A perfect morning…not yet

Have you ever had a perfect morning?

My husband and I are leaving for Germany in a few days, but I know it won’t be the same as that very first time about 30 years ago.

We were in Bavaria, surrounded by mountains still frosted with snowcaps. My husband and son were climbing up to a nearby castle. But, I stayed behind to rest on a bench beside the most beautiful lake I had ever seen.  Shades of aquamarine, emerald and deep ocean blue overlapped one another, like jewels glistening in the sunlight.

Tourists of all ages strolled beside the lake. I especially noticed the pink-cheeked children giggling and chasing each other past patches of gloriously painted wildflowers. I still remember the powder blue butterfly who fluttered nearby. I stared at it, having never before seen a living butterfly of clear blue. The sky overhead was blue too, radiantly blue.

The clean mountain air was invigorating and cleansing. I felt so alert and alive, and so enchanted by the beauty of nature which surrounded me. I imagined I was a character in a Grimm’s fairytale.

Although I have had many beautiful moments in my life, for some reason, God chose this particular one to more vividly impress upon me how all of earth’s joys are so fleeting. I wanted to keep that beautiful morning of the bejeweled lake and the beauty and peace which surrounded it. But I couldn’t. I had to leave, and all that remained was the memory.

Is it not true that when we experience beauty, joy, love, peace, laughter, or any of the good things of life, that we want to hold onto them…almost make them a part of us, so that we might never be without them? But, it is one of the great sorrows of life that “all good things must come to an end.”

Still, there is hope in that truth, and there is deep longing, for one day, there will be no end to our joy. Indeed, we will possess supreme happiness in absolute fullness. We will be unable to contain more, and we will never lose what we possess.

God has strewn our lives with little moments of heaven….in our child’s eyes, our spouse’s embrace, the love of a parent, a friend’s laughter, and even my morning by the fairytale lake. We taste, but we cannot consume the joys of life on earth. We cannot become “one” with them.

But even if we could……  Imagine if we could possess all at once every moment which has ever touched our souls…that in a sense, we could be one with all that has brought us joy and love in life.  We would no doubt be very happy, but we would not yet be perfectly happy.

God could have given us hearts which would have been satisfied with the beauty of creation and the love of creatures.

But Infinite Love longed to be Himself the Fullfilment of all our desires.  God would not have us content with even His most sublime creations.  He bestowed upon us the immense dignity of having souls made for no less than unending union with the Most Holy Trinity.

Such glory seems almost beyond belief.  I know that for me, there are days when Heaven seems so far away…even something like a fairytale of sorts.  Surely it is not possible to be endlessly happy, to be infinitely loved by the very One Who is Love?

But why this longing in my soul for that very thing?  A perfect “morning” that will never, ever end?  A perfect Someone to belong to forever in the most complete union possible.

Love never comes to an end…..
Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now, I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.
(I Corinthians 13:8,12) NJB

Jesus said, “I thirst.”  It is impossible for us to exaggerate the infinite longing in the Heart of God to possess each one of us, nor His yearning to be possessed in turn by you and by me.

And, it will never end, for Jesus promised: ... but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.  (John 16:22) NJB

And so I am returning to Germany to make more happy memories. But a perfect morning? Only on the eternal shore…

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Uncle Johnny’s lesson….

I didn’t know Uncle Johnny very well.  He had a stroke before I was born, and lost his capacity to speak.  He lived in the garage apartment on his sister’s property, and she lovingly cared for him.

To my sisters and me he was a curiosity, and we used to sit on the garage steps and watch him roll tobacco into white papers, making his own cigarettes, and sometimes his eyes would smile kindly at us.  That, and the fact that he dragged his right leg when he walked are really all I remember about him….except for his funeral.

I was about ten when he died, and his funeral was the first one I had ever attended.  I can still remember that it was a bright sunny day with clear blue skies.  I was struck by the contrast of nature’s beauty and the sorrow of my aunt .  I gathered with my family, and the few others in attendance and stood around the grave, covered with a green tarp, while the priest said prayers and sprinkled holy water.

My mind wandered off, trying to grasp that Uncle Johnny was gone forever from the earth.  I thought of how the rest of us would go on with our lives, but he wouldn’t be there anymore.  It seemed so impossible to my young mind.  How could someone I had always known really be gone?

It was my first encounter with the reality of death, and I have never forgotten it.  People die; life goes on.  Then, most people forget about you, and sooner or later, everyone does.

The year after Uncle Johnny died, Aunt Anna died of leukemia at age twenty-seven.  She left behind a husband and two babies.  They buried her in her wedding dress, and everyone cried.  But life went on.  Her husband remarried a few years later; her children couldn’t even remember her.

I often return to these thoughts when someone “important” dies.  Celebrity, accomplishments, power, wealth, all remain behind.  Death is the great equalizer.

God tells us as much:   What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  James 4:14

When Steve Jobs and Christopher Hitchens recently died within months of each other, I found myself pondering their lives….and their deaths.  Jobs was an agnostic, and Hitchens, a militant atheist.  Does anything else really matter now?
 
The media has long since moved on to more timely matters.  The accolades of friends and admirers have descended to a whisper.  Jobs and Hitchens, like Uncle Johnny, have left our world.
 
Where are they now?  That is all that really matters for any of us.
 
This life we have been given….it is such a gift, such a grace, such an opportunity from Our Heavenly Father through Our Lord Jesus Christ!  We have only this infinitesimal moment in time to love and thank Him on earth, to help others to know and love Him, to fall on our knees in prayer and worship, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to dry the tears of our neighbor, to give them food for their body or their soul, to offer a hand or a hug.  Simply to love….God first, and then everyone without exception.
 
All of life can be reduced to that moment at life’s end, when God will gaze deeply into our souls and He Who is Truth will see us as we really are….and there will be no place to hide.
 
And who we have been in the world and what we have accomplished or the power and wealth we have accumulated will only serve to make us even more accountable for having used these gifts for loving God and neighbor.
 
Eternal Father, grant me the grace of cherishing every moment of my life as a gift to return to You, filled with whatever will most please Your Divine Heart.  Let me not waste the precious gift of time this life on earth is.  Draw me into Your Loving Gaze that I may always be united to You, always lost in You, even when my poor mind must be occupied with other duties.  Call to me when the gleam of this world’s distractions captures my eye. Shelter me within Your Very Being until that day when nothing can ever separate me from You again.  Grant that I may love you forever…
 
Uncle Johnny wasn’t rich or powerful, and hardly anyone knew him.  But I wonder what God thought about smiling eyes and Uncle Johnny’s lesson.

“O Eternal Word, my Savior, You are the Eagle I love……”

Therese at 15 years old.

Today is Therese’s Feast Day, and as the sun sets where I live, still gently casting light through the trees in the woods behind my house, I think of how much Therese loved nature, and of how everything reminded her of God.

She once remarked, “I don’t think I have ever gone more than three minutes without thinking of Him.” An amazing statement, and she was not yet a nun.

There is no denying that Therese is a superstar among Saints. I would dare to say that more has been written about her than perhaps any other Saint who passed our way. Her statues abound in churches throughout the world — even in places like Russia. We are all familiar with the countless holy cards and novenas bearing her image.

Therese herself knew it would be so. In spite of the night of faith she dwelled in during her last 18 months on earth, she once told her sister, Mother Agnes: I know full well that everyone will love me.

Earlier in her life she had said, I feel that I was born for glory. I would like to become a great Saint.

But I doubt that even Therese ever dreamed of the “Storm of Glory,” that her Beloved Jesus was preparing for her.

Why do we love Therese so much? What IS it about her?

Here we have a Saint born into a family of means, surrounded by love from her first memories, possessed of an attractive appearance and exceptional intelligence, who while prodigious in holiness from an early age, did not dwell in a world of mysticism as one might expect, but led quite an ordinary life.

Thank God!

Therese climbed to the heights of sanctity by doing little things with great love. That makes her so approachable. And, she writes about it all with such charm, and the romantic phrasing of a young girl, still at an age when dreams of great deeds and great love seem possible.

It was so lovely of God to give us this girl-Saint with the sweet face of youth concealing a soul possessed of such Divine Wisdom that she is now a Doctor of the Church.

In the early years of her ascendance to greatness, many did not know what to make of her. In her own convent, some sisters wondered what her obituary would say about her; she seemed so ordinary. One of those nuns was cured of cerebral anemia – even before Therese was buried — by pressing her head against the feet of Therese shortly after her death.

As Therese’s star continued to rise, scholars, theologians, bishops and even popes realized that Therese’s genius is deceptively simple.

Therese rejoiced that God needs nothing from us…but our love. He is not impressed with great intellects or magnificent deeds. He much prefers a little act of kindness done out of love for Him. Therese was famous for her sweet smile, and she called it her “alms.” Since as a nun she had no money of her own, she loved to give away her smiles at every opportunity.

She was so convinced that love alone can exalt even the smallest effort, that she would even stoop to pick up a pin, “just to please God.”

She was a student of the gospels, and Jesus was her great model. “Jesus, make me resemble You…” she prayed.

She sought out the least loved sisters and spent her recreation time with them. She gave up all of her precious free time, so scarce in monastery life, to write poems and do other little favors requested by her fellow nuns.

Perhaps her greatest discovery was her realization that her own nothingness qualified her to depend on Jesus for everything. She counted on His Merits, His Charity, His Purifying Love to enrich her own soul.

In the evening of this life, she wrote, I will appear before you with empty hands… for all of our good works are stained in your sight….be Yourself my Sanctity.

Therese threw herself into the arms of God with the complete trust of a little child, knowing that Jesus had said, “…of such is the kingdom of Heaven.”

While on pilgrimage in Paris at age 15, she encountered her first elevator. She was fascinated, and as usual made a connection to God: The arms of Jesus will be my elevator to Heaven.

She slept in His arms quite literally — often falling asleep during her thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Undisturbed, she observed that, Doctors put their patients to sleep to operate on them. She was quite sure that Jesus was not disturbed if she slumbered while He transformed her soul.

Even Purgatory did not deter her.  She was convinced that those who truly love God do not go to Purgatory.  Still, she said that if she should find herself there, she would walk among the flames singing the canticle of love like the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace.

While Therese’s little way of spiritual childhood may at first glance seem an easy one, it requires a will of iron…which is one reason I have never liked her famous Little Flower title. She is much more, (to copy one author), a steel magnolia who refused to bend to the natural desires for rest, attention, self-indulgence, complaining and the whole host of faults so difficult for most of us to resist.

Day after day, year after year, Therese faithfully picked her flowers for Jesus — her metaphor for her continuous life of self-denial and acts of charity. It is extremely difficult to adhere to such a program of virtue even for a day or two, much less for a lifetime, and under extreme physical and spiritual suffering such as she endured for the last 18 months of her life.

Most of all, Therese loved God.  She loved everything else in Him.  She loved Him because He was so Worthy of her Love — not for any reward or favor. She liked to say, I love what He does. If she received consolations (rarely), she was happy. When he plunged her into an almost unbearable trial of faith, she wrote out the Creed in her own blood, but never asked Him to take away her suffering.

For her, Heaven would equal possession of God. I want no other throne or crown than You, O my Beloved..
And she did not wish to rest until the last soul had been saved. She wanted to return to earth after her death, to make souls love God as I love Him.

Therese, one biographer wrote, was obsessed with the happiness of God. She cared for nothing else.

Ah Therese, how your Beloved Jesus has heaped glory on glory upon you! You were not mistaken!  It is love alone that counts!

O precious Saint, as you once implored Our Lady, teach me the secrets of loving Jesus, I implore the same of you.  And imitating your prayer to those “eagles” the great Saints, I beg you, now yourself an eagle, for a double portion of your love for God!

My life is but an instant,
an hour that passes by,
A single day that slips my grasp
and quickly slides away.
O well you know, my dearest God,
to love you,
I only have today.

(by St. Therese)

Thank you, Therese!  Happy Feast Day my dear Sister.

Will you allow God to love you this much?

As I have written about in my previous two posts, God revealed to St. Therese a most beautiful and astonishing secret. It was truly a Divine response of Infinite Goodness to her deepest longing “…to love You as You have never been loved before.”

Therese, flushed with joy on Trinity Sunday, 1895, was inspired by her Beloved to offer herself as a victim to Merciful Love. No longer would God’s rejected Love have to remain “…locked up in Your Heart.” Therese would offer her own heart to received these Torrents of Divine Love. She even hoped that they would consume her so that she would “…become a martyr to Your Love…”

But Therese knew that so great an invitation, springing from the depths of Infinite Tenderness, was not meant for her alone. She convinced several of the other nuns in her monastery to also make this Act of Oblation. And, she invites us too!

But lest anyone feel they are unworthy to make such an offering, please know that you are then the Most Worthy. I quote Therese: Is the choice of me worthy of Love? Yes, for in order that Love should be fully satisfied, it needs to stoop down, to stoop down to Nothingness and to transform this Nothingness into FIRE.

So, the least and littlest and the poorest souls are those which allow God’s Love to soar to the heights in manifesting Its Greatness and Magnanimity.

So, little souls, let afraid. Therese thought of you long ago: I beg You to choose in this world a multitude of little victims worthy of Your LOVE!!!

St. Therese

Act of Oblation to Merciful LovE

J.M.J.T.

Offering of myself
as a Victim of Holocaust
to God’s Merciful Love

O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make You Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be a saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!

Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Savior and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.

I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the days of His mortal life: “Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!” I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful?Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.

I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of You to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.

I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.

After earth’s Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.

In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.

I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!

Marie, Francoise, Therese of the Child Jesus
and the Holy Face, unworthy Carmelite religious.

This 9th day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
In the year of grace, 1895.

(All emphases by St. Therese)

Reproduced with permission from Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright 1975 by the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications.