs from her rosary.

The signet ring identifies the father as Peter Jan Foppeszoon, a wealthy burgher, town councillor and church warden of St Bavo in Harlem. By 1530, his wife Alijdt Mathijsdr. had given birth to three children, Jan, then around five years old, Cornelia, about three, and Pieter, born around 1530.

De Hooch`s portrait concentrates on motherhood. His paintings are noted for the quality of the domestic scenes which were very popular in his time.

According to the newly fashionable exaltation of maternity, Augusta Anne, Sir James Cockburn's second wife, is posed with her three children (although separate sittings are recorded for the elder boys).

James, the cherub kneeling on the left, born in 1771, became a general; George, born in 1772 and clambering around his mother's neck, grew up to be the admiral whose ship conveyed Napoleon to exile on St Helena; the baby, William, born that June, entered the Church and became Dean of York.

When the painting was etched for publication, and Sir James objected to his wife's name being exposed in public, the print was entitled Cornelia and her Children after the Roman matron who boasted that her children were her only jewels

The Voyage of Life series, painted by Thomas Cole in 1840, is a series of paintings that represent an allegory of the four stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. It is a Christian allegory.

Cole was the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century and was concerned with the realistic and detailed portrayal of nature.

In each painting, accompanied by a guardian angel, the voyager rides the boat on the River of Life. The landscape, corresponding to the seasons of the year, plays a major role in telling the story.

In childhood, the infant glides from a dark cave into a rich, green landscape. The dark, craggy cave was described by Cole himself as "emblematic of our earthly origin, and the mysterious Past." The river is smooth and narrow, symbolizing the sheltered experience of childhood

Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Her mother and child paintings are rigorously drawn, tenderly observed, yet largely unsentimental. After 1900, she concentrated almost exclusively on mother-and-child subjects

Love, affection, tenderness, humility, the littleness of the child, fragility, the need for protection of the child, happiness, joy, protectiveness, full of real and not affected feeling, the treasuring by parents of their child or children, trust, frailty, innocence, – all are familiar themes of the art of childhood illustrated above

Philippe Ariès, (1914-1984) an important French medievalist and historian, published a study L’Enfant et la Vie Familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (1960), which was translated into English as Centuries of Childhood (1962).

It was a study of paintings, gravestones, furniture, and school records.

He found that before the seventeenth century, children were represented as mini-adults. The central thesis of Centuries of Childhood is that attitudes towards children were progressive and evolved over time with economic change and social advancement, until childhood, as a concept and an accepted part of family life, came into being in the seventeenth century

He is known for his famous statement that 'in medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist'

Since then historians have increasingly researched childhood in past times. His thesis remains controversial.

Harry Hendrick in Children and Childhood, in The Journal of the Economic History Society (1992) lists four criticisms of Ariès's work:

"Firstly that his data are either unrepresentative or unreliable. Secondly that he takes evidence out of context, confuses prescription with practice, and uses atypical examples. Thirdly, that he implicitly denies the immutability of the special needs of children, for food, clothing, shelter, affection and conversation. Fourthly, that he puts undue emphasis on the work of moralists and educationalists while saying little of economic and political factors"

There are two main groups of writings on the concept of childhood. Those of medieval and early modern historians concerned with whether or not such a concept existed at all; that is, whether there was a recognition that children were different prior to the seventeenth century. There are also those historians who have proposed a developing concept in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The article by Hendrick (at is quite a useful discussion of the history of childhood as presently understood especially the history of childhood in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In 19th century Britain there came about a conception of childhood as an innocent, separate state to be shielded and prolonged.

Paintings of children were thought to be intellectually undemanding and were often dismissed by critics.

Yet some of the most acclaimed artists of the day took up the subject, and images of children proliferated across illustration and commercial graphics. They seek a protective, affectionate pang from the viewer and evoke nostalgia for the inevitably fleeting nature of childhood

A reading of Psalm 130 [131] prompted Pope Benedict XVI to discuss that much misunderstood phrase “Spiritual Childhood”.

Psalm 130 [131] reads:

“A gradual canticle of David.

1 Lord, my heart is not exalted: nor are my eyes lofty. Neither have I walked in great matters, nor in wonderful things above me.

2 If I was not humbly minded, but exalted my soul: As a child that is weaned is towards his mother, so reward in my soul.

3 Let Israel hope in the Lord, from henceforth now and for ever.”

Adonai, Adonai,
Lo gavah libi,
V'lo ramu einai,
V'lo hilachti
Big'dolot uv'niflaot

Im lo shiviti
Naf'shi k'gamul alei imo,
Kagamul alai naf'shi.
Yahel Yis'rael el Adonai
Me'atah v'ad olam.

Lord, Lord,
My heart is not haughty,
Nor mine eyes lofty,
Neither do I exercise myself
In great matters or in things
Too wonderful for me to understand.

Surely I have calmed
And quieted myself,
As a child that is weaned of his mother,
My soul is even as a weaned child.
Let Israel hope in the Lord
From henceforth and forever.

His talk was given at a General Audience on Wednesday, 10 August 2005:

“Psalm 131 [130]

"My heart is not proud'

Evening Prayer - Tuesday of Week Three

1. We have listened to only a few words, about 30 in the original Hebrew, of Psalm 131[130]. Yet they are intense words that convey a topic dear to all religious literature: spiritual childhood. Our thoughts turn spontaneously to St Thérèse of Lisieux, to her "Little Way", her "remaining little" in order to be held in Jesus' arms (cf. Story of a Soul, Manuscript "C", p. 208).

Indeed, the clear-cut image of a mother and child in the middle of the Psalm is a sign of God's tender and maternal love, as the Prophet Hosea formerly expressed it:

"When Israel was a child I loved him.... I drew [him] with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered [him] like one who raises an infant to his cheeks... I stooped to feed my child" (Hos 11: 1, 4).

2. The Psalm begins by describing an attitude quite the opposite of infancy, which, well aware of its own frailty, trusts in the help of others. In the foreground of this Psalm, instead, are pride of heart, haughty eyes and "great things" that are "too sublime for me" (cf. Ps 131[130]: 1).

This is an illustration of the proud person who is described by Hebrew words that suggest "pride" and "haughtiness", the arrogant attitude of those who look down on others, considering them inferior.

The great temptation of the proud, who want to be like God, the arbiter of good and evil (cf. Gn 3: 5), is decisively rejected by the person of prayer who chooses humble and spontaneous trust in the One Lord.

3. Thus, we move on to the unforgettable image of the mother and child.

The original Hebrew text does not speak of a newborn child but of a child that has been "weaned" (Ps 131[130]: 2). Now, it is known that in the ancient Near East a special celebration marked the official weaning of a child, usually at about the age of 3 (cf. Gn 21: 8; I Sam 1: 20-23; II Mc 7: 27).

The child to which the Psalmist refers is now bound to the mother by a most personal and intimate bond, hence, not merely by physical contact and the need for food. It is a more conscious tie, although nonetheless immediate and spontaneous.

This is the ideal Parable of the true "childhood" of the spirit that does not abandon itself to God blindly and automatically, but serenely and responsibly.

4. At this point, the praying person's profession of trust is extended to the entire community: "O Israel, hope in the Lord both now and forever" (Ps 131[130]: 3). In the entire people which receive security, life and peace from God, hope now blossoms and extends from the present to the future, "now and forever".

It is easy to continue the prayer by making other voices in the Psalms ring out, inspired by this same trust in God:

"To you I was committed at birth, from my mother's womb you are my God" (Ps 22[21]: 11).

"Though my father and mother forsake me, yet will the Lord receive me" (Ps 27[26]: 10).

"For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother's womb you are my strength" (Ps 71[70]: 5-6).

5. Humble trust, as we have seen, is opposed by pride.

John Cassian, a fourth-fifth century Christian writer, warned the faithful of the danger of this vice that "destroys all the virtues overall and does not only attack the tepid and the weak, but principally those who have forced their way to the top".

He continues:

"This is the reason why Blessed David preserved his heart with such great circumspection, to the point that he dared proclaim before the One whom none of the secrets of his conscience escaped: "Lord, may my heart not grow proud, nor my gaze be raised with haughtiness; let me not seek great things that are beyond my strength'.... Yet, knowing well how difficult such custody is even for those who are perfect, he does not presume to rely solely on his own abilities, but implores the Lord with prayers to help him succeed in avoiding the darts of the enemy and in not being injured by them: "Let not the foot of the proud overtake me' (Ps 36[35]: 12)" (Le Istituzioni Cenobitiche, XII, 6, Abbey of Praglia, Bresseo di Teolo, Padua, 1989, p. 289).

Likewise, an anonymous elderly Desert Father has handed down to us this saying that echoes Psalm 131[130]:

"I have never overstepped my rank to walk higher, nor have I ever been troubled in the case of humiliation, for I concentrated my every thought on this: praying the Lord to strip me of the old man" (I Padri del Deserto. Detti, Rome, 1980, p. 287).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Perpetual Oblation and Christian Joy

Alfonso Ossorio 1916 - 1990
Perpetual Sacrifice, 1949
Ink, wax, and watercolour on Whatman watercolor board
overall: 99.3 x 66 cm (39 1/8 x 26 in.)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Bert Gerresheim (b. October 8 1935 )
Station of the Cross Number 11 (detail): Saint Maximilian Kolbe, 2007
Bronze relief panel (detail)
The Heilig-Geist-Kirche in Bielefeld, Ostwestfalen

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, 1683, - 1754
The Ecstasy of St Francis 1729
Oil on canvas
Pinacoteca Civica, Vicenza

Corrado Giaquinto ca.1694-1765
The Trinity with Souls in Purgatory c. 1743
Oil on canvas 39 x 29 1/8 in. (99.06 x 73.98 cm) (canvas)
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis

William Bouguereau 1825-1905
Une âme au ciel/A Soul Brought to Heaven circa 1878
Oil on canvas 70 3/4 x 108 1/4 inches (180 x 275 cm)
Musee du Périgord, Périgueux

Of St Thérèse`s theology, Pope John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter, Divini Amoris Scientia:

“The core of her message is actually the mystery itself of God-Love, of the Triune God, infinitely perfect in himself. If genuine Christian spiritual experience should conform to the revealed truths in which God communicates himself and the mystery of his will (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 2), it must be said that Thérèse experienced divine revelation, going so far as to contemplate the fundamental truths of our faith united in the mystery of Trinitarian life.

At the summit, as the source and goal, is the merciful love of the three Divine Persons, as she expresses it, especially in her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.

At the root, on the subject's part, is the experience of being the Father's adoptive children in Jesus; this is the most authentic meaning of spiritual childhood, that is, the experience of divine filiation, under the movement of the Holy Spirit. At the root again, and standing before us, is our neighbour, others, for whose salvation we must collaborate with and in Jesus, with the same merciful love as his.

Through spiritual childhood one experiences that everything comes from God, returns to him and abides in him, for the salvation of all, in a mystery of merciful love. Such is the doctrinal message taught and lived by this Saint.”

What was her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love ?

Prior to her death, very few other people knew about this Act. Her sister Celine also made the same act at the same time.

Thérèse`s sister, Céline (Sr. Geneviève) gave the following testimony at the diocesan inquiry into the life of St. Thérèse about the Act of Oblation (from Saint Thérése of Lisieux by Those Who Knew Her, edited by Christopher O'Mahony, Dublin, Pranstown House, 1989 reprint, pages 128-129):

"On 9 June of the same year 1895, the feast of the Blessed Trinity, she received a very special grace during Mass, and felt within herself an urge to offer herself as a holocaust victim to Merciful Love. After Mass she took me with her to mother prioress; she seemed beside herself and did not say a word. When we found Mother Agnes, for it was she who was then prioress, she asked her if both of us could offer ourselves as victims to Merciful Love, and gave her a short explanation of what that meant. Mother Agnes was at a loss; she did not seem to understand too well what was going on, but she had such confidence in Sister Thérèse's discretion that she gave her full permission. It was then that she composed the act called 'An Offering to Love', which she carried next to her heart ever afterwards."

In Chapter 9 of her Autobiography, St Thérèse discusses her Act of Oblation which occurred on June 9, 1895 (Trinity Sunday)

“In the year 1895, I received the grace to understand, more than ever, how much Jesus desires to be loved. Thinking one day of those who offer themselves as victims to the Justice of God, in order to turn aside the punishment reserved for sinners by taking it upon themselves, I felt this offering to be noble and generous, but was very far from feeling myself drawn to make it.

“O my Divine Master,” I cried from the bottom of my heart, “shall Your Justice alone receive victims of holocaust? Has not Your Merciful Love also need thereof? On all sides it is ignored, rejected . . . the hearts on which You would lavish it turn to creatures, there to seek their happiness in the miserable satisfaction of a moment, instead of casting themselves into Your Arms, into the unfathomable furnace of Your Infinite Love.”

“O my God! must Your Love which is disdained lie hidden in Your Heart? I think, if Thou should find souls offering themselves as victims of holocaust to Your Love, Thou would consume them rapidly; You would be well pleased to suffer the flames of infinite tenderness to escape that are imprisoned in Your Heart.”

“If Your Justice—which is of earth—must needs be satisfied, how much more must Your Merciful Love desire to inflame souls, since ‘Your Mercy reaches even to the Heavens’?” (Psalms 36:5). O Jesus! let me be that happy victim—consume Your holocaust with the Fire of Divine Love!”

Dear Mother, you know the love, or rather the oceans of grace which flooded my soul immediately after I made that Act of Oblation on June 9, 1895. From that day I have been penetrated and surrounded with love. Every moment this Merciful Love renews me and purifies me, leaving in my soul no trace of sin. I cannot fear Purgatory; I know I do not merit to enter even into that place of expiation with the Holy Souls, but I also know that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory. I know that Jesus could not wish useless suffering for us, and He would not inspire me with the desires I feel, were He not willing to fulfil them.”

We get some more insight as to what was involved in this act through a letter written by Fr. Lemonnier to Sister Geneviève in June 1895 obviously in response to a letter by Sister Geneviève (Céline) to him:

“Dear Child,

You can see my happiness over your joy! And I sense your joy very profound. Rejoice in this bliss; surrender yourself totally without any look elsewhere but on Jesus. Jesus! Who is all for you. Yes, my child, you are victim but not alone, Jesus is there, immolating Himself in you and through you. How good it is to offer oneself totally to Jesus so that He may continue as adoring, expiating Victim, but above all as loving Victim!

Dear little flower who will console Jesus for so much ingratitude He receives from creatures.

Dear child, I bless you with all my heart, you and your Angel of the Child Jesus. I bless you, and I ask you to stir up one another in good, and that you not only be good and holy religious but that you do good, that your zeal may be a fire spreading itself and causing a real conflagration in your dear Carmel.

You will pray my child, you and your dear sister, for the Father who has the most paternal interest in you.

May Jesus bless you and keep you in these sentiments all through your life.

A. Lemonnier”

(Taken from General Correspondence Volume Two Translated by John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1988 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002 U.S.A.)

The fullest explanation is contained with a scrap of paper written by Thérèse and held together by bits of sellotape found in the copy of Scripture which Thérèse kept by her side and consulted and read each day.

The extract below reproduces most of the underlinings, capitals and punctuation found in the original

It is a love letter to God.

It memorialises and records the free act of her offering amongst other things the totality of herself to God

A Holocaust is a total sacrifice consumed by fire. The word “Sacrifice” derives from a Middle English verb meaning "to make sacred", and in turn from Old French, and from the Latin sacrificium: sacr, "sacred" + facere, "to make".

It is commonly known as the practice of offering food, objects (typically valuables), or the lives of animals or people to the gods as an act of propitiation or worship



Offering of myself
as a Victim of Holocaust
to God's Merciful Love

O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make you Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!

Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Saviour and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.

I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my Dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the sayings of His mortal life:"Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!" I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.

I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of you to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.

I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.

After earth's Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love Alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years.

You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.

In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.

I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!

Marie, Françoise, Thérèse of the Child Jesus
and the Holy Face, unworthy Carmelite religious.

This 9th day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
In the year of grace, 1895”

(Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 276-278)

Accompanying the oblation is Christian Joy - joy in the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this is why the message of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face was, has always been and is so attractive, timeless and popular.

Christian Joy is not pleasure. Modern society has too many opportunities to purchase the pleasure of “artificial paradises” which are imperfect and transient.

Her writings exhibit true Christian Joy which is evidence of an authentic message and teaching. Christian Joy is “self-multiplying”. It is not self-referring.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete in Domino (On Christian Joy) (9th May 1975) Pope Paul VI (perhaps not the figure that one would immediately associate with Joy) discussed the importance of Christian Joy:

“When he awakens to the world, does not man feel, in addition to the natural desire to understand and take possession of it, the desire to find within it his fulfilment and happiness?

As everyone knows, there are several degrees of this "happiness."

Its most noble expression is joy, or "happiness" in the strict sense, when man, on the level of his higher faculties, finds his peace and satisfaction in the possession of a known and loved good. (Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 31, a. 3.)

Thus, man experiences joy when he finds himself in harmony with nature, and especially in the encounter, sharing and communion with other people.

All the more does he know spiritual joy or happiness when his spirit enters into possession of God, known and loved as the supreme and immutable good. (Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, ibid., II-II, q. 28, aa. 1, 4.)

Poets, artists, thinkers, but also ordinary men and women, simply disposed to a certain inner light, have been able and still are able, in the times before Christ and in our own time and among us, to experience something of the joy of God.

But how can we ignore the additional fact that joy is always imperfect, fragile and threatened? By a strange paradox, the consciousness of that which, beyond all passing pleasure, would constitute true happiness also includes the certainty that there is no perfect happiness. The experience of finiteness, felt by each generation in its turn, obliges one to acknowledge and to plumb the immense gap that always exists between reality and the desire for the infinite.

This paradox, and this difficulty in attaining joy, seems to us particularly acute today. This is the reason for our message.

Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual.

Money, comfort, hygiene and material security are often not lacking; and yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many. These feelings sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent care freeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage.

Do people perhaps feel helpless to dominate industrial progress, to plan society in a human way? Does the future perhaps seem too uncertain, human life too threatened? Or is it not perhaps a matter of loneliness, of an unsatisfied thirst for love and for someone's presence, of an ill-defined emptiness? On the contrary, in many regions and sometimes in our midst, the sum of physical and moral sufferings weighs heavily: so many starving people, so many victims of fruitless combats, so many people torn from their homes!

These miseries are perhaps not deeper than those of the past but they have taken on a worldwide dimension. They are better known, reported by the mass media—at least as much as the events of good fortune—and they overwhelm people's minds. Often there seems to be no adequate human solution to them.”

Further on in the Exhortation, Pope Paul VI gives three examples of saints who epitomise Christian Joy, one of whom is St Thérèse:

“We would like to evoke more especially three figures that are still very attractive today for the Christian people as a whole.

First of all, the poor man of Assisi, in whose footsteps numbers of Holy Year pilgrims are endeavouring to follow. Having left everything for the Lord, St. Francis rediscovers through holy poverty something, so to speak, of the original blessedness, when the world came forth intact from the hands of the Creator. In the most extreme abnegation, half blind, he was able to chant the unforgettable Canticle of the Creatures, the praise of our brother the sun, of all nature, which had become transparent for him and like a pure mirror of God's glory. He could even express joy at the arrival of "our sister bodily death": "Blessed are those who will be conformed to your most Holy will...."

In more recent times, St. Therese of Lisieux shows us the courageous way of abandonment into the hands of God to whom she entrusts her littleness. And yet it is not that she has no experience of the feeling of God's absence, a feeling which our century is harshly experiencing:

"Sometimes it seems that the little bird [to which she compared herself] cannot believe that anything else exists except the clouds that envelop it.... This is the moment of perfect joy for the poor, weak little thing.... What happiness for it to remain there nevertheless and to gaze at the invisible light that hides from its faith."( Letter 175. Manuscrits autobiographiques, Lisieux. 1956, p. 52.)

And then how could one fail to recall the luminous figure and example for our generation of Blessed Maximilian Kolbe, the authentic disciple of St. Francis? In the most tragic trials which have bloodied our age, he offered himself voluntarily to death in order to save an unknown brother, and the witnesses report that his interior peace, serenity and joy somehow transformed the place of suffering—which was usually like an image of hell—into the antechamber of eternal life, both for his unfortunate companions and for himself.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Flowers and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841-1919
Bouquet de Chrysanthèmes/ Bouquet of Chrysanthemums c. 1884
Oil on canvas
81 cm x 65 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Chrysanthèmes / Chrysanthemums 1897
Signed and dated 'Claude Monet 97' (lower left)
Oil on canvas
51¼ x 34 7/8 in. (130.1 x 88.5 cm.)
Private collection

Claude Monet 1840-1926
Le jardin de l'artiste à Giverny 1900
Oil on canvas L. 0,92 ; H. 0,81 metres
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles, 1889
Oil on canvas
The Oskar Reinhart collection ‘Am Römerholz’
Winterthur, Switzerland

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
Roses et anémones 1890
Oil on canvas 51.7 H ; 52 L
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The nineteenth century created a complete and now almost forgotten ‘language of flowers’, in which every plant had a distinct character and sentimental meaning. In Europe there started a new form of literature: flower books. Flowers and their depiction became a desirable commodity on a mass scale. The Romantic Movement with its emphasis on Nature was one of the reasons for this interest throughout the nineteenth century.

Some flowers can have a symbolic meaning, like the lily and the rose, which are both associated with the Virgin Mary

Traditionally, violets have symbolised faithfulness and modesty

Water lilies have symbolised purity of heart

Cornflowers represented refinement and delicacy

As regards the pansy: the name is derived from the French ‘pensèr’, to think. Pansies symbolise thought and remembrance.

However, there was not one set of meanings which everyone knew or subscribed to.

The first language of flowers book was probably B. Delachenaye's Abecedaire de Flore ou langage des fleurs, published in 1810.

The publication of Charlotte de Latour's Le Langage des Fleurs in December 1819, was the beginning of the great proliferation of language of flowers books first in France, then Germany, then Britain and latterly the United States.

One of the most familiar of language of flower books was Routledge's edition illustrated by Kate Greenaway, The Language of Flowers, which was first published in 1884

We seem to have lost this fascination and interest in flowers. Nowadays from the perspective of the cynical twenty first century, the attitudes of the Victorians vis-a-vis flowers appear hopelessly cloying and sentimental, and perhaps also childish and lacking in true feeling.

But flowers are among the universal symbols used in art. They appeal to the senses. The colours and shapes strike the optic nerve and the smell can penetrate the brain as if it is almost a taste.

Their fragility, colour, smell, form, habit of growth, or use in healing have all suggested symbolic meanings for writers and artists

Their moment of glory is fleeting, and in that way became a representative of life itself.

To capture so elusive a subject is a challenge indeed, and makes the words of John Ruskin completely understandable:
“If you can paint one leaf you can paint the world.” (5 Complete Works, “Of Leaf Beauty”: Bryan, Taylor & Co. 1894, p. 61).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir is credited with once saying of his flower pictures,
ʺWhat seems to me most significant about our movement [Impressionism] is that… I am at liberty to paint flowers and call them flowers, without their needing to tell a story.ʺ

On the day he died, Renoir was still at work, painting a bouquet of anemones cut from his garden. The last words he spoke were about his flower painting, “I think I am beginning to understand something about it.”

They have fascinated artists. Monet`s garden at Givenchy is probably the most extreme example.

Following a visit to Giverny, Gustave Geffroy published a detailed description of Monet's gardens, which explicitly mentions the presence of chrysanthemums:

"As soon as you push the little entrance gate, on the main street of Giverny, you think, in almost all seasons, that you are entering a paradise. It is the colorful and fragrant kingdom of flowers. Each month is adorned with its flowers, from the lilacs and irises to the chrysanthemums and nasturtiums. The azaleas, the hydrangeas, the foxglove, the forget-me-nots, the violets, the sumptuous flowers and the modest ones mingle and follow one another on this ever-ready soil, wonderfully tended by experienced gardeners under the infallible eye of the master" (G. Geoffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, Paris, 1922., quoted in P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995 p. 206).

In religion, Our Lord referred to them in his teaching:

'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.'
- Matthew 6:28-33

In The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, flowers proliferate. It is a sign of the times in which it was written and in which she lived, The imagery of flowers dominate the book. The memoir was entitled by herself: “The Story of the Springtime of a Little White Flower”

In Chapter 1 regarding her earliest childhood she wrote:

“I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace. I was filled with wonder when I saw extraordinary favours showered on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others, whom He forced, so to speak, to receive His grace. In reading the lives of the Saints I was surprised to see that there were certain privileged souls, whom Our Lord favoured from the cradle to the grave, allowing no obstacle in their path which might keep them from mounting towards Him, permitting no sin to soil the spotless brightness of their baptismal robe. And again it puzzled me why so many poor savages should die without having even heard the name of

Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues.

And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints, who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection. ...

I understood this also, that God’s Love is made manifest as well in a simple soul which does not resist His grace as in one more highly endowed. In fact, the characteristic of love being self-abasement, if all souls resembled the holy Doctors who have illuminated the Church, it seems that God in coming to them would not stoop low enough. But He has created the little child, who knows nothing and can but utter feeble cries, and the poor savage who has only the natural law to guide him, and it is to their hearts that He deigns to stoop. These are the field flowers whose simplicity charms Him; and by His condescension to them Our Saviour shows His infinite greatness. As the sun shines both on the cedar and on the floweret, so the Divine Sun illumines every soul, great and small, and all correspond to His care—just as in nature the seasons are so disposed that on the appointed day the humblest daisy shall unfold its petals ...

I am now at a time of life when I can look back on the past, for my soul has been refined in the crucible of interior and exterior trials. Now,like a flower after the storm, I can raise my head and see that the words of the Psalm are realized in me:

“The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing.
He has set me in a place of pasture.
He has brought me up on the water of refreshment.
He has converted my soul.
He has led me on the paths of justice for His own Name’s sake.
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evils for Thou art with me.” (cf. Psalms 23). ...

Yes, to me Our Lord has always been: “compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy.” (cf. Psalms 103:8).

And so it gives me great joy, dear Mother, to come to you and sing His unspeakable mercies. It is for you alone that I write the story of the little flower gathered by Jesus. This thought will help me to speak freely, without troubling either about style or about the many digressions that I shall make; for a Mother’s heart always understands her child, even when it can only lisp, and so I am sure of being understood and my meaning appreciated.

If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.

The Little Flower, that now tells her tale, rejoices in having to publish the wholly undeserved favours bestowed upon her by Our Lord. She knows that she had nothing in herself worthy of attracting Him: His Mercy alone showered blessings on her.

He allowed her to grow in holy soil enriched with the odour of purity, and preceded by eight lilies [Note. – A reference to the eight brothers and sisters who were born before her] of shining whiteness. In His Love He willed to preserve her from the poisoned breath of the world—hardly had her petals unfolded when this good Master transplanted her to the mountain of Carmel, Our Lady’s chosen garden....

How quickly those sunny years of my childhood passed away, and what tender memories they have imprinted on my mind! I remember the Sunday walks when my dear Mother always accompanied us; and I can still feel the impression made on my childish heart at the sight of the fields bright with cornflowers, poppies, and marguerites. Even at that age I loved far-stretching views, sunlit spaces and stately trees; in a word, all nature charmed me and lifted up my soul to Heaven.

Often, during these walks, we met poor people. I was always chosen to give them an alms, which made me feel very happy. Sometimes, my dear Father, knowing the way was too long for his little Queen, took me home. This was a cause of grief, and to console me Céline would fill her basket with daisies, and give them to me on her return.

Truly everything on earth smiled on me; I found flowers strewn at every step, and my naturally happy disposition helped to make life bright. But a new era was about to dawn.

I was to be the Spouse of Our Lord at such an early age that it was necessary I should suffer from my childhood. As the early spring flowers begin to come up under the snow and open at the first rays of the sun, so the Little Flower whose story I am writing had to pass through the winter of trial and to have her tender cup filled with the dew of tears.”

As Pope John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter, Divini Amoris Scientia (19th October 1997):

"If considered in its literary genre, corresponding to her education and culture, and if evaluated according to the particular circumstances of her era, the doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux appears in providential harmony with the Church's most authentic tradition, both for its confession of the Catholic faith and for its promotion of the most genuine spiritual life, presented to all the faithful in a living, accessible language"

However, if you find the language and imagery syrupy and too sweet, and prefer something more sophisticated look at another vision of flowers, again from 19th century France in Les Fleurs du mal (often translated as The Flowers of Evil), a volume of French poetry by Charles Baudelaire.

First published in 1857, it was important in the symbolist and modernist movements. The subject matter of these poems deals with themes relating to decadence and eroticism

The foreword to the volume, identifying Satan with the pseudonymous alchemist Hermes Trismegistus and calling boredom the worst of miseries, neatly sets the general tone of what is to follow:

Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N'ont pas encore brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C'est que notre âme, hélas! n'est pas assez hardie.

If rape and poison, dagger and burning,
Have still not embroidered their pleasant designs
On the banal canvas of our pitiable destinies,
It's because our souls, alas, are not bold enough!

The preface concludes with the following malediction:

C'est l'Ennui! —l'œil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
—Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!

It's Ennui! — his eye brimming with spontaneous tear
He dreams of the gallows in the haze of his hookah.
You know him, reader, this delicate monster,
Hypocritical reader, my likeness, my brother!

I shall leave you to judge which vision is preferable.