Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Oct. 1, 2014 Wednesday: St. Therese of Lisieux

We asked ourselves the question “What does ‘becoming a little child again’ mean?” After referring to humility, we spoke of trust, the most fundamental characteristic of the “littleness” of the Gospel. Thérèse talks about it a lot. Her insistence on the importance of trust is based on her rediscovery of God as Father. At a time when people placed enormous stress on God’s severity and justice, when traces of Jansenism were still very evident in Catholic thinking, this rediscovery of the face of God as a merciful Father was badly needed. Obviously, it’s not possible to set God’s justice in opposition to his mercy or to get rid of the notion of justice, but Thérèse rediscovered a true understanding of these divine attributes. This is what she said about God’s justice in one of her letters, 1 quoting Psalm 103 (8– 14):
I know that the Lord is infinitely just and it is that justice, which terrifies so many souls, that is the reason for my joy and trust. Being just does not only mean exercising severity to punish the guilty, it also means recognizing upright intentions and rewarding virtue. I hope for as much from God’s justice as from his mercy. It is because he is just that “he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love … for he knows our weakness, he remembers that we are dust. … As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities us.” 

God is not scandalized by our weaknesses. Provided he finds in us good will and trust, we can be

certain of pleasing him. Many passages very beautifully illustrate how Thérèse saw God as Father—“ It is so sweet to call God our Father!” — and what a great light this was for her whole life. This rediscovery was greatly facilitated by her experience of family life. Her own father was an exceptional man, with whom she had a wonderful father-daughter relationship. Not all of us are lucky enough to have a father like Louis Martin. We may have had very difficult relationships with our fathers involving indifference, neglect, or excessive harshness. And it must be said that being a father and finding the right way to act in this difficult but marvelous vocation isn’t easy. Fathers are often weak, wounded people; as a result, their children are too. But in our relationship with God— in prayer , in the discovery of his fatherly love—we can little by little find deep healing. I think this privileged access to God as Father is one of the main fruits of prayer, particularly mental prayer, silent prayer.

This filial relationship with God, expressed and deepened especially in prayer, is not always easy to develop today. It is not obvious how to live as little children in such a pitiless, competitive world. We must be adult, able sometimes to fight, while still keeping a child’s heart which rests in God and abandons itself to him. He will certainly know how to defend us. He is our Father, and he is faithful. All too often we get agitated instead of relying trustingly on God. This work of restoring trust in our hearts is an essential aspect of the spiritual life. Wounded by original sin, our hearts are riddled with fears and doubts. It takes time to be cured of them. Maybe that will never happen completely in this life, but we can nevertheless make great strides in trusting more.

If we lack trust, it’s often because we do not nourish ourselves enough on God’s Word. Everyone who has frequent and assiduous recourse to Scripture has had the experience of one day being troubled or discouraged when a verse of Scripture touched her, restored her trust and brought peace to her heart once again. Holy Scripture is one of the richest, most beautiful, and most effective resources at our disposal. It possesses a power and authority no human words can have, and it can do much to nurture our trust in God. (That presupposes, of course, that we persevere in reading and praying about God’s Word.)

Another thing that increases our trust is to make acts of faith. Faith grows when it is exercised. What is an act of faith? It’s very simple. We are tempted to worry, for instance, because we’re going to have major surgery in two weeks, or one of our children is going through a difficult time. We say to our Lord, “I trust you. I leave this situation in your hands, and I know you’ll look after it.” There are thousands of examples like that. I am a great believer in the effectiveness of acts of faith. We’re not talking here about a magic wand that makes every problem disappear. But those little choices of trust and faith will bear fruit sooner or later. It may be only in ten or twenty years’ time; that doesn’t matter. I love the Gospel image of the grain of mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when sown in the ground it grows up into almost a tree. All those acts of faith that may seem sterile, with no immediate results that we can see, are like seeds. Those seeds will unfailingly bear fruit in due course. It doesn’t matter whether in five minutes or ten years: let’s allow God’s wisdom to work.

- Fr. Philippe, Jacques. The Way of Trust and Love - A Retreat Guided by St. Therese of Lisieux, Scepter Publishers.