Unpettalled Roses

S Andrew by the Wardrobe is host to an Indian Orthodox congregation. They cast petals on the ground on their Palm Sunday procession. Seeing them there as I came home yesterday put me in mind of a poem of S Therese of Lisieux, An Unpetalled Rose The text is here.

The poem meditates on the first trembling steps of the child Jesus, beginning with what seems the sentimental desire to unpetal a rose 'So that your little foot might rest ever so softly on a flower.' The wobbling attempts of the toddler are but the first steps on the way of the Cross. The poet realises this as she suggests that her life should be unpetalled; not standing proud like the flowers in the vase, but unpetalled and cast on the processional path: 'The rose in its splendor can adorn your feast... but the unpetalled rose is just flung out to blow away... like it, with joy I abandon myself to you."

So often we want to be heroes of the faith, obvious in our devotion, strangely selfish in our very service: Therese will have none of that: "Jesus, for you I have squandered my life, My future, in the eyes of men, a rose forever withered, I must die."

The path begun with those childish steps is but the beginning of the Way of the Cross, a point driven home by the Palm Sunday petals around the church: for the petals seek, possibly hopelessly, "to soften once more on Calvary your last steps."

The way of the cross which we walk this week is not some falsely deprecating smug humility. It is a way of humiliation and death. But only so can it show the fullness of love, which seeks noting back, no reward for itself. "An unpetalled rose gives itself unaffectedly to be no more."


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