by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Michael, my second-grader, unpacked his book bag and showed me his homework assignment. “Parents. Please talk about your favorite saint with your child so that he or she can share in our class discussion on saints next week.”
Leaning over, I picked up the book I had just finished reading, “Story of a Soul,” the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. I gazed at the sweet, smiling face of the “Little Flower” on the cover and couldn’t help but smile back. “Ironic,” I thought. “I was in second grade myself when you first made yourself known to me.”
I closed my eyes and could see it clearly: a small simple medal with that same face smiling up at me from the sidewalk as I was walking to school. Not being Catholic at the time, I assumed the image must be that of Mary. “Probably some lost Holy Communion present,” my mother mused, studying it that afternoon. “I doubt it’s very valuable. But you may keep it if you like.”
So I tucked the little medal inside my jewelry box, fascinated but puzzled by the inscription on the back, “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.” It wasn’t until I was an adult convert that I correctly identified St. Therese’s image and discovered how much she has intervened in my life.
My son’s voice brought my thoughts back to the present.
“I’m sorry, Michael. I was just thinking about St. Therese of Lisieux. She’s a very special saint who I think has been keeping an eye on me since I was your age. Would you like me to tell you about her?”
“I guess.” His response was about as enthusiastic as if I had asked him choose between Brussel sprouts or lima beans for dinner.
Undaunted, I told my son about St. Therese’s short life as a Carmelite nun and how her obedience, humility and generosity. I spoke of her tremendous love for Jesus and I tried to describe her “little way” to holiness that earned her not only sainthood but the title Doctor of the Church.
My son was starting to fidget.
“You know,” I continued. St. Therese said something very interesting before she died.”
“Oh yeah? What was that?”
“She said that after her death she would let fall a shower of roses.”
The fidgeting stopped. “What?”
“Her nickname is the ‘Little Flower’,” I explained. “A lot of people pray for St. Therese’s intercession when they have a special need, and she has been known to confirm requests with a flower. It happened to me.”
“It did?” Now I had his attention. Michael sat down next to me and took the book from my hands.
I proceeded to describe an experience that happened to me the year before. While on retreat, I was plagued with a burning question: was my mother in heaven? On the last day, I prayed to St. Therese about this and gathered up the nerve to ask for the affirmation of a red rose. Almost immediately, a little red bird landed in the tree outside of my window and began to sign. “Is this my sign?” I wondered. A moment later, a young seminarian strolled by donned in a bright red sweater. “Or this?” I puzzled. Even the sun seemed to have a reddish glow about it. “Now I’m seeing things,” I laughed to myself and got up to go to the closing Mass.
After a beautiful worship service, I joined the other retreatants in the dining hall for our final meal together. On each plate was a folded prayer card with the picture of St. Therese of Lisieux on the cover. With trembling hands, I opened the card, and out fell a silk red rose. Since then, I’ve had no more questions about the whereabouts of my mother – or St. Therese, for that matter.
“Can I do that?” my son asked, incredulously. “Can I ask St. Therese something and have her answer me with a flower?”
“Sure,” I answered. “What do you want to know?”
“I want to know if Mrs. Reed is in heaven.” His answer came so fast it surprised me. I was touched at the concern Michael still had for the beloved neighbor and surrogate grandmother he had lost a year earlier.
“Ok,” I smiled, “go ahead.”
Michael suddenly became very shy. “Can you do it with me?” he asked sheepishly.
I laughed and pulled him close. “All right,” I said, becoming more serious. “St. Therese, Michael would like to ask your intercession on something. He wants to know if our neighbor, Mrs. Reed, is in heaven yet. Amen.”
“You forgot the part about the flower,” Michael insisted.
“Oh, yes. My son would also like to ask you to send him a flower in response.”
“So, where is it?” demanded Michael, half seriously.
“You have to give it time,” I replied. “And let St. Therese do her work.”