SAINT THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX, Doctor of the Church, states in the spiritual classic The Story of a Soul, “O my God, your love has gone before me, and it has grown with me, and now it is an abyss whose depths I cannot fathom.” God’s love had captivated Thérèse ever since she received a special grace of conversion one Christmas as a child. Recalling that event, she writes, “I felt charity enter into my soul, and the need to forget myself and to please others.” Later, in a poem, Thérèse would declare, “You alone, O Jesus, could satisfy a soul that needed to love even to the infinite.”
But isn’t this the vocation of every human heart? Yet, as Thérèse laments in her autobiography, “On every side this love is unknown, rejected; those hearts upon whom you would lavish it turn to creatures; they do this instead of throwing themselves into your arms and of accepting your infinite love.” In fact, even “among his own disciples Jesus finds few hearts who surrender to him without reservations, who understand the real tenderness of his infinite love.”
Bold confidence before imperfections
One reason for our lack of surrender to God’s love is the “scandal” we feel over our own imperfection. Thérèse admits, “I understood how easy it is to become all wrapped up in self, forgetting entirely the sublime goal of one’s calling.” But the fact is that “God does not call those who are worthy but those whom he pleases.” Living and giving God’s infinite love begins from embracing this truth. “There is always present to my mind the remembrance of what I am,” says Thérèse. And that awareness of her real limitation only leads Thérèse to greater confidence.With unmatched authority she claims:
“God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections.”
“I am astonished at nothing. I am not disturbed at seeing myself weakness itself. On the contrary, it is in my weakness that I glory, and I expect each day to discover new imperfections in myself.”
“I always feel the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint because I don’t count on my merits since I have none, but I trust in him who is Virtue and Holiness. God alone, content with my weak efforts, will raise me to himself and make me a saint.”
Since, “perfection consists in doing God’s will, in being what he wills us to be,” the life of faith consists in uniting ourselves to that divine will. To this end, “it is prayer, it is sacrifice which give me all my strength,” counsels Thérèse. “These are the invincible weapons which Jesus has given me.” Love acts
“We can do no good when we seek our self.” Thus, it is a waste of time to attempt to measure ourselves or to chart our spiritual progress. For “the more one advances, the more one sees the goal is still far off. And now I am simply resigned to see myself always imperfect and in this I find my joy.” Even if it takes a long time, for “God made me understand that there are souls for whom his mercy never tires of waiting.” The desire we cherish is key: “God has always given me what I desire or rather he has made me desire what he wants to give me”; “I know that Jesus would not inspire the longings I feel unless he wanted to grant them.”“A soul that is burning with love cannot remain inactive.” The experience of God’s mercy to us in our weakness moves us to love others. “I understand now that charity consists in bearing with the faults of others, in not being surprised at their weakness, in being edified by the smallest acts of virtue we see them practice.” Our natural limitation when it comes to loving can no longer be an alibi, for we have been given something supernatural: “It is no longer a question of loving one’s neighbor as oneself but of loving him as he, Jesus, has loved him.” So we join in the intention of Saint Thérèse: “I ask Jesus to draw me into the flames of his love, to unite me so closely to him that he live and act in me.” He will.
Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P.