As a way to unwind in my last parish, I loved to walk along a disused railway line just outside Northampton. One day coming in the opposite direction was a young family: mum, dad and young daughter, maybe five or six years old. The little girl was running ahead of her parents so, not wanting to frighten her, I left the path to let her run past. Imagine my surprise when the little girl ran straight up to me. Enjoying my obvious embarrassment she asked, ‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ She quickly took pity on me explaining, ‘I’m a princess!’ I laughed out loud! ‘Of course, your Royal Highness, how could I have been so stupid?!’
In that chance encounter I was overtaken by what never fails to charm us about children. That little girl put me in mind of someone whose statue I caught sight of when I first walked into your lovely little church in March. The one on the right hand side of the sanctuary as you look at it. The one of my favourite saint: Thérèse.
Whenever you look at that statue I want you to think of the child I met out walking that day. Like that child, Saint Thérèse has so much to teach us: about living in the present moment; about trust; and about our royal dignity as God’s sons and daughters.
Like that child, Thérèse invites us to live in God’s own time: today. Not paralysed by what may have happened in the past. Not fretting about the future. Now is the only world little children know. Thérèse teaches us that ‘now’ is the holy ground on which God wants to meet us.
And trust is the way we tread that holy ground. I’m sure that when the child’s parents caught up with her they probably told her off for talking to strangers. But for children trust is second nature. Such trust is the trademark of Thérèse’s spirituality. Along with love, it is one of the wings of her Little Way to God.
So why do children trust so instinctively? It’s because they know they’re precious. ‘I’m a princess!’ That little girl knew she was important, significant. Not a significance based on some achievement, mind you. She was far too young to have achieved anything. Her significance was a simple fact, a given, and not earned. That’s a child’s world, the one Thérèse inhabits. The one she wants to take us by the hand and lead us into. The one where, as she loved to say, ‘All is grace.’
One evening, out walking with her dad, Thérèse noticed in the night sky a constellation tracing a ‘T’. ‘Look, Papa, my name is written in heaven!’ she said. Sheer precociousness? Surely! But isn’t that precisely what delights us about children? It’s certainly what charms God about his children. A line from the Scriptures comes to mind: ‘And a little child shall lead them.’ Let this little child Thérèse, the one you look at each time you come to church in March, lead you. I promise you won’t be disappointed.