Can you believe that it’s May already? Spring is in full swing here in Eastern PA and the flowers are blooming everywhere. I’m sure that most of you who have even a casual knowledge of St. Therese realize how much she loved flowers.
St. Therese even commenced her Autobiography with the following floral reference: “Springtime story of a little white flower written by herself and dedicated to the Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus.” (Story of A Soul, p. 13) She was often referred to as the ‘little flower’ and I was well-aware of this moniker of Therese as my wife, Maria, and I toured Longwood Gardens for Maria’s birthday earlier this week.
Longwood Gardens is one of the top-ranking botanical gardens in the U.S. and boasts over 1,000 acres. For years my in-laws have given Maria and I an Annual Membership to Longwood Gardens for our Anniversary that has allowed us to enjoy its beauties many times a year. The grounds feature heated greenhouses, indoor and outdoor gardens, fountains, ponds, topiary displays, and thousands of varieties of trees, plants, and flowers.
Shortly after we arrived at Longwood that day, we began meandering down a long brick walkway lined with many species of flowers. Now even though I have been enjoying the gardens for years, I am really a neophyte as far as studying flowers. However, I wanted to take some notes for my reflections on Therese so I looked for a pad and pen. I didn’t have either so I asked Maria if I could borrow hers. I was the picture of masculinity studying orange pansies and jotting down my observations in my Oprah’s Lifeclass Journal with my pink pen! People walking by must have thought I was a serious horticulturist plying my trade! Boy did I have them fooled. I didn’t know a Toadflax or a Horned Violet from a hole in the wall.
Many very interesting and beautiful flowers were on display from simple daisies that Meg Ryan’s character called ‘the friendliest flower’ in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” to the Bigleaf Hydrangea which was deep pink in color and looked like an oversized boutonniere. There were lavender and purple Foxgloves that looked like bunches of upside-down bells and were sometimes taller than my 6′ 1″ frame and there were Sweet-Alyssum or ‘snow crystals’, very tiny white flowers that truly reminded me of Therese, the ‘little flower’. A Bald Cypress tree was very barren and looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree! Fuchsia, bullet-shaped Snapdragons gave way to periwinkle Forget-me-nots (I didn’t forget them) and canary yellow Sweet Brooms, appropriate enough because they come from the Canary Islands. Anywhere we went Maria could see me hunched over a nosegay and asking about the shape or color of the petals. It was a far cry from my deep sea explorations of last week! We ended our time at Longwood Gardens by taking in the daily fountain show.
St. Therese would have loved strolling around Longwood Gardens. She expressed that, “You know, dear Mother, how much I love flowers; when making myself a prisoner at the age of fifteen, I gave up forever the pleasure of running through fields decked out in their springtime treasures. Well, never in my life did I possess so many flowers as after my entrance into Carmel. It is the custom for fiances to often give their fiancees bouquets and Jesus didn’t forget it. He sent me in great abundance sheaves of cornflowers, huge daisies, poppies, etc., all the flowers that delighted me the most. There was even a little flower called corncockle that I had never found since our stay at Lisieux; I wanted very much to see it again, that flower of my childhood which I had picked in the fields of Alencon. And at Carmel it came to smile at me again and show me that in the smallest things as well as the greatest, God gives the hundredfold in this life to those souls who leave everything for love of Him.” (Story of A Soul, p. 175-176) Therese also utilized the imagery of flowers to show how there is such variety in the world of souls. She explains how the great diversity of flowers in the field is analogous to the great diversity of people in the world and that each of us must seek to follow Jesus’ will for us so we can be all that He wills us to be. We should not compare ourselves to others because we all contribute to the beauty of the world. The world truly has a full complement of people and flowers.
Sister Marie of the Trinity, one of Therese’s novices, related how she found her bed covered in forget-me-nots with a note from Therese the evening of her Profession as a Carmelite nun. The note read as follows: “My darling little sister, I would like to have immortal flowers to offer you, in remembrance of this beautiful day, but it is only in heaven that flowers won’t ever wilt!… These forget-me-nots will at least tell you that in the heart of your little sister there will always be engraved the remembrance of the day when Jesus gave you his Kiss of union.” (Therese of Lisieux and Marie of the Trinity, p. 23)
Happy Birthday to my beloved wife, Maria! I love you!