Bring Me an Easter Lily in the Fall ©
by Rev. Jim Ryan, email@example.com
It’s October 1. Easter Lilies are blooming in our garden. That may seem a bit against the natural cycle of things, nature wherein white lilies appear at Easter, you know, in the Spring. Well, first of all we’re probably all clear that white lilies blooming in the Spring are forced into doing that. That’s right, left to themselves our brand of Easter Lilies, by nature, bloom in mid to late summer.
Our garden’s lilies – two flowers – that are currently blooming are way behind schedule. Or maybe not, because here’s something else. This plant on which whiteness and fragrance have appeared (did I say it’s October 1?) has already bloomed once this year – at Easter, of course. That’s right, this overactive plant is treating us to a second trumpeting of Resurrection in the same year.
Not being a horticulturalist, I’m guessing that there are perfectly natural processes at work here. It’s certainly not due to my gardening skills which consist of: 1) plant it, 2) water it, 3) watch it either grow or die. However, natural processes have not impeded my interpretive bent in the past – so why stop a solid record?
How about this interpretation? October 1 is the Feast Day of St. Therese Martin of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Or, as more familiarly called, “The Little Flower.” Show of hands now, how many of us were raised on the faith that says, “If you pray to St. Therese about a concern or for someone, the sign of a favorable response is the unexpected gift of a flower?”
Well, we received the unexpected gift of Easter Lilies in October. This is the stuff of religion – of hope and confidence, of a pious connection to divine presence.
Here is my interpretive connection on this feast day of the Little Flower. I pray for the widest possible recognition of God’s gifts at work among us. One of those gifts is the gift of priesthood that God gives to men and women, that same unbounded gift which the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church chooses not to accept, particularly for women. The truth is there are more priests among us than there are presbyters (ordained officeholders). They are the recipients of this gift with which God superabundantly graces believers. These priests are the spiritual progeny of the self-sacrificing One – the God of kenosis. This is the One who did not see divinity as something to be grasped, but rather something to give away. (Philippians 2:6).
Read this passage from St. Therese’s autobiography, The Story of the Soul:
“I feel within me the vocation of the Priest. With what love, O Jesus, I would carry You in my hands, when, at my voice, You would come down from Heaven. And with what love would I give You to Souls! But alas! While desiring to be a Priest, I admire and envy the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and I feel the vocation of imitating him in refusing the sublime dignity of the Priesthood.”
The piety, that is, the devoted action of this woman led her to acknowledge her own call to the priesthood. Her dedication to this call led her to solitude because in the stillness of solitude one becomes priest. So Therese Martin became a Carmelite nun. This may seem counterintuitive to the usual image of priest. But only the one who is capable of living within one’s own solitude becomes priest. A person without that capacity may be ordained a presbyter, one who holds a position with clear duties and responsibilities within the institution. But, as Maggie Ross writes in her terribly insightful book on Priesthood, Pillars of Flame, there are those who are ordained who are not priests.
In her 4th chapter, “Solitude: Becoming Priest,” Ross writes about the suffering one experiences in solitude, in the core of the recipient’s being.
“It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this maturing process cannot be entered by any person other than the one who has the gifts.”
One needs to add, if only as a reminder, the gift of priesthood occurs within an unobstructed relation between the Giver and the recipient, unobstructed, that is, by any human or ecclesial imposition. To use a reference from Yeats, it is a terrible beauty that shines through this relationship of the Divine Giver and the Human Recipient.
“We have learned no longer to flee the pain inherent to life
and transmutation but at the heart of pain to find God’s new life,
hope, possibility, joy, celebration. This is our priestly task.”
St. Therese’s piety – in concert with her other virtues and convictions – drove her to solitude so that she may struggle with and, yes, to also celebrate her own call to priesthood. Given the obstructed path of the Roman Church she could go no further. She could not be the one to bring Eucharist to the people (in all her pre-Vatican II understanding of the role of the priest.) Her sacrifice remained cloistered. And for this she is praised for her piety, as if there is a piety with a small “p” and another with a capital “P,” just as there is, supposedly, priest with a small “p” and Priest with a capital “P.”
So, I have Easter Lilies on the Feast of St. Therese, the Little Flower. My piety says a woman’s call to priesthood is a Gift from God – one that is direct, challenging, compelling, and also one that drives that woman, as it drives all who are similarly gifted, to solitude.
“For any church to insist that we must support the conceit that the ordained alone have the fullness of Christ’s transforming humility…. (Recall the current teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that it is only the ordained male priest who acts in persona Christi / in the person of Christ.) …. and that their worldly domination is in fact a mirror of the self-emptying God is perhaps the ultimate blasphemy.”
Further, about piety – we may see in the gift of the unexpected flower one that is tied to the understanding of Therese, the cloistered nun, who has love, concern, anxiety, and connectedness with all people – the priest, herself, at work.
Yes, Therese was driven to solitude to realize the gift she was given – the gift of priesthood. In her solitude she desired to have the same gaze on God as Jesus did, desiring from her being to bring Christ, in Eucharistic liturgy to “all Souls.” I’m certain she represented the Giver – very well.
This Eucharistic liturgy is given picture and form by Maggie Ross when she writes:
“The deepest meetings of community and its greatest opportunities for healing rifts and forging bonds are in the silence of liturgy, liturgy composed in such a way that words emerge from silence; liturgy that focuses through and beyond itself and its celebrants; liturgy that focuses the community outward. Such liturgy becomes the silence of creative solitude confluent with the Silence of God out of which the Word, the First and Last, is spoken.”
Read this and see Therese, the Little Flower, the Priest.
It’s October 1 and Easter Lilies are blooming in our garden. What else is one supposed to think?