The Little Flower and the Black Rose

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Over
the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Twelve Mile Road, in retro-hip
but foreclosure-riddled
Royal
Oak
, Michigan, looms the Charity Crucifixion Tower of the National
Shrine of the Little Flower
. Father
Charles E. Coughlin
commissioned the 90-foot landmark in 1928,
three years after founding the parish, in response to a cross burning
by the Ku Klux Klan, then active in nearby Berkley.
The church is one of the first in the world dedicated to St.
Therese of Lisieux
, the Little Flower, whose "Little Way"
of spirituality has been a source of inspiration to millions.

Shrine's patroness
was born Marie-Françoise-Therese Martin in 1873 in Alençon,
France, the youngest of Louis and Zelie (Guerin) Martin's five children,
all daughters, who survived to adulthood. The family moved to Lisieux
in 1877, after her mother's death. Loss, illness and wild emotions
beset Therese throughout her short life, but her simple philosophy
of love of neighbor and abandonment to God never faltered.

She entered
a Carmelite convent at the age of 15. Craving sainthood, she knew
her impending life of poverty and obedience would preclude heroic
works:

Love proves
itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are
forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering
flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance
and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.

Therese took
every opportunity to sacrifice while living among the Carmelites.
She was gracious with those in the community who treated her shabbily.
She ate the worst leftovers without complaining. She once took responsibility
for a broken vase that was not her doing. Therese's autobiography,
Story
of a Soul
, illustrates the virtue of these and other small
and unrecognized acts of charity.

In this she
serves as something of a foil to her fellow Doctor
of the Church
, St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine includes among
his writings an expose of the evil of large-scale yet unrecognized
acts of plunder. The evil of large-scale yet unrecognized
acts of plunder? Even petty theft is universally regarded as an
intrinsic injustice, so why would a theologian of Augustine's stature
waste his time belaboring the obvious injustice of plunder? Well,
it's not so obvious when it comes to State plunder, as this provocative
passage from Augustine's The
City of God
demonstrates:

Without justice,
what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands
but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled
by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact.
Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this
evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent
that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies
cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of
kingdom!

A fitting
and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an
apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he
was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence,
“What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world?
Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because
you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor.”

One wonders
what sneering contempt the apprehended pirate might direct at our
modern day Emperor; for when it comes to "infesting the whole
world," not even an enthusiastic cosmopolitan like Alexander
the Great can hold a candle to the President of the United States.
POTUS, with his 575,000 troops and 700 military bases in 130 countries
encircling the globe, truly bestrides the whole world like a colossus.
Neither considerations of Judeo-Christian morality, Constitutional
constraint nor simple human decency impinge on POTUS' maniacal quest
for Full
Spectrum Dominance
. POTUS alone has used nuclear weapons on
civilian populations. POTUS kidnaps and tortures. POTUS detains
without charges. POTUS' interminable military adventures have killed,
maimed or left homeless millions. Irony is lost on POTUS. POTUS
now presumes to wage war on terrorism.

Universality
is the hallmark of morality. But POTUS holds universality in contempt,
even while paying lip service to morality. If POTUS' empire "creates
its own reality
," it necessarily creates its own morality.
The double standards ensue. As Joseph Sobran once noted: "Americans
who think America should behave like other countries are u2018isolationists,'
whereas other countries that behave like the U.S. are u2018rogue nations.'"
To be sure, when any other nation's leader acts like POTUS, POTUS
acts horrified.

Unlike Augustine,
Therese never wrote anything political in her life. Dying of tuberculosis
at 24, she promised she'd spend her "heaven doing good on earth."
With POTUS inflicting so much death and destruction on earth, might
not the "shower of roses" she promised to let fall after
her death entail something beyond small favors granted her petitioners?
Might it not include a sign imparting the wisdom of the bold passage
authored by her fellow Doctor of the Church above – a wake-up call
to a people hopelessly adrift in a culture bereft of its moorings?
Finally, might this sign not manifest itself somewhere in or on
that beautiful Royal Oak church dedicated to her memory?

The National
Shrine of the Little Flower is constructed of limestone and granite
from Indiana and Massachusetts, with randomly placed stones from
various U.S. states and territories. State and territory names and
flowers are carved into these stones to honor the men and women
from around the country who helped build the church through their
donations. The picture below shows the south wall of the church,
facing 12 Mile Road, with the limestone and granite and several
state stones in view:

One of the
stones interspersed among the others in this wall, not surprisingly,
is Michigan's. You can see the state flower, the apple blossom,
in the close-up below.

Likewise for
New Jersey, the meadow violet is engraved in the stone.

Hawaii's stone
looks alabaster white, graced by the lovely hibiscus.

Finally, one
stone in this wall appears singularly vulnerable to the ravages
of dust and soot. Maybe something in its composition binds to automobile
exhaust. This sullied stone is located to the left of the double
doors, about seven feet off the ground. You have to walk up to it
and examine it closely to make out its name.

The word running
from the upper left corner down to the lower is "District."
You'll have to take my word for it. Maybe you can make out "of
Columbia" across the top. The district flower, the American
Beauty Rose
, blackened as with the sins of a "great fleet,"
appears on the surface.

What do you
think? A question that has troubled humans from time immemorial
is whether various phenomena of apparent moral or metaphysical significance
have arisen by randomness (i.e., they aren't signs) or design (i.e.,
they are signs). I don't want to read too much into this.

Special
thanks to sixth grade Shrine Elementary School student Lena Kaylyn
Pivetta for her photographic contributions (all pictures except
the first, which comes from Wikipedia) to this essay.

March
17, 2008

Tony
Pivetta [send him mail] lives
in Royal Oak, Michigan, where he pines for a bygone era in which
baseball actively strove to maintain its continuity with its past.
He draws dark parallels between the rise of publicly financed stadiums
and the demise of both the Grand Old Game and the cause of American
liberty.

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