Tag Archives: St. Thérèse of Lisieux

October Synthesis

The month of October opens with the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is known for having preached “the Little Way”. By reminding us of the biblical teaching on spiritual childhood, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught us that we should not be afraid of God nor of aspiring to be saints despite our weaknesses, because it is precisely our littleness that attracts God’s mercy and compassion.

The following day, October 2, is the feast of the Guardian Angels – our guides and allies in our quest for sanctity.

Devotees of St. Josemaria Escriva know that it was on the feast of the Guardian Angels that he founded Opus Dei – another reminder of the universal call to sanctity and of the truth that sanctity is an accessible, albeit challenging, goal.

The month ends with the eve of All Saints’ Day, more popularly known as Halloween.

The appropriateness of Catholics celebrating Halloween in the popular manner of doing it is hotly debated. It is hard to give a blanket condemnation or approval of it, however, because people do it in different ways. On one side of the spectrum are those who dabble in the occult on the occasion; on the other side are those who hold saint-themed costume parties. In between are those for whom Halloween is just an occasion for good clean fun, playing dress-up, and perhaps a little bit of spookiness.

My own take is that barring downright sinful activities, the celebration of Halloween is a matter for every Catholic’s prudential judgment. Furthermore, while dabbling in the occult is definitely a no-no, neither are saint-themed costume parties obligatory (though they definitely can be a good catechetical tool), nor should a reasonable degree of spookiness be forbidden.

In fact, just as a morbid fascination for the occult is dangerous, it is equally harmful to ignore the reality of evil as if the saints were born with halos and never had to contend with the dark side of life. It is healthy to remind ourselves that spiritual warfare is a reality. And scattered throughout the month of October are feasts to remind us of what are our weapons in spiritual warfare.

October 1 reminds us of the need for childlike trust in God that St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminded us. October 2 reminds us of the help of the Guardian Angels. The feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 reminds us of the need to practice poverty and detachment. October 7 reminds us of the power of the Rosary. The feast of St. Teresa of Ávila on Oct. 15 reminds us of the need to develop a life of prayer. The feast of St. Luke the Evangelist on Oct. 18 reminds us to “use the force” of the Gospel. The feast of the apostles Sts. Simon and Jude on Oct. 28 reminds us that all of us are called to be apostles too; apostolate, after all, is also a form of spiritual warfare.

After the last day of October is All Saints’ Day. We have been reminded the whole month of what our goal is in life and how we are to attain it. So we begin a new month reminding us of the reward for our efforts, and renew our resolve to continue working and to fight once more.

The Little Flower

On my pilgrimage in France: I find it funny that most people come to France primarily for the Paris attractions. Not for my group though — being in Paris was just an added benefit. Our main purpose was to visit Lourdes, where Saint Bernadette received apparitions of Mary in a small grotto next to a river in 1858. Such humble beginnings have transformed the site into a grand shrine devoted to Our Lady of Lourdes. This shrine has been a place of numerous miracles over many years, especially of healing. The water has become famous for its healing properties. Every single day people flock to this site with the hope of being healed by bathing in the water.

We started the day early to catch a flight from Paris to Lourdes. Anticipation filled the air with each one of us holding special intentions in our hearts, secret hopes that we desire Mary to answer. I confess my deepest desires were rather selfish. I intended to bring the desires I have had since I was a child: to find a loving husband and to start a family. Simple in nature but it is something I have felt is my true vocation. This is also a desire I have feared might never come to fruition. However, as I sat in the line awaiting my time to enter into the water, the more I drew closer, the more my mind, heart and soul began to shift. It felt wrong to place my prayer intentions only for myself. To be honest I already had the faith that Jesus would fulfill my deep desires with or without receiving the bath, and there might be more urgent prayer intentions to focus on.

Yesterday, we visited the Sanctuary of Lisieux where we devoted our time to learning about the life of Saint Thérèse and her family. It was also Consecration day for the Pilgrims who went through 33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Gaitley. For those who don’t know, Marian Consecration is a way to give yourself entirely to Jesus through Mary. Through this Consecration, you surrender your entire self to Mary for her to use in whatever way she wishes to further glorify the kingdom of God. This can be difficult to do, especially for me; I naturally want to maintain control. Nevertheless, I sincerely felt called to France to do this. After my Consecration, I ended up in the gift shop filled with Saint Thérèse souvenirs. I was drawn to a simple key chain. A small pink rose, a symbol of Saint Thérèse. I heard a quiet voice tell me to buy it. I struggled with this at first. I knew it would be hard to give this key chain to the person it was meant for. She is a sweet and in some ways very innocent girl but she is a victim of this fallen world. While she appears as a girl herself, she has a daughter and is addicted to marijuana. Before leaving on this trip, she asked me to bring her back a French husband. She was serious about it too, listing off all the attributes this husband should have. I promised I would bring her back something even if it was not a husband. I have been working with her for some time but Mary was definitely working to strengthen our relationship during the weeks leading to this trip. Throughout this trip, Mary continued to place her on my heart. In that gift shop and after my Consecration I saw why.

Sitting waiting to go into the bath I released my selfish intentions and placed all my time and devotion on this girl. I truly believe that Mary will be able transform her and her life for good. When the time came to enter the bath I was asked to say my prayer intentions. I prayed for her and went down into the water. There are no coincidences and I believe that through the graces I have received, Mary wishes to reach this girl with the help of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Oh and by the way, this girl’s name is also Therese.

___

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: Saint Thérèse dressed as Saint Joan of Arc.

Joachim

Guest post by Br. Gregory Liu, OP.

Just a few days ago, I heard about the death of a brother, a Dominican priest, Fr. Joachim Li, OP who on June 27th, died at the young age of 32. While enjoying his day off at the seaside in Rome, he lost his life successfully rescuing and saving two swimmers from drowning. Fr. Joachim’s heroic death reminded me of the story of his patron saint, St. Joachim Royo, OP, a Dominican missionary martyr in China. As Fr. Joachim gave up his life to save the two swimmers, St. Joachim gave up his life to save the souls of many.

St. Joachim Royo, OP was born around 1691 in Spain. In 1708, he joined the Dominican Order in Valencia. Filled with the zeal to preach the Gospel to the end of the world, he arrived in Manila in 1713. There he finished his studies and was ordained as a priest. St. Joachim arrived in China in the spring of 1715. In the missionary territories of southeastern China, he not only baptized many, but he formed the newly baptized converts into Dominican tertiaries and lay catechists. During the persecution of the early Qing Dynasty, he went into hiding in the wilderness and caves. Only in the cover of the night, was he able to administer sacraments for the faithful. While in prison, he continued his penitential practices, even going as far as asking the prison guards to whiplash him! He finally gave the ultimate witness of faith in Fujian, China in 1748. St. Joachim’s heroic life is just one story out of those of the 108 martyrs in China (33 of which were missionaries), whom we commemorate on July 9.

Even now, there are countless missionaries making all kinds of sacrifices, even risking their lives, so that people may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can you help? First of all, you can pray for them. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote in 1896, to Fr. Adolphe Roulland, MEP, who was about to be sent to Sichuan, China,

“Distance can never separate our souls, even death will only make our union closer. If I go to Heaven soon, I shall ask Jesus’ permission to visit you in Sichuan, and we shall continue our apostolate together. Meanwhile I shall always be united to you by prayer…”

If you hear the Lord’s call to be a missionary yourself and go to Asia, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Brother Gregory Liu, OP serves with the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society, which prepares and sends missionaries to spread the Good News throughout Asia, in the footsteps of the great Jesuit.

Image: 120 Martyrs of China

Charity

O my Jesus, Thou who art very Love, enkindle in my heart that Divine Fire which consumes the Saints and transforms them into Thee.
O Lord our God, we offer Thee our hearts, united in the strongest and most sincere love of brotherhood; we pray that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament may be the daily food of our souls and bodies; that Jesus may be established as the center of our affections, even as He was for Mary and Joseph. Finally, O Lord, may sin never disturb our union on earth; and may we be eternally united in heaven with Thee and Mary and Joseph and with all Thy Saints. Amen.

What do you think of when you see the word “charity”? Is it not works of altruistic love? Mother Teresa said: “The fruit of faith is love, and the fruit of love is service.” Faith without works is dead,1 and so is love. As St. Anthony of Padua declared, “actions speak louder than words.”2 Love is an act of the will. It is impossible to be charitable without an act. Just try it. When you love, you naturally want to do things or to sacrifice for your beloved. In fact, the word “altruism” comes from the Latin alteri, “to the other.”3 To love is to will the good of the other; and the good of the other is always in accordance with the will of God. Thus, to exercise charity is to become Godlike, to live out our baptismal priesthood as an Alter Christus ministering to the children of God. Charity is thus not only what we do, but the essence of who we are; as the hymn goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” St. Augustine says, “When the question is asked whether a man is good, one is not interested in what he believes or what are his hopes, but only what he loves. For beyond any doubt, a man with a right love also has the right faith and hope. But one who has no love, believes in vain, even though what he believes may be the truth.”4 After all, “the devils also believe and tremble.”5 St. Paul tells us that “the true faith of Christ is… faith that works by charity.”6 Therefore, “charity is not merely the supreme virtue… it is further an abiding condition and state without which any knowledge or other term of the Christian life would be impossible.”7

As the Catechism notes, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.”8 When we are charitable, we see Christ in our neighbor, even the most intolerable one. St. Thérèse recounts that a nun whom she found highly annoying asked, “My dear Sister Thérèse, tell me what attraction you find in me, for whenever we meet, you greet me with such a sweet smile.” The saint explains, “Ah! What attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul—Jesus Who maketh sweet even that which is most bitter.” Thérèse tells us, “A heart given to God loses nothing of its natural affection—on the contrary, this affection grows stronger by becoming purer and more spiritual.”9 Charity goes far beyond tolerance. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver wrote,

“Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with other people and their ideas. Most of the time, it’s a very good thing. But it is not an end in itself and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil. The roots of this word are revealing. Tolerance comes from the Latin tolerare, “to bear or sustain,” and tollere, which means “to lift up.” It implies bearing other persons and their beliefs the way we carry a burden or endure a headache. It’s actually a negative idea. And it is not a Christian virtue. Catholics have the duty not to “tolerate” other people but to love them, which is a much more demanding task.”10

“Authentic love is an act of the will. Genuine love has two essential elements: self-sacrifice and commitment. Perfect love is total self-sacrifice and complete commitment.”11 Charity is not a one-off thing – it must be an ongoing part of our lives. As Nicholas Sparks wrote, “Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day.”12

The Catechism continues: Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘makes charity the new commandment.13 By loving His own “to the end,”14 He makes manifest the Father’s love which He receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love.” And again: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”’15 St. Thomas Aquinas understood charity as “the friendship of man for God”, which unites us to God.16 According to Aquinas, charity is an absolute requirement for happiness, which he holds as man’s last goal,17 our telos.18 This is evinced in the Last Judgement account of Matthew 25, where men are judged by their works of mercy.19 As St. John of the Cross says, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” Christ tells us: “If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother; he is a liar. For he that loves not his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he sees not?”20 We Chinese have a saying: 爱屋及乌 – “love for a person extends even to the crows on his roof”. To love God is to love His family. St. Augustine declared, “Extend your love over the whole earth if you desire to love Christ, for Christ’s members are all over the earth.”21

“The love that is caritas is distinguished by its origin, being divinely infused into the soul, and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up. The infused habit of charity increases any will’s natural ability to love. Furthermore, charity is also responsible for a morally good act becoming meritorious, that is, meriting an increase in grace or charity in this life and beatitude in the life to come. Since this refers to the supernatural order, namely, the capacity to share more intensely in the inner life of God through acts of love, it is a gratuitous gift dependent on what God freely deigns to give as a reward for loving Him. Over and above the added intensity a habit like charity imparts to one’s act of love of God, the habit also serves as a lasting mark in the soul, even when it is not eliciting an act of love. Charity indicates that the nature possessing it ‘is formally accepted by God as habitually able to be beatified and that the acts elicited with its help are accepted as meritorious.’ Using St. Augustine’s simile comparing the will to a horse and habitual grace or charity to its rider, Blessed John Duns Scotus explains that the horse is free to throw its rider (destroy charity through mortal sin) or it may not follow the guidance of the rider (and then its actions are not meritorious, but are either indifferent or venially sinful), or, thirdly, it may choose to follow where charity leads (and then its action is meritorious).”22

Professor William May writes:

“According to Aquinas, the principle of our moral-spiritual life is charity or the love of God, whereby we are ordered to Him as our final end. If charity within the person is lost, there is no inner source within the person to repair the harm he has done in sinning. Mortal sin destroys charity or the principle of our moral-spiritual life.”23 The two precepts of charity, to love God and to love our neighbor, constitute the life of the soul. “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’;24 it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice.”25

So, how exactly may we practice charity?

As you well know, St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Charity is patient, is kind: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up; is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never falls away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed.”26

God is love,27 and again, to be charitable is to be Godlike. “[God] is patient and kind; [God] does not envy or boast; [He] is not arrogant or rude. [He] does not insist on [His] own way; [He] is not irritable or resentful; [He] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [God] bears all things…, endures all things. [God] never ends.”28 Here is the template for the Christian life, to love always and everywhere, especially when it is most difficult. The Dominican Fr. Herbert McCabe said, “If you truly love, one day, you will be crucified. If you do not love, you are dead already.” “Christ died out of love for us, while we were still ‘enemies.’ The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.”29

St. Thérèse writes,

I read in St. Matthew: “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.” There are, of course, no enemies in the Carmel; but, after all, we have our natural likes and dislikes. We may feel drawn towards one Sister, and may be tempted to go a long way round to avoid meeting another. Well, Our Lord tells me that this is the Sister to love and pray for, even though her behavior may make me imagine she does not care for me. “If you love them that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them.” And it is not enough to love, we must prove our love; naturally one likes to please a friend, but that is not charity, for sinners do the same.30

Thus, you can see that true charity is not some feel-good thing, but requires strength, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, and often involves doing what you’d rather not do. Peter Kreeft says:

“God is love. And love is not “luv”. “Luv” is nice. Love is not nice. Love is a fire, a hurricane, an earthquake, a volcano, a bolt of lightning. Love is what banged out the Big Bang in the beginning, and love is what went to hell for us on the cross.”31 God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.32

Moreover, charity fulfills and perfects the divine law given in the Ten Commandments.33 We as Christians live no longer merely by negative moral precepts, but by the positive law written in our hearts; in fact, this life of charity present in our hearts is God Himself, the Divine Law-Giver, the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Since God has first loved us,34 love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”35 He continued:

“The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy.”36

Citing John Duns Scotus, the Pope Emeritus observed, “Just as God’s love, God’s charity, was at the origin of all things, so too our eternal happiness will be in love and charity alone: ‘willing, or the loving will, is simply eternal life, blessed and perfect.’”37

“Charity, as St. Paul writes, ‘is not self-seeking’, meaning that it places the common good before its own. So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your own, you may know that you are growing in charity.”38 St. Paul told the Romans, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.”39 “Charity, especially fraternal charity, is opposed to self-love. As it was self-love that originally destroyed the unity of man and the harmony of his powers, so it is charity, made possible to us in Christ, which restores that unity and harmony.”40 Supernatural charity is, “properly speaking, a ‘catholic’ (universal) love”,41 a disinterested love that moves you to act like the Good Samaritan or like Maximilian Kolbe. This is not a vague affection for the mereological sum of humans. Linus said to Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”42 Supernatural charity moves you to sacrifice even for the particular neighbor you can’t stand!

By this time, you may well be frightened at the demands made upon you by charity. But fear not! Mother Teresa said, “If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own power. Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness and your intellectual pride will inhibit His coming to live in your heart because God cannot fill what is already full. It is as simple as that.” To live a life of charity, you must depend completely on God and be nourished by Christ present in the sacraments. Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est,

eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realised. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to ‘be there for’ the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).”43

Moreover, living by love doesn’t mean just pouring it all out on your neighbor; it is also a great charity to accept and express gratitude for their kindnesses to us, no matter how small or clumsy they may seem. Think of a parent allowing a child to help with the cooking, although he might make a mess and get in the way – that’s an image of how God allows us to participate in His great work of redemption, and how we can respond to others. I read somewhere that when you accept help, you’re actually allowing your fellow man to work out his salvation in deeds of grace-filled love. Love is a two-way street.

One final important point. St. Maximus the Confessor reflected that “Charity unites (us) with God and deifies (us).”44 It draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. At the same time, as explained by Professor Wadell, charity “makes us like God, but it does not make us God… it makes us more fully ourselves. If charity made us identical to God, then our friendship with God would be over for we would no longer be the ‘other’ every friendship requires… The likeness to God charity brings is really the most radical individuation.”45 Indeed, Jesus declared that He came that we may have life to the full,46 and St. Irenaeus said that the glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. When we live by charity, God’s kingdom will come and His will shall be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. God love you! Let us pray: “Lord God, living light of eternal love, grant that always aglow with charity, we may love You above all else, and our brethren for Your sake, with one and the self-same love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

____

1 James 2:20.

2 St Anthony of Padua, homily [http://catholicradiodramas.com/saints/a/anthony-of-padua/actions-speak-louder-than-words/] (accessed 12 October 2014).

3 Douglas Harper. Online Etymology Dictionary [http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=altruism] (accessed 12 October 2014).

4 Augustine, Enchiridion De Fide Spe et Caritate. The Newman Press, (Westminster, Maryland, 1952), p. 108.

5 James 2:19.

6 Augustine, op. cit., p. 109, cf. Galatians 5:6.

7 Polycarp Sherwood OSB, STD, St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life; The Four Centuries on Charity. Ancient Christian Writers Volume XXI. The Newman Press (Westminster, Maryland, 1955), p. 92.

8 CCC 1822.

9 St Thérèse, Story of a Soul [http://www.storyofasoul.com/?page_id=18] (accessed 12 October 2014).

10 Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Render Unto Caesar [http://saltandlighttv.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54] (accessed 12 October 2014).

11 Jim Seghers, “The Sacrament of Confirmation” [http://www.totustuus.com/TheSacramentOfConfirmation.pdf] (accessed 11 October 2014).

12 Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding.

13 Cf. John 13:34.

14 John 13:1.

15 John 15:9-10; cf. Matthew 22:40; Romans 13:8-10. CCC 1823.

16 Paul Wadell, “The Christian Life as Friendship with God: What Aquinas Means by Charity” in Friendship and the Moral Life. University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, 1990), p. 120.

17 Ibid., p. 128.

18 Ibid., p. 121.

19 Matthew 25:31-46.

20 1 John 4:20.

21 St Augustine, Sermon on 1 John 10:7.

22 Allan B. Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. CUA Press (Michigan, 1997), pp. 93-94.

23 William E. May, “Sin and the Moral Life”, in An Introduction to Moral Theology. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., (Huntingdon, Indiana, 1994), p. 167.

24 Colossians 3:14.

25 CCC 1827.

26 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

27 1 John 4:16.

28 Aaron Ross, “The 1 Corinthians ‘Love Chapter’ Isn’t Just for Weddings” [http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/1-corinthians-love-chapter-isnt-just-weddings] (accessed 11 October 2014).

29 CCC 1825.

30 St Thérèse, op. cit.

31 Peter Kreeft, “Perfect Fear Casts Out All ‘Luv’”. [http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/fear.htm] (accessed 11 October 2014).

32 John 3:16.

33 Cf. Matthew 5:17.

34 1 John 4:10.

35 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

36 Ibid.

37 Benedict XVI, “John Duns Scotus”, General Audience 7 July 2010 [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100707_en.html] (accessed 11 October 2014). Cf. Gérard Gillmen S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 129.

38 Rule for Monasteries 5:2.

39 Romans 13:8,10.

40 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

41 Gérard Gilleman S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 304.

42 Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts.

43 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

44 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

45 Wadell, op. cit., p. 139.

46 John 10:10.

The Economy of Mercy

If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.

—Luke 17:3–4

Sr. Febronie served as subprioress during Therese’s early years in Carmel. She reproached Therese for teaching the novices that they could go straight to heaven after death, calling this presumption. “My sister, if you desire God’s justice, you will have God’s justice,” Therese answered her. “The soul receives exactly what she looks for from God”…

This conversation took place in 1891. The following January, Febronie was among those who died during the flu epidemic. She appeared to Therese in a dream a short time later. Therese saw Febronie was suffering. She looked as though she was confirming that Therese had been right. She was in purgatory, because she had expected to receive God’s justice rather than his mercy.

Here once more we see the importance of our participation in our sanctification. God even allows us to choose the method by which he will judge us! If we believe he will send us to purgatory because we have not been good enough, then he will. If we trust him to make up for our lack of perfection, he will do that instead.

—Connie Rossini, Trusting God with St. Therese

therese_von_lisieux
St. Therese of Lisieux

God longs to extend His mercy to us. He doesn’t want to have to deal with us in terms of justice instead of mercy. He would rather forgive us than punish us, but sometimes justice is what we choose for ourselves. When we judge others harshly instead of forgiving readily, we adopt an economy of justice. When our motivation to perform good deeds stems from a desire to “earn” our holiness instead of out of love for our neighbor, we are are measuring in terms of justice instead of mercy. When we despair over our weaknesses and feel we can never be good enough, we reject the wideness of God’s mercy and cling to justice instead. When we compare ourselves to others, wonder why we have more or less or different gifts than anyone else, and wish we could even out the scales, we are choosing to operate under a prevailing sense of justice.

But fixating on justice alone will not get us to heaven. Jesus didn’t die on the Cross because it was just; He did it out of pure, boundless love for us, love that defied justice. Unless we cultivate a sense of mercy, then we are asking for harsh treatment. Jesus wants better for us. He wants us to trust Him so greatly and to be so sure of His great mercy that we don’t despair in our sinfulness but rather call on Him right away to cover our faults. There is no sin too great for His mercy. He wants to swoop in and rescue us, but sometimes we push Him away out of pride. Once we acknowledge that we can’t do it ourselves, that we would be crushed by an economy of justice, then we can begin to embrace His economy of mercy. And when we understand the incredible gift of God’s mercy, we will be able to demonstrate it to others, joyfully forgiving again and again and again.

The Good News About Suffering

We are surrounded by human suffering. Many people are hurting in today’s world. Some suffering is horrific and some minor, but every kind can be soothed, and even removed, by trusting in God’s infinite Love and Mercy. Furthermore, God desires for us to become images of His Love and Mercy and to play a role in the alleviation of the suffering of others.

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

God brings good out of all situations for those who love Him. Nothing on our planet has happened, is happening, or will happen without God’s allowance. And He would not allow something to occur if He could not use the situation for our good.
Sometimes, we who have our tiny perspective of the world, history, and even our own life, forget this. We forget that God has the bird’s eye view of every human’s life and desires all to find fulfillment in Himself. We lose sight of the fact that He understands that there is nothing in our existence worth more than this fulfillment and that even our temporal suffering is worth it if it helps us to our Salvation.
So does God hurt us to save us? No, He allows us to be hurt to save us, seeing the pain we experience infinitely less important than our salvation. Our pains come from ourselves, other humans, or the world around us, which has been broken by the first humans and many more thereafter.
Humanity was created with, by, in, and for Love, to be Loved and to Love. However, love cannot be forced. It must be freely given and accepted or we would be merely programmed robots instead of free humans who can choose and therefore Love. So, with the freedom to choose comes the freedom to be wrong, and with the wrong choice comes the undesired outcome, which will bring with it some level of pain as proportionate to the choice.
God is Love. He knows us. He knows what we can take and what would be too much for us.

“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

God is faithful and will not let us be tried beyond our strength. In the Gospel, Jesus asks what father would give his son a snake when the son asks for a fish, or a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread. God is a Good Father. Sometimes it might seem to us like He is giving us stones and snakes, but in reality we are getting bread and fish.
God wants to give us every desire of our hearts, but we have tarnished hearts filled with desires that could keep us from God and Salvation. Therefore, God might need to change our hearts, redirect them, in order to satisfy us completely. Anxiety, sadness, pain, discomfort, death, all these remind us of our human nature and need for God.
This humble remembrance of our humanity allows us to approach God in the way we ought. In return, He provides for us in all of our necessities. Keeping this in mind, we can live each day in the satisfaction that God will provide for us today and in the future. We can be at peace with the truth that we already posses, in a way, all that we need, because we know that God will provide it.
Suffering is a difficult aspect of the human condition. It has caused many to walk away from the Faith and seek consolation in other things. However, it is only through God that we can overcome suffering.
My favorite example of this is found with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was able to transform suffering with love. She understood the value of her suffering in the currency of souls saved. Furthermore, she loved God and souls so much that she said she could no longer suffer as she fully grasped the true meaning behind it.
Likewise, Jesus said to St. Faustina, “accept all sufferings with love”. By keeping these words of Our Lord to heart, we can find in our suffering opportunities to grow in virtue and open the floodgates of grace into our lives. This grace will not leave us unchanged. But first, we must change our approach and our attitude toward suffering, and in particular, our approach and attitude toward the daily grind of our lives.

“If you wish to feel and to have an attraction for suffering, you are in search of your own consolation, for when we love anything, pain disappears.”
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

How to be Happy

What is this existence within which we humans find ourselves? Every morning we wake up and perceive the world through our senses. A perception onto which we put all of our memories to establish what we might call our point of view, one that might differ from the point of view of another. However, we humans all live in the same world, made up of similar material with a similar shape, and for the most part, want the same thing. Every human being wants to be happy.

We can be as different from each other as Voldemort differs from Emma Watson, but the fact is, even if one finds it in different ways, everyone desires happiness. There are only positive connotations with the word “happy”. Besides in a fit of hyperbole, no one claims to want a life without it. But what is this common treasure that all seek?

What Happiness Isn’t

There are a few false notions of happiness in the world today that should be pointed out to help clear our trajectory. Some would put forward the utilitarian definition that misidentifies happiness as sensual pleasure.  They would say that we must seek pleasure and avoid pain at all times, even at the expense of others, to find happiness. If this were true, what a pitiful state we would all be in! How fleeting!

While delight is an accident of happiness and pleasure might correspond with happiness, it would be impossible to remain happy if one was only happy when pleasure was experienced. First, pleasure, as well as all experiences that come to us through the senses, cannot last, and therefore, happiness would not last. Second, as great as pleasure can be at times, it cannot satisfy as happiness does. Pleasure remains on the surface and can be distinguished from the satisfaction it might accompany, yet differs from. The quenching of thirst found in drinking water might feel pleasurable, but that pleasure is only an added bonus, not the satisfaction we seek when we are thirsty.

Furthermore, if happiness is only found in pleasure then why do those who chase after pleasure the most, i.e. addicts, seem the most miserable? Unless their addiction is met, they might never be happy. Furthermore, we have the happiness of those who seek happiness outside of sensual pleasure to counter this.

There have been stories of many saints in various instances of suffering who have remained, and sometimes increased, in a state happiness. Whether it was St. Lawrence’s jovial manner while being filleted alive, St. Therese of Lisiuex’s excitement at the possibility of death, or the prime witness of the joy and happiness of St. John Paul II who knew suffering better than most, the saints show us the transcending quality of true happiness. There is no substitute or reduction that can replace it.

Happiness of the Saints

The saints show us with their lives that happiness is more than what the world offers and is possible to obtain. Thankfully, many holy and happy saints have left us with directions to find what they did.

1. St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us, “Those who love God are always happy.” As the patron saint of confessors, we can assume that the Italian saint of the 18th century knew the human condition well. One can say that those who love God desire to please Him and do His will.

2. St. John Vianney  similarly states, “To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth.” He goes on to explain, “Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness”  Prayer, love, and a pure heart. The patron saint of priests, who usually only ate 1-2 boiled potatoes a day, proves to us that man cannot live on bread alone and that happiness transcends the mundane.

3. St. Josemaria Escriva points out the source of the opposite of happiness: “Sadness is the end product of selfishness. If we truly want to live for God, we will never lack cheerfulness, even when we discover our errors and wretchedness. Cheerfulness finds its way into our life of prayer, so much so that we cannot help singing for joy. For we are in love, and singing is a thing that lovers do.”

4. “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day. -St. Gianna Molla

A beautiful reminder for us to live in gratitude. There are always good reason to be thankful.

5. St. John Paul II teaches us, “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But He asks you to trust Him.” We are meant to be happy, but happy through Jesus. Sometimes, to give us this great happiness, He leads us to step out of our comfort zones.

5 Steps towards Happiness

Keeping in mind the wise words of the Saints shared above, we can take certain steps to not win happiness for ourselves, but form and dispose ourselves to receive great Happiness from God. A few I have in mind are:

  1. Prayer. Yeah, I know, duh. I actually left my computer in a room alone with a monkey and he typed this. But really, it’s a good reminder. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is like oxygen for the soul”. We need it to feed ourselves spiritually, to shape ourselves and grow in our relationship with God. A relationship without which it is impossible to be happy. And of course this includes frequenting the Sacraments.
  2. Putting others First. There is a great acronym for the word, JOY, that tells us that you can find Joy through prioritizing Jesus, Others, Yourself. Some might find this cheesy, but it still helps to remind us that we find ourselves and our happiness by serving others. It is an age old paradox, one best explained throughout St. John Paul II’s teachings as he reminds us of the peace and fulfillment we can find when we make “a sincere gift of self”.
  3. Avoid Sin. Another way of articulating this is to keep God’s Law. Psalm 8:32 tells us, “happy are they who keep my ways”. This is because God made us to live a certain way, and when we fail to follow the instructions, we cannot find the fulfillment we desire. Furthermore, in this way sin weighs us down and in some cases breaks. While some venial sins might still plague us, we are able to stay in the state of grace and never mortally sin again!
  4. Practice Heroic Virtue. The opposite of sin! We can see that avoiding sin would merely be the bare minimum. We want to be as happy as the saints. In this endeavor, it is good to know that in the process of declaring one worthy of canonization, a committee first looks at the life of the person to see if he or she lived a life of heroic virtue. If they pass this test, they are declared Venerable and only two miracles stand in their way of Canonization. We can find outrageous joy in pushing ourselves to always choose to be just, meek, temperament, fortitudinous, and prudent.
  5. Hope. Even when we fail at some of these steps, we can keep our peace through hope. God is always seeking our friendship. Therefore, we always have reason to hope. The wise Fr. Jacques Phillipe teaches that we can keep our peace, even after a great mistake, by telling God the following:

1. I am sorry for what I’ve done.

2. Thank you for not letting it be worse.

3. Please help me to do better next time.

While happiness on earth will always lack that final satisfaction that only eternity with God can satisfy, it can still serve it’s purpose of leading ourselves and others closer to God while we are here. I know there are many other steps that can be taken to find happiness in this life. What are some ways you find happiness on earth today?

Your Vocation Is To Love

I’ve noticed that so many young Catholics have an inordinate amount anxiety about their vocations. I definitely put myself into this category. When I understood that my vocation was to the married life, it felt like I spent every waking moment worrying about it. Was this particular person “The One”? Was this other particular person “The One” but we messed it up somehow?  Did I have the necessary virtues to be the best Catholic wife I could be? Where did I need to improve? What else did I need to learn?

I spent so many sleepless nights thinking about these big, important things. “God,” I would say, “this is the most critical decision of my life. This is what You have called me to do when You knit me together in my mother’s womb. So why are You making it so confusing and hard!?”

It was so frustrating to me at times to wrestle with questions of my vocation and to hear radio silence from God about it. Or, even worse, to decide to go down one path that I was sure was His will only to have it end for one reason or another. It gave me so much grief that God was making this all so difficult when all I wanted was to live the life to which He had called me. I would come to my spiritual director with the same worries and frustrations month after month. He would always just smile and remind me of the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “My vocation is love”

We must, indeed, remember that our primary vocation in this life is to love. I had missed that point entirely early on in my discernment and still sometimes do in my daily life. Marriage or the religious life are secondary vocations – but first and foremost is the commandment to love God and others. When I took this to heart, I realized that I needed to stop worrying about my vocation and how it would unfold. I needed to stop questioning God about it and having faith in His timing and His ways. To love Him, to love others, and to give myself to those who needed me the most right now in the present moment. And He would take care of my secondary vocation when the time was right.

So young friends, stop worrying incessantly about discerning your vocations. Stop trying to “figure it all out”. Stop running yourselves ragged. God is not trying to hide His will from you nor is He intentionally making it confusing or difficult. It is all so very simple: just love those whom He has put in your life today. That is all He asks of you. And He will take care of everything else.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” – Matthew 6:25

 

The Little Way of Advent — a Book Review

Looking ahead, Advent begins in less than a month, so now’s a good time to prepare for how you will prepare.

Just in time for this preparation is Fr. Gary Caster’s new book The Little Way of Advent: Meditations in the Spirit of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Fr. Caster, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria and the Catholic chaplain at Williams College in Massachusetts, is also the author of The Little Way of Lent and Mary: In Her Own WordsPersonally, I was already a fan of Fr. Caster’s writing, and in a spirit of full disclosure I should confess that he was my college chaplain, and I eagerly anticipated his latest book.  Yet even with my high expectations he did not disappoint.

I have used several Advent companions over the years, including the special editions of the Magnificat.  Hands down The Little Way of Advent is the best one I’ve used and I strongly recommend it.  Our secular culture and even other Christians are so passionate about celebrating Christmas the minute Thanksgiving dinner is over and ending it at 11:59 pm on December 25th; I think every Catholic trying to live the liturgical seasons can benefit from this guide to Advent.

Much like The Little Way of Lent, Fr. Caster’s newest book includes a meditation for every day of the liturgical season, each beginning with the day’s Mass readings and ending with a quote from St. Therese.  The meditations are all based on the Scripture readings for the day and therefore encourage you to read your Bible so you can make the most out of every reflection.  The quotes from St. Therese encapsulate the theme of each meditation and can be tucked into your memory, to be pondered and prayed throughout the day.

 In Fr. Caster’s introduction he points out that Therese took the religious name “Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face” and his coupling of her spirituality with Advent is a natural fit.  He uses Therese’s insights into the Babe born in a manger and redemptive suffering to bring new depth and fresh insights to the Bible passages that lead us to Christmas Day.

Fr. Caster also uses the meditations to present the Gospel message.  It may seem obvious that the people reading a book on Advent meditations would be familiar with the Gospel, but Fr. Caster presents it again, each chapter building on what we’ve already considered.

As he leads us to Christmas, he beautifully reminds us that God loves us, and that His love for us is vast, passionate, and unconditional.  We are reminded that Christ came to save us and to reunite us with God the Father.  We are shown that a Christian’s life is filled with joy, hope, and peace.

In The Little Way of Advent Fr. Caster writes, “St. Therese knew that her life was of biblical significance… Every town, every human heart, has become a place for the ruler of Israel to be born.  There is a hill country to which each one of us must make haste.”  All of this builds our anticipation for Christmas and encourages us to truly live the season – to prepare for the Coming of Christ.

Features of book that I especially like are:

– There is a different meditation for each Sunday of the three-year cycle of Mass readings.

– Special meditations written for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

– Meditations for all the Christmas Masses, Vigil, Midnight, Dawn, and Day.

– The book takes you not only through Advent but through the Season of Christmas, including Epiphany and the Baptism of Our Lord.

– Each meditation is around five paragraphs in length, making it easy to read through and retain throughout the day.

Fr. Caster’s The Little Way of Advent: Meditations in the Spirit of St. Therese of Lisieux is available in paperback through Servant Press and costs $12.99

“Once the light of God’s love dawns within our hearts, we too must be heralds of the good news the angels announced and custodians of the events the shepherds made known” (from the meditation for “Christmas Mass at Dawn).

Suffering and the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood

Yesterday the Catholic Church celebrated the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, a lovable little saint whose example of humility and abandonment is a reminder of the strength that can be found when we embrace the limits of our human nature and place all our hope and trust in God who is “more tender than a Mother.”

Humility is nothing more than recognizing the truth of who we are as human beings. Namely, that we are children of a good and gracious God. And children is precisely what God has called us to be like:

“He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Mt. 18:2-3

This was the basis for Little Flower’s “little way.” Little children are so small and weak that they depend on their parents for absolutely everything. To become child-like, then, is not to be childish, but to accept weakness and vulnerability in order to be strengthened by the power of Christ:

“My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness. I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinth 12:9

Thérèse lived this out in every aspect of her life, but it was especially evident in her approach to suffering.  What Thérèse understood, perhaps more than any other soul in modern history, is the infinite love that God has for each one of us, regardless of his or her physical capabilities or situation in life, and that this love alone is what gives value and meaning to every human life.

Afflicted with tuberculosis at a young age, a disease which not only caused her much physical pain, but also crushed her dreams of ever becoming active in the foreign missions. However, St. Thérèse did not allow such afflictions to also crush her spirit. Instead, she threw herself into the open arms of suffering and persevered under trial for the sake of God’s love and for the salvation of souls.

Certainly God does not will suffering, which is a consequence of Original Sin. But in His infinite love and desire for souls He makes use of everything, including sickness, poverty, even our own failings so that we may grow closer to Him.

Sadly, we live in a world that would rather destroy human life in an effort to overcome human weakness than discover the spiritual benefits and inner strength that can be gained through suffering. Suffering, more than evil, is seen as the worst thing there is, so much so that people will commit evil acts in an attempt to avoid it, often under the pretext of mercy and compassion. A woman with an unwanted pregnancy doesn’t want the “burden” of a child; sick people want cures for what ails them, even at the cost of nascent human life, or they want to be put out of their misery altogether, etc…

Suffering should be remedied whenever possible, but it is a part of life. A culture that expects life to be lived to its fullness must be able to embrace and make peace with—even find joy in—the normalcy of human suffering. Thus, our task as Christians is to show the world it’s folly by imitating the example of saints like little Therese who took Christ’s words seriously (Mt. 16:24, Lk. 9:23) and, like St. Paul (2 Corinth 12:10), was content in her weakness and rejoiced in her suffering.

The crosses that we carry are our keys to heaven, if we let them be, because they purify us (1 Peter 1:6-9) and produce perseverance (James 1:2-4). They remind us that we are creatures and totally dependent on God. They teach us humility and self denial so that the power of Christ may more easily dwell in us (2 Corinth 12:9-10).

Therese’s own words:

O Jesus, Your little bird is happy to be weak and little.  What would become of it if it were big?  Never would it have the boldness to appear in Your presence, to fall asleep in front of You.

Oh Jesus! why can’t I tell all little souls how unspeakable is Your condescension?…But why do I desire to communicate Your secrets of Love, O Jesus, for was it not You alone who taught them to me, and can You not reveal them to others? Yes, I know it, and I beg You to do it. I beg You to cast Your Divine glance upon a great number of little souls. I beg You to choose a legion of little Victims worthy of Your LOVE! (Story of a Soul, Manuscript B)