Joy in Suffering/Eighth Day
Key to the Paradox—Love, the Master Motive of St. Therese
(1) Love of God.—Love, and love alone, love at white heat, can give the only adequate solution of the paradox of St. Therese's joy in suffering, for "love is strong as death." As she herself wrote: "Love can do ALL things; even the most impossible tasks seem to it sweet and easy." She reflected long and deeply on the immensity and tenderness of God's fatherly love for her, a love so great that she thought it was not possible for God to love a creature more than He loved her, a love, wholly unmerited on her part and which for that reason she delighted to call "the mercies of the Lord." Then, realizing that "love is repaid by love alone," she thirsted to love God as much as He loved her, and seeing that this would be utterly impossible, unless she could find a means of borrowing His very love, with which to love Him in return, it was precisely this that she solved to do: "Love attracts love; mine darts toward Thee and would fain make the abyss brim over. Alas! it is not even as a dewdrop in the ocean. To love Thee as Thou lovest me, I must make Thy love my own. Thus alone can I find rest." But to live and die of love meant much suffering.
"Neath sufferings' bitter winepress
I will prove my love to Thee;
To immolate myself each day
My chosen joy shall be!"
St. Therese was not content with an ardent and generous love, she would also have her love be most delicate and refined. Thus in the heat of summer she would not wipe the perspiration from her brow, in the winter she would not show by her exterior that she felt the cold by walking stooped or bent or by rubbing her hands together, "except by stealth," as she said; she would not even say: "It is hot, or it is cold or nasty weather," "lest," as she playfully expressed it, "the good God should see or hear it and feel pained at seeing that I suffered in giving Him joy." She did the same when she found the life of penance hard: "I forced myself to smile at it, so that God, deceived, as it were, by the expression of my countenance, might not know that I suffered." Similarly, in her painful illness: "When God disappoints me, I pay Him all manner of compliments."
In her love she would go farther still—she would make it utterly selfless: "I do not desire that thrill of love which I can feel; if Jesus feels the thrill, it is enough for me"; and carrying this selflessness and delicacy to the highest summit of heroic magnanimity, she said: "If the impossible were possible, and God did not see them (my good works and sufferings), I would not grieve at that. I love Him so much that I would like to give Him pleasure without His knowing it was I…. Knowing and seeing it, He is, in a way, bound to repay…. I should like to save Him the trouble…!" Would I…? Finally, her desire to love, which became a "veritable martyrdom," is summed up in that outburst it forced from her glowing heart: "Jesus…. Oh! I would love Him so! Love Him as He has never yet been loved…! And I…?
(2) Love of Self:—To Attain to Oneness with Jesus.—St. Therese's love of self was unselfish; she loved herself for the sake of God; her love of self was but a special form of the love of God. True love finds its own happiness in the closest resemblance to the beloved. Such, too, was the great desire of St. Therese: "My heaven is resemblance here to know with God…. To be like Thee is my desire."
But love does not find its full contentment in similarity—it seeks for oneness, for identity. "Love," says St. Albert the Great, "desires to be one with the beloved, and if it could, it would form but one being with the beloved…. Love has the power of uniting and transforming; it transforms the one who loves into him who is loved, and him who is loved into him who loves. Each passes into the other, as far as this is possible." Such was the one great longing of St. Therese: "to become myself divine," "to live the very life of God." But since her Beloved was God, and "God is Love," she, , would be transformed into Love: "Deign to transform me, Love, into Thee." Explaining her thought by the interpretation of the words of Solomon, "Draw me, we will run," she says: "By asking to be drawn, we desire an intimate union with the object of our love. If iron and fire were endowed with reason, and iron could say 'Draw me!' would not that prove its desire to be identified with the fire, to the point of sharing its substance? Well, that is precisely my prayer. I asked Jesus to draw me into the fire of His love, and to unite me so closely to Himself that He may live and act in me."
But God is Crucified Love and identity means crucifixion in body, heart and soul; St. Therese gladly embraced it: "How can we complain when Jesus Himself has been considered 'as one struck by God and afflicted'?" And again: In "this land of exile we meet with many a thorn and many a bitter plant; but is not this the portion earth gave to our Divine Spouse? It is fitting, then, to consider good and most beautiful this same portion which has become our own." "Yes, let us be one with God even in this life; and for this we should be more than resigned, we should embrace the Cross with joy." That to which she exhorted others she herself practiced first: "On waking I think of the pains and sufferings awaiting me, and I rise feeling all the more courageous and light of heart in proportion to the opportunities I foresee of proving my love for our Lord and of gaining—mother of souls as I am—my children's livelihood. Then I kiss my crucifix, and, laying it gently on my pillow, I leave it there while I dress and say: 'My Jesus, Thou hast toiled and wept enough during Thy three and thirty years on this miserable earth. Rest Thee today. It is my turn to suffer and fight.'" A beautiful practice, well worthy of imitation!
By thus leading the life of a martyr of love, she merited that highest of all deaths, for which she so sorely yearned—the death of a victim of God's merciful love: "the death I so ardently desire is that of Jesus on the Cross." With great confidence she could then in her Act of Oblation make the bold petition: "Since Thou hast deigned to give me this precious Cross as my portion, I hope to be like to Thee in Paradise and to behold the Sacred Wounds of Thy Passion shine on my glorified body." Such was the oneness with God which she desired for the love of Him, and it was just because she realized that suffering was the one means of attaining this end that her heart rejoiced spontaneously when pain of body, heart or soul presented itself. As I become one in suffering with Jesus, so shall I also be one with Him in glory. My choice…?
(3) Love of Souls.—St. Therese was not content to love God herself—she also desired to win much love for Him, "to make Him greatly loved" by all men. Her Jesus was consumed by an insatiable thirst for souls, and she, being one with Him, shared the same all-consuming thirst. "I longed at all costs," she said, "to snatch souls from the eternal flames of hell."
But it was less the thought of the misery of the lost than of the grief and sorrow of God that spurred her on; as she expressed it: "The cry of my dying Saviour: 'I thirst!' sounded incessantly in my heart and kindled therein a burning zeal hitherto unknown. My desire was to give my Beloved to drink." Under the pressure of a great sorrow she exclaimed: "Oh, let us not waste our time! Let us save souls! Souls are falling into hell innumerable as the flakes of snow on a winter's day, and Jesus weeps; and we are brooding over our own sorrow, instead of thinking of consoling Him." And still more clearly: "There is only one thing to do during the brief day, or rather night, of this life: it is to love, to love Jesus with all the strength of our heart and to save souls for Him, so that He may be loved." To this end she desired to embrace all vocations, to endure all sufferings, to be a missionary to all peoples and ages.
Above all she was heartbroken at seeing God's generously proffered love utterly neglected, nay, even openly rejected, by so many millions, and even by consecrated souls, and lamented sadly: "Oh, how little is the good God loved on earth! No, the good God is not much loved…! More than ever is Jesus athirst for love … and even among His disciples He finds, alas! but few hearts that surrender themselves WITHOUT RESERVE to the tenderness of His infinite love." Realizing how deep was the sorrow of the Divine Heart because of this, and being all aflame with love of Him, she yearned to give Him an opportunity of satisfying His longing by taking up into her own heart all this neglected and rejected love, opening it as if it were an abyss into which He might pour all. This she did by her supreme act of consecration as a victim to God's merciful love, "with the sole aim"—to use her own words—"of pleasing Thee, of consoling Thy Sacred Heart, and of saving souls who will love Thee throughout eternity." What is the measure of my love of God when judged by my desire "to make Him greatly loved" by saving souls?
Dear St. Therese, Seraph of Divine Love, consumed as a victim of holocaust by the flames of divine charity, I thank God for all the love with which He overwhelmed you and for your generosity toward Him. Obtain for me also an ardent and generous love that knows no such thing as impossible, but makes everything sweet and easy, in spite of the sharpest pain that may accompany it. Pray for me that I, too, may become one with Jesus, for only thus shall I be able to really love God as I ought and labor effectively to make Him loved by saving souls. This, indeed, means death to my natural, my human, life, for I cannot live the divine life, the life of Jesus, unless I am willing to die to mine. Just as the food that I eat must be dead before it can be transformed into my body and live my life, be animated by my soul, so must I be wholly dead before I can be, as it were, assimilated by Jesus and animated by His Spirit, the Holy Ghost, and so live His life, for "unless the grain of wheat falling to the ground die, it remaineth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." St. Therese, obtain for me light to understand fully this beautiful truth, and to give myself courageously to death to self, that I may live the life of God, the life of love. I also recommend to your intercession the special intentions for which I am making this Novena…. God will refuse you nothing!
Other Novena Prayers on page 46.