Earlier that year when Mary had announced her plans, the comment, “What a waste,” was frequently bantered about. And on the day of her shower, after we had helped her load the gifts into her car, and she had hugged everyone good-bye, the same comment was repeated as she drove away.
Then there was Dolores Hart. She sent the “what a waste” crowd into apoplexy when she abandoned her Hollywood career to join a Benedictine monastery — even after starring in two movies with Elvis, no less. I admit to being intrigued by Dolores myself when she made appearances on EWTN Live a couple of times over the past few years. She is still beautiful in her 70′s, and is radiant and funny and full of joy– and still a nun.
My friend Mary, and Mother Dolores Hart come to mind whenever I read one of my favorite poems by St. Therese. It’s titled, The Unpetalled Rose. How like Therese to want to “squander” her life just for God — simply to give Him pleasure, to be a fresh petal beneath His feet.
But this beautiful poem is not limited to cloistered nuns like Therese and Mary and Dolores. We can all desire to be “unpetalled.” We can surrender with joy our plans and dreams into the Heart of God and fling away the script we had hoped our life would follow.
And, petals fall too when we truly seek the last place, rejoicing when others are praised and rewarded while we are overlooked….when we live our lives “with mystery” as Therese states in the last stanza of her poem. To live in mystery is to be an enigma to the world, to choose what the world does not understand, all the while in secret, unpetalling the rose of our lives.
There are a thousand ways to lose our petals, and allow ourselves to simply be used up for God’s pleasure. You can tell when you are being unpetalled. There is a pain within, like a struggle… like dying…..to self.
But suddenly, you feel lighter. There is fragrance. Another petal has dropped…. for His Joy Alone!
But now let Therese tell us as only she can –
An Unpetalled Rose
St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
Jesus, when I see you held by your Mother,
Leaving her arms
Trying, trembling, your first steps
On our sad earth,
Before you I’d like to unpetal a rose
In its freshness
So that your little foot might rest ever so softly
On a flower!….
This unpetalled rose is the faithful image,
Of the heart that wants to sacrifice itself for you unreservedly
at each moment.
Lord, on your altars more than one new rose
Likes to shine.
It gives itself to you…..but I dream of something else:
To be unpetalled!….”
The rose in its splendor can adorn your feast,
But the unpetalled rose is just flung out
To blow away.
An unpetalled rose gives itself unaffectedly
To be no more.
Like it, with joy I abandon myself to you,
One walks on rose petals with no regrets,
And this debris
Is a simple ornament that one disposes of artlessly,
That I’ve understood.
Jesus, for your love I’ve squandered my life,
In the eyes of men, a rose forever withered,
I must die!…
For you, I must die, Child, Beauty Supreme,
What a blessed fate!
In being unpetalled, I want to prove to you that I love you,
O my Treasure!…
Under your baby steps, I want to live here below
And I’d like to soften once more on Calvary
Your last steps!….
(all emphases by Therese)
From: The Poetry of St. Therese of Lisieux
Translated By: Donald Kinney, OCD
ICS Publications, (Institute of Carmelite Studies) 1995