God's timing is always perfect, as St. Therese made clear to Servant of God Marcel Van at their first meeting in October of 1946, and now I rejoice that the time has come - the perfect time - to enlighten the world on the venerable antiquity of our favorite short and sweet prayer to the patroness of the missions and introduce her venerable admirer - well, technically so far he's only Servant of God - and grateful client, Archbishop Aloysius Maria Benziger, O.C.D.
If that surname, Benziger, brings to your mind Catholic books, you're on the right track! The Archbishop's father owned the Swiss publishing house, and upon the death of our hero's older brother Louis (God rest his soul), the future Carmelite was destined to take over the family business. Happily for us (and many others), after business school and college, despite the objections of his father (God rest his soul too), Aloysius entered the Carmel of Bruges, Belgium. Skipping his early years as a Carmelite, next thing we know, he's an Archbishop in southern India, and a fine one at that!
What would we do without old books? I found out this biographical info with the help of the internet (guardian angels, help us always use the internet for good!), but I wouldn't have made friends with Bishop Al unless I'd first found a glorious old book Archbishop Benziger, Carmelite in India written and published by his nieces Marieli Benziger and Rita Benziger.
In an October 23, 1977 review in The National Catholic Register (kindly stuck inside the book for us by some previous owner), we read, "This compilation is a work of art. One who is interested in the subject or in the missionary world of India in the years 1890 - 1940 will not tire of reading these entries. They fill out the image of a saint, and a saint is never tiresome."
I must say I think the reviewer missed a broader demographic who would not tire of reading these entries: namely anyone who loves St. Therese, patroness of the missions and good heavenly friend of the Archbishop! For this is what one such reader, to her surprise and delight, discovered in these pages:
First, the antiquity of our prayer. And second, the devotion of one of the early devotees of our heroine and sister, that indefatigably generous distributor of roses, St. Therese.
So first, the prayer.
Father Aloysius had became the co-adjutor Bishop of Kollam, India in 1900 and from 1905 he was the Bishop of Kollam until he voluntarily retired in 1931. He was 67, and he went to live at Carmel Hill Monastery as an ordinary religious until his entrance into eternal life on the 17th of August 1942.
He wrote in a letter from Carmel Hill dated January 31, 1938, and signed "Your very loving brother, Fr. Aloysius":
My very dearest brother August:
Your dear letter of November 25th, 1937 pleased me tremendously, as did your loving good wishes...
Daily I pray for you, for your dear wife, your children and grandchildren. They also share in my Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Unfortunately, it is nighttime for you when here, at 5:30 in the morning, I read my Mass. But with God - time means nothing.
May my dear St. Therese of the Child Jesus continue helping you.
I asked my good friend and your old friend, Henry Heide of New York City, if he knew this little prayer:
"Little Flower, in this hour, show thy power."
He replied, smiling, "Yes . . . yes. I know this prayer and I do believe you are the one who taught it to me and were the first to use it."
He continued in German: "Theresia Klein, Du Blume rein gedanke mein - beim Jesulein."
Then added "This I say often, day and night."
* * *
So there we have it!
I was taught this prayer about twenty years ago by a dear friend who knew Therese's power and sweet intercession, but how was I to know that it wasn't just a groovy 60's prayer, but the real thing?
Guardian angels, that's how I was to know!
Because in this fun and falling apart book - published not by Benziger Brothers, the established and renowned "Roman Catholic book-publishing house founded in 1792 by Joseph Charles Benziger in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, currently based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and operating as a subsidiary of Kendall Hunt Publishing" (thank you, Wikidpedia), also known as Benziger Brothers, but by the adorably humble "Benziger Sisters Publishers" - the letter in which we discover the origin of our prayer doesn't come under our eager perusal until page 528!
The National Catholic Register was correct, however, in its prophecy that "One who interested in the subject . . . will not get tired of these entries."
How could we get tired of so dear a brother and father, so faithful a friend to our sister Therese, so clever a spiritual director?
Listen to what the Benziger sisters dug up from the Archives of the Holy Cross Nuns in Menzigen:
June 19, 1927
Bishop Benziger came and gave us a sermon. He reminded us that every morning, when the bell calls us to get up, we should lift up our hearts and say:
"Dear God, You want me to get up; alright. But now You must do something for me, as well; give me a soul."
And so, throughout the entire day, learn to bargain with God. God is really a Father, a good Father, and He will help us to gain souls for eternity.
* * *
I'm telling you, the angels are afoot! How charming to receive the advice of an Archbishop in the missions! How wondrous that his cheering words of almost 100 years ago are so apt today and so entirely in tune with the Little Way and mischievous exploits of his (and our) sister Therese!
How else - besides guardian angels - explain the pink sticky note I find marking page 385? My Marcel-memory ensures I have no recollection of this remarkable page, though the pink post-it has a familiar look to it, so I thank my angel for guiding us back to something well worth reading and re-reading. And I must add thanks and prayers for the happy repose of their souls to the Benziger sisters, Marieli and Rita (daughters of Aloysius' brother, the portrait painter August Benziger, about whom they also made a book), for their 2 trips around the world and 22 years of research that resulted in this book, and this page, that we have so providentially at hand.
Here, then, is the icing on the cake, or better yet, the cake under the icing of our prayer which, according to Henry Heide, was not only taught by, but also originated from the good Carmelite, our new friend and Therese's longtime brother, Servant of God Archbishop Al.
From page 385:
Pope Pius XI Calls Bishop Benziger to Rome for Canonization of St. Therese Whom He Names Patroness of Missionaries
Great was Bishop Benziger's joy when Pope Pius XI called him to Rome to assist at the canonization of St. Therese of Lisieux. Throughout his life Bishop Benziger had done all he could to work for her cause. She had barely died when he had pleaded to have her canonized. He seemed to have sensed that she was heart and soul in the project of Missionary life. One of the very first churches that had been dedicated by Bishop Benziger was named in her honor. He had been locally reprimanded because the Church does not permit anyone but a canonized saint to be made patron of patroness of a church.
When Bishop Benziger went to Rome for his "ad limina" visit, he had purposely requested permission to name his next church in honor of Therese of Lisieux. He apologized that he had done this before without specific permission from the Vatican. He told the Pope that from the moment little Therese had a church dedicated in her name the donor of the money of that church had acquired tremendous success and had given him money enough to build five more churches in her honor and in her name. Pope Pius Xi had laughed and remarked, "You can do so already but we will shortly nominate her a saint."
Therese of Lisieux, that obscure little Carmelite nun, had during all of her life insisted, "I wish to become a Missionary, not just for a while, but to the end of all time."
When Bishop Benziger reached Rome in time for the canonization on May 17, 1925, Pope Pius XI had insisted that he should participate as a Carmelite Missionary and Bishop in all the canonization ceremonies.
Bishop Benziger had the great joy of being very close to the great Pius XI, who pontificated at the Papal Altar in St. Peter's. When Mass was over and the ceremony finished, the Pope turned to bless the vast crowd from the main altar. Suddenly thousands of rose petals fell from the baldacchino over the main altar and fell at the feet of the Pope. Amazed, Bishop Benziger looked up and saw the rose petals in every possible color. He bent down and picked up a handful and presented them to the Pope and then did the same and kept the next handful for himself.
This had been one of the happiest moments in his religious life. The rose petals he kept in his breviary as mementos of his little saint whose spiritual graces he had felt and recognized years before anyone had done anything about her. He was the first one who had sent in her name to Rome requesting that she be put on the list of those to be beatified and then canonized.
On several occasions when he went to visit the dying and very sick, without saying a word he would take a rose petal and leave it with the patient, who frequently recovered.
* * *
Servant of God, good Bishop Aloysius, pray for us and commend us to our sister St. Therese!
Little Flower, in this hour, show your power!
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side,
To light, to guard, to rule, and guide.
Draw me, we will run!
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