First Friday of the Month
“In order to belong to Jesus,” says our dear “Little Therese,” “ we must be little, but there are few souls who aspire to remain in that littleness. ” Elsewhere: “In order to enjoy the merciful love of Jesus, it is necessary to humiliate ourselves, to acknowledge our nothingness, and this is a thing which many are unwilling to do.” Little to a certain point, they are dissatisfied with dragging on in that condition, constantly meeting the same difficulties and struggles, relapsing into the same faults or imperfections [no longer a question of mortal sin and not even of venial sin], and remaining always poor and powerless. Therefore, to those who were afraid of being judged imperfect, she declared: “That they find you imperfect is precisely what you need. That is a real blessing, for you can then practice humility which consists not only in thinking and saying that you are full of faults, but in rejoicing because others think and say the same thing about you.”
It might be objected that there is danger in such an attitude, for if it is proper to accept ourselves as imperfect at the beginning of the spiritual life, we might have to regret that we are still in that imperfect condition after many years and especially at the end of our life. Our “Little Therese,” however, had not such fear and she wished to have humility practiced to that very point. She knew that the more we advance on the road to perfection, the further away we seem from its end. Hence, she was satisfied when she recognized her own imperfection. “She even found delight in it…. My peace consists in remaining small; hence, when I fall on the road I can quickly rise again, and Jesus takes me by the hand.”
One day – it was during her last illness – some object had been brought to her that was more of a nature to distract her than to help her recollection. She refused it; but after a moment’s reflection, she corrected herself and said to the sister: “I beg your pardon; I acted from a natural impulse.” And a little later, she added: “How happy I am to see that I am imperfect and that I am need of God’s mercy at the hour of my death!” Admirable words, for how many are willing to accept their imperfection which so much serenity at that supreme moment? They are not even willing to accept it during the course of their life. They imagine that it would be more profitable for their soul if they were not hindered by their wretchedness, and if, on the contrary, they could tend Godwards with even regular steps and with a free and detached heart. Indeed, it is painful to be constantly confronted with our miseries. But, if God considers it right to leave them with us, is it right for us to complain? Does He not know better than we do what things are profitable to our soul?
These repeated falls, moreover, are often necessary to make us know ourselves better, to convince us of our need of divine help, and teach us humility of heart. On the other hand, as long as those falls displease us, they cannot do us harm. If, on their occasion, we turn to God with a confidence that is proportionate to our misery, they will be a source of progress for us.
We ought then to understand that it is precisely our weakness that will serve to give us strength. “It is my weakness that gives me confidence,” Therese likes to repeat, recalling St. Paul (2 Cor. 12.20). It is because God sees our weakness, our incapacity and wretchedness, and especially because He wants us to acknowledge and love our littleness and misery that He comes to our assistance. “God,” Therese declares, “ wants humility of heart.” If we were stronger, we would not need His help. But when He sees that we are convinced of our nothingness, that we love our wretchedness and appeal to Him, He stoops towards us and “gives with divine generosity.”
Some might object, ‘Why must we love this state of imperfection?’ Is it not enough that we acknowledge and accept it? No! It is not enough to acknowledge the truth. We must also love it. We have a perfect grasp of truth only when we love to see ourselves as we truly are in God’s sight. Moreover, we do not love the state of imperfection for its own sake. We love it because it disposes us for God’s merciful action in our soul. “The thing that pleases Jesus when He beholds my soul,” wrote Therese, “is that I love my littleness and my poverty and have a blind hope in His mercy.”
God wants us to acknowledge that we receive everything from His mercy. He glories in fashioning Saints from the clay of poor creatures like us. “The God of strength loves to show His power by making use of nothing.” He desires, says St. Paul, to show in the ages to come the abundant riches of His grace, in His bounty towards us in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2.7).
Let us, then, accept our wretched condition. “Let us humbly take our place among the imperfect. Let us consider ourselves little and in need of God’s support at every instant. As soon as He sees that we are truly convinced of our nothingness, He extends His hand to us. If we are still trying to do something great, even under the pretext of zeal, our good Lord Jesus leaves us alone.”
In order to make us bear our misery with greater facility, Therese, with the true spirit of Carmel, counseled that we keep our eyes fixed principally on Jesus and refrain from looking fixedly at our imperfections. “When we see that we are wretched, we no longer wish look at ourselves but we gaze at our only Beloved.” Elsewhere: “We have merely to love Him, without looking at ourselves, without examining our faults too much.” For, “if you are nothing, do not forget that Jesus is All. Hence, lose your little nothingness in His infinite All and think only of that All, Who alone is lovable.” Here, then, is a truly efficacious remedy and it has the additional advantage of lifting up our soul while disengaging it. It is a Carmelite recipe, for Therese repeats the teaching of our holy Father John of the Cross who urges us to leave everything behind and to turn lovingly towards God when we meet with difficulties and temptations. Our holy Mother Teresa of Jesus like gave the advice that one should rather contemplate God’s infinite greatness than fix one’s eyes on one’s wretchedness…. (to be continued).
3rd October 2013
Feast of Our Dear “Little Therese”