Friday, August 23, 2013

Psalm 91 and St. Therese

One of the most beautiful psalms is psalm 91. It speaks about security under God's protection: "You who dwell in the shelter of the most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord,'My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.' God will rescue you from the fowler's snare, from the destroying plague, will shelter you with his pinions, spread wings that you may take refuge; God's faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come." It continues, but you can pick up the theme. St. Therese, the Little Flower, was recently named a doctor of the church. This is extraordinary because she was only 24 years old when she died in 1897. She died a very painful death of tuberculosis but noted at the end of her life that her only nourishment was scripture. Although I have not researched it in her correspondences I would assume that much of the inspiration she received for her "new way" of approaching God was Psalm 91. She used to say "confidence, nothing but confidence." This is quite a bold statement when one considers she went through a painful dark night of the soul and had to write the profession of faith in blood and keep it on her heart to remind herself. What was her "new way?" It was the way of abandonment. I will let Fr. Jean La France, a writer on spirituality describe it in his book My Vocation is Love<: When one has received such a revelation of God's love, one is capable of everything and the first step is to abandon oneself to his action. It is as if God were saying to us: 'I love you much more than you suspect, let me take the helm, hand over all the control buttons to me. This is what happens when a ship passes through the Suez canal: the captain has to leave the helm in the hands of the pilot. This is one of the best images of faith and confidence that I know. Therese uses the comparison of the lift. 'We live in an age of inventions, now we no longer have to take the trouble to climb up a staircase; in the homes of the of the wealthy a lift replaces it advantageously.' We will see in the next chapter (La France continues) that two or three years before, Therese had said to Sr. Marie of the Trinity who was discouraged precisely when confronted with the stairway of perfection she had to climb: 'Soon conquered by your futile efforts (Therese writes) God will come down himself and, taking you in his arms, will carry you forever in his kingdom.' What does it mean to abandon oneself to God? It is something other than going up towards him, it is much more profound. It meant the total dissolution of Therese's will in the will of God. It is what Fr. de Caussade, with all the spiritual writers, calls abandonment to divine Providence. To help us understand the difference between the total gift and abandonment, Therese tells the story of Blessed Suso. He was a lover of wisdom and used to mortify himself in a terrible way in order to obtain this wisdom. One day an angel appeared to him and said: 'Until now you have been a simple soldier, now I am going to use you to make you a Knight. Give up all these mortifications and no longer decide anything for yourself. I will order everything.' On reading this story, Therese said 'I was a knight straightaway.' She was so humble and therefore purified enough not to have known these struggles where we want to rival God in generosity. She had never decided anything for herself and each time God touched her, she offered no resistance. This is why she obtained all that she asked for. God resists our requests because we dispute with him. Henry Suso received a light-perhaps because of the preceding struggle-to understanding something subtle and very demanding, but of another order. Therese had been brought face to face with this light early in the piece, while Blessed Suso had only been given it later. In conclusion: if we wish to enter upon the way of abandonment-some even make a vow to do so-we must desire this light and earnestly ask for it. God cannot refuse us, if we express it this way: 'If it pleases you, Lord, show me the face of your Mercy. And now, I thank you for having granted it!' Then we will be able, like St. Paul, to fight the real fight, not the struggle of which we so often dream. May we, like Therese, be Knights straightaway, even if today we are still in the second class." To be carried in the arms of Our Heavenly Father we must abandon our fruitless attempts at the rough stairway of perfection. Let Him come down and be captain of your ship-and you will fly, as on Eagle's Wings, living the promise of Psalm 91

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