THE SHOWER OF ROSES
“After my death I will send down a shower of roses.” Of all the prophecies made by Saint Teresa during her last illness, this is the most widely known. It has taken hold of the public imagination, and the favours she confers on those who invoke her are spoken of as roses throughout the whole Catholic world.
Some there are, however, who frankly regret this and do not hesitate to say so. Some of them have never come into close contact with the Saint precisely because of the “rose business”. Others have a real devotion to Saint Teresa, and clearly understand her message, yet they find the rose motif a stumbling-block. They realise that she made the prophecy, that she has fulfilled it and has indeed showered roses upon the earth, but they regret that so much has been made of this particular saying.
It is our purpose in this final chapter to show that there is nothing sentimental in the imagery of the rose: that so far from being the exaggeration of an aspect of Saint Teresa’s message, it is inseparable from the reality it is meant to convey, and is an integral part of her mission: that the Holy See has set its seal to it, and that, through this symbol, the Saint has, in the providence of God, brought home to ordinary men and women some of the sternest and most profound lessons of the spiritual life.
In the natural order Almighty God gives us the rose, the most beautiful of flowers, in a setting of thorns, and those who want to pick it know that they may get hurt. Similarly, in the supernatural order, in the Catholic Church, the rose is inseparably linked with sacrifice and suffering, for in Catholic tradition the rose is the flower of martyrdom. In the Papal Brief read in Saint Peter’s during the ceremony of Saint Teresa’s beatification, the Holy See uses this very phrase: “In the Catholic Church the white lilies of the virgins are intertwined with the red roses of martyrdom, that splendid crown which adorns the Immaculate Bride of Christ.” In speaking thus, the Holy See is using the traditional language of the Church from as far back as the third century, for it is to be found in the writings of Saint Cyprian. “O blessed Church of ours... She was white before in the works of the brethren, now she is become purple in the blood of martyrs. Among her flowers are wanting neither lilies nor roses. Now let each strive for the highest dignity of either honour. Let them receive crowns either white as of labours, or purple as of suffering. In the heavenly camp both peace and strife have their own flowers with which the soldier of Christ may be crowned for glory.”
Five centuries later this passage of Saint Cyprian is echoed almost word for word by our own countryman, the Venerable Bede, and finds its place in the Divine Office for the feast of All Saints. We find the same connection between the rose and martyrdom in the hymn for Lauds of the feast of the Holy Innocents:
Quos lucis ipso in limine
Christi insecutor sustulit,
Ceu turbo nascentes rosas.
Finally, in the more modern office of Our Lady of Sorrows, the same language is addressed to Our Blessed Lady herself:
A ve, princeps generosa
Martyrumque prima rosa.
Since the rose is regarded by the Church as the flower of martyrdom, we should expect her child, little Teresa, to see it in the same way.
The image of the shower of roses is inseparable from the truth it foretold; it was regarded by Saint Teresa as a part of her mission. During her last illness she refers to it again and again. The prophecy, “After my death I will send down a shower of roses”, does not stand alone, for a few days later she said: “I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.” She then proceeds to tell us exactly what form this good will take. “When I have gone to heaven you must often, with your little sacrifices and prayers, give me the pleasure of showering a rain of graces upon souls.” “In heaven I shall obtain abundance of graces for those who have done me good.” As Teresa lies waiting for death, she looks forward to the fulfilment of her prophecy. “I should not be happy in heaven if I were not able to provide little pleasures on earth for those I love.” “God would not have given me the desire to do good upon earth after my death if He did not will to realise it.” Not only will she send down from heaven a shower of roses, she herself “will come down.” “Later on I shall be standing beside the little baptised infants.”
With amazing daring she goes on to prophesy that her activity will embrace the entire Church. “I will help priests, missionaries, the whole Church.” Further, her mission is to be world-wide: “I will scatter roses on the whole world, upon the just and upon the sinners.” What is the explanation of this shower of roses, this rain of graces? It is her unbounded love for Our Blessed Lord, and for the souls for whom he shed his Precious Blood, and whom she will win to love him. “Heaven to me is to love and to be loved and to return to earth to make Love loved.” Finally, she says these astonishing words: “Yes, I know it, all the world will love me.”
If the prophecies of Saint Teresa were definite and startling, their fulfilment was equally so. No sooner had she died than a rain of favours fell upon the world. Miracles and graces innumerable spread with a rapidity probably unique in the history of the Church, unparalleled at any rate in recent centuries, until at last there was no part of the Catholic world in which miracles had not happened at her intercession, or where favours had not been received by those who invoked her. And along with those favours went the imagery of the rose.
The Holy See tells us that the rain of graces was one of the most weighty factors which led to the rapid canonisation of the Saint. In nearly all the more important documents in the process of Beatification and Canonisation the Holy See makes reference to this rain of graces and, in doing so, invariably uses the imagery of Saint Teresa by referring to it as the “shower of roses”.
In the discourse which he delivered on the occasion of the proclamation of the Saint’s heroic virtue, Pope Benedict XV says: “Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, not long before her death, promised that she would spend her heaven in doing good upon earth; We know that she has fulfilled her promise, because the graces attributed to her intercession have been innumerable... May the roses promised by Teresa fall in more abundant measure on that blessed Carmel in which she found satisfaction for all the burning desires of her heart.”
The Beatification of Saint Teresa took place on April 29th, 1923. In May, Cardinal Vico, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, was sent by the Holy Father as Pontifical Legate to preside over the solemnities at Lisieux. In a letter to the Legate, the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, wrote the following words: “We propose her then to the Children of the Church as a most remarkable example well worthy of imitation. We propose her to them as a heroine of sanctity, and we invoke her as patroness and advocate that she may also continue, as she has begun and as she foretold, to send down a shower of roses from heaven upon mankind.”
In the Bull of Canonisation, reference is again made to this promise and to its fulfilment: “When dying she had promised to send down an unending shower of roses, that is, a rain of graces; scarcely had she entered heaven when, by innumerable miracles which increased from day to day, she fulfilled her promise.”
But it is in Saint Peter’s, on the occasion of the Canonisation, that the image of the rose is shown most dramatically to be inseparable from the mission of Saint Teresa. The great basilica was packed to the doors; over two hundred thousand, unable to gain entrance, thronged the piazza outside; the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, had just ended his homily, in which he said: “That on entering the heavenly country she began her work among souls is clearly manifest when we look at the mystical shower of roses which God permitted and still permits her to let fall upon the earth, as she had so ingenuously promised.” Scarcely had he spoken those words when, in full view of the huge assembly, five roses which were decorating a cluster of lights in the apse detached themselves in some unknown way, and floated in wide circles until they rested at the Pontiff’s feet. As a background to the scene, there hung the great banner of the Canonisation unveiled high above the high altar, and on the banner was depicted boldly the figure of the new Saint, ascending on the clouds to heaven, scattering roses on the earth that she was leaving.
It is typical that God should allow this vital point in Saint Teresa’s message to be thus vividly dramatised in Saint Peter’s, the heart of the Catholic Church, at the moment of the Saint’s greatest glory. Thus was it shown to all the world that the words, “After my death I will send down a shower of roses”, were a prophecy inspired directly by Almighty God.
On the day following the Canonisation, the Holy Father, speaking to the pilgrims from Lisieux, said: “Since her intercession is so powerful, what can you not hope to obtain at her hands, thanks to her who promised the roses?” Again the next day, addressing another band of pilgrims, he refers to the same subject: “The little, the great Saint Teresa remains beyond the blue sky to shower the roses we are entitled to expect inasmuch as she has promised them.” So ended the solemnities in Rome, and thus was fulfilled another of little Teresa’s prophecies, for she was now – in the words of Pope Pius XI – “the child loved throughout the whole world.”
Pope Pius XI never hesitated to make use of the symbol of the rose. On September 30th, 1925, Cardinal Vico was again Pontifical Legate at the ceremonies of the Canonisation at Lisieux. On that occasion the Holy Father gave him a golden rose to place in the hand of the statue of the Saint recumbent on her tomb. On one of the petals were engraved the arms of Pope Pius XI, and the stem bore this inscription: Auream rosam ab ipso benedictam tibi gratulatus offert Pius XI per manus Eminentis Legati Cardi. Vico S.R.C. Praef. pridie Kal. Oct. MCMXXV.
From the earliest days of his papacy right up to his death, Pope Pius XI continually spoke of the favours he received from Saint Teresa as “roses”; the best known instance is, of course, his temporary restoration to health towards the end of his life. Being unable, on account of the pressure of his duties, to be present as he had hoped at Lisieux, for the inauguration of the basilica, the Holy Father sent Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State, as his Legate. On the morning of July 11th, 1937, on the great square at the entrance to the basilica, in the presence of two hundred and fifty thousand pilgrims, the Legate delivered his discourse, in which he said: “The Supreme Pontiff does not wish to see his ambassador, whom he has sent to you entrusted with his fatherly blessing, return to him with empty hands. ‘Bring me back three roses from Lisieux, that is to say, three special graces which we beg of the dear little Saint.’ That is what he said to me.” The Legate then went on to describe the three roses: the first, a red rose surrounded with thorns, signifying a perfect conformity with the will of God even in the midst of suffering; the second, a yellow rose, signifying the desire of the Holy Father for a complete recovery of his physical health, not in order to avoid suffering, but that he might labour once again for the glory of God and for the good of souls; the third, a white rose, signifying the Holy Father’s prayer for holiness of life and fervour for all priests.
At the close of the ceremony the Holy Father gave a broadcast message to the assembled throng, and ended it with a reference to his restoration to health, using these words: “The divine King, who loves to dwell with the simple and takes His delight among the lilies, could not but grant this other rose at the intercession of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, who has been constantly invoked as we well know, by the sisters of her family both natural and supernatural.”
In view of the fact that the Holy See, so far from discounting or discouraging the imagery of the rose, has been most careful to emphasise and preserve it, we shall not be surprised to find that it still persists wherever Saint Teresa is involved, or her Little Way loved and followed. Sometimes, as we have already seen, it is easily explained by natural causes – a bunch of roses, or a single rose, is received by one of Saint Teresa’s clients in the most ordinary manner: it comes either during a novena to the Saint, or at a time when the person who receives it has been asking her help over some special trial, or some new venture for God’s glory. At other times it is the appearance of a rose petal, or a scent of roses occurring in a way for which there is no natural explanation. In all these cases it seems to be a sign of the Saint’s active interest and approval, for the prayer is usually quickly granted, though not necessarily in the way expected.
What then is Almighty God’s purpose in all this? First, we may safely take what the Holy See has said: “This young girl was known to few during her lifetime, but immediately after her precious death her fame was spread abroad throughout the Christian world on account of the innumerable wonders wrought by Almighty God at her intercession. Indeed it seemed as if, in accordance with her dying promise, she was sending amongst men her shower of roses. Hence it came to pass that the Church decided to bestow upon her the supreme honour of the Saints without observing the customary and established delays.”
God designed that Saint Teresa should not only be raised to the altars of the Church, but that she should be so raised in a manner as rapid and as striking as possible. To that end he presented her to his Church as one whose gift of working miracles was unparalleled in its universality and rapidity; and in doing so he showed her to us as scattering roses, which is how the Holy See wishes us to see her today.
By the rain of miracles and graces which he has ordained shall be known as the shower of roses, God has set his seal upon Saint Teresa and her mission. By these miracles, from the very moment of her death, he has been insistently calling the attention of the faithful to the sanctity of Saint Teresa, and to her particular type of sanctity, holding it up to the faithful for imitation. He is doing so no less insistently now. The shower of roses is not an end in itself, it is Almighty God pointing the faithful to the Saint, and saying: Look well, for this child comes from me to teach you the secret of sanctity.
She has been sent to lead us back to the “yet more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31), the way of love. She took as her motto those words of Saint John of the Cross, “Love is repaid by Love alone”, and she explained what this meant to her:
“Well do I know it, my God! And therefore I have sought and found a way to ease my heart by giving Thee love for love... but how shall I show my love, since love proves itself by deeds? I, the little child, will strew flowers perfuming the Divine Throne with their fragrance. Thus will my short life be spent in Thy sight, O my Beloved!
“To strew flowers is the only means I have of proving my love for Thee; that is to say, I will let no little sacrifice escape me, not a look, not a word, I will make use of the smallest actions and I will do them all for love.
“For love’s sake I suffer and for love’s sake I will rejoice; thus will I strew my flowers.
“Not one that I see, but singing all the while, I will scatter its petals before Thee. Should my roses be scattered from amid thorns, I will sing notwithstanding, and the longer and sharper the thorns, the sweeter will grow my song.”
The profound truth of this passage leaves us silent. It is a passage for meditation rather than for exposition. Yet we must attempt some comment, for we are here at the central secret of the Little Way: it is the way of little sacrifices. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the whole of her teaching is based on trust and self-surrender – a self-surrender in which no sacrifice is ever to be considered too small or too great. The most trifling actions done out of love, and done cheerfully, are of great value in the eyes of God.
“Each passing sigh, each bitter sorrow,
My joys, my suffering,
Each little sacrifice Thou askest
These are the flowers I bring.”
Teresa goes yet further: she herself will become like a flower given in sacrifice; she will become the rose that is laid at his feet, that is to say, her life will become one act of perfect love for Our Lord. This analogy is developed in her poem, La rose effeuillee. In it she describes how she lays a rose before the Infant Jesus so that, supported by his Mother’s arms in his first attempt to walk, he may rest his feet upon it.
“Jesus, to aid thy feeble powers,
I see thy Mother’s arms outspread,
As thou on this sad earth of ours
Dost set thy first, thy faltering tread;
See, in thy path I cast away
A rose in all its beauty dressed,
That on its petals’ disarray
Thy feet, so light, may softly rest.”
This fallen rose, she says, is the image of a heart consumed by love. There are many beautiful flowers on the altar, but she does not want to be one of them: she wants to be a rose whose petals are scattered at the feet of Jesus, all its beauty lost and forgotten.
“Dear Infant Christ, this fallen rose
An image of that heart should be
Which makes, as every instant flows,
Its whole burnt-sacrifice to thee.
Upon thy altars, Lord, there gleams
Full many a flower whose grand display
Charms thee; but I have other dreams...
Bloomless, to cast myself away.
Dear Lord, the flowers that blossom yet
Thy feast-day with their perfume fill;
The rose that’s fallen, men forget,
The winds may scatter where they will;
The rose that’s fallen questions not,
Content, as for thy sake, to die,
Abandonment its welcome lot...
Dear infant Christ, that rose be I!”
She will lie at his feet, content to die for him, confident that the beauty of the petals, as they lie scattered here and there by the will of God, will far surpass any beauty they once had in mortal eyes.
“Yet those same petals, trampled down...
I read the message in my heart...
In patterns here and there are blown
That seem too beautiful for art:
Living to mortal eyes no more,
Rose of a bloom for ever past,
See to thy love a life made o’er,
A future on thy mercy cast!
For love of Loveliness supreme,
Dying, to cast myself away
Were bright fulfilment of my dream;
I’d prove my love no easier way:
Live, here below, forgotten still,
A rose before thy path outspread
At Nazareth, or on Calvary’s hill
Relieve thy last, thy labouring tread.”
And so, with a life of beauty and sacrifice known only to Jesus, she will prove her love by an act of total abandonment, and thus slake his thirst for souls, minister to his wounds, and “fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ”.
Abandonment to the providence of God in all the details of life, this is at once the sternest and the most consoling lesson of the spiritual life; for those who follow the way of Spiritual Childhood there will be joy, but a joy that is born of suffering. And what is this but an echo of Our Lord’s own words? “Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”