Joy in Suffering/Seventh Day
St. Therese's Mighty Arms
(1) God in Her Heart.—St. Therese did not rely on her own strength, but on God's realizing that the Three Divine Persons were really, truly, and substantially present in her heart:
"To live by love is closely to enfold
The Uncreated Word—Voice of my Lord!
And with Thee, in my heart of hearts, to hold
The Spirit sending forth His flame adored.
Thus loving Thee, the Father, too, is mine:
My feeble heart hath drawn Him from above,
O Trinity, the Prisoner Divine!"
Oh, my poor love!"
God, then, with all His omnipotence, was ever at hand, more intimately present to her than her soul was to her body, and conscious of this sweet presence, she cried out: "I cannot well see what more I shall have in heaven than I have now; I shall see God, it is true, but as to being with Him, I am that already on earth." This thought was not only her joy, but also her strength:
"My heaven in the Trinity I find,
Within my heart my Prisoner of love;
There seeing God, fearless my life I bind
To serve, to love, nor seek reward above."
She, too, could exclaim with her holy patroness: "God and I are a majority!" As the tide of suffering rose higher, it was this thought that gave her new courage and confidence, and during her last days she wrote in pencil and with a trembling hand the following lines: "My God, how good Thou art to Thy little victim of Thy merciful love. Now, even when Thou joinest these bodily pains to those of my soul, I cannot bring myself to say: 'The anguish of death hath encompassed me!' I rather cry out in my gratitude: 'I have gone down into the valley of the shadow of death, but I fear no evil, because Thou art with me.'" How did she attain to such an unbroken, loving consciousness of the abiding presence of the Blessed Trinity in her heart? By forming the habit of living with God, her "Treasure," in her heart, for, as she confessed: "Scarcely three minutes ever pass without a loving thought of God." What a great saint she became! With me it is perhaps hours that pass without such a thought, and I still wonder at my weakness in suffering?
(2) The Gentle Hand of Jesus in All.—Being penetrated with a deep and living faith in the indwelling of the heavenly Father in her heart, St. Therese saw nothing come to her, whether joy or pain, directly from creatures, but all from His loving hand—it was always His hand writing on the signed sheet she had given Him; knowing how deeply He loved and watched over her, since His love was above all one of infinite and paternal tenderness, she was firmly convinced that ALL He sent was for her good. In the guidance of her Prioress, whether mild or severe, she saw "only the hand of God, directing all for the good of her soul." In crosses and trials she often wrote: "The hand of Jesus it is that guides everything—we ought to see only Him in all things." When a wholly unexpected and most bitter disappointment came to her, so great that her tears flowed freely, she wrote to her sister: "Oh, what a blow! But I feel that it is struck by a hand divinely jealous…. It is Jesus who has guided this affair; it is He, and I have recognized His touch of love…. It is not a human hand that has done this; it is Jesus, His eyes have fallen upon us. Let us accept with a good heart the thorn that Jesus presents to us…." Having offered herself to the Child Jesus as a little ball, when she suffered much, she said: "Jesus riddles His 'little ball' with pin-pricks that hurt indeed, though when they come from the hand of this loving Friend, the pain is all sweetness, so gentle is the touch." Seeing His "hand of love" in all, she had no fears: "I am a 'slender reed,' planted on the shore of the waters of love and tribulation, but reeds bend without breaking, and how could I get broken, since whatever happens, I see only the gentle hand of Jesus!" Hence she concludes: "I am happy, most happy, to suffer! If Jesus Himself does not pierce me He guides the hand that does." If I but looked behind the veil in pain, be it exterior or interior, and saw only the "gentle hand of Jesus," what strength, peace, and joy would be mine in suffering!
(3) Living in the Present.—The presence of God and the seeing of His gentle hand in all suffering did not in the least lessen the exquisite physical pain or mental anguish of St. Therese. She suffered most intensely just the same, but it was in deep peace, for she had made it her rule to live only in the present moment, realizing that the cross of the present is ever accompanied by its measure of grace, and thus rendered bearable, while grace is not at hand for the anticipated crosses of the future. She has given expression to her view in her beautiful poem: "My Song of Today":—
"What matters it, O Lord, if dark the future hover?
One prayer for its tomorrow—oh, no, I cannot say:
My heart untouched preserve—and with Thy shadow cover,
If only for today!"
She dared not look into the future:
"If I dream of the morrow, my changeful thought affrights me,
My heart, inconstant, mours and wearies of the way;
I long, my God, that pain and trial to Thee unite me,
If only for today!"
Seeing her suffer so much, one of her sisters remarked: "To think that it may increase!" St. Therese replied: "It is quite a mistake to trouble ourselves as to what I may still have to suffer. It is like meddling with God's work. We who run in the way of love must never allow ourselves to be disturbed by anything. If I did not simply live from one moment to the next, it would be impossible for me to be patient; but I look only at the present. I forget the past, and take good care not to forestall the future. When we yield to discouragement or despair, it is usually because we think too much about the past and the future." How true! Hence, when she was told that some thought that she feared death, she answered: "That may easily come to pass…. It will be time enough to bear that cross when it comes; meantime I wish to rejoice in my present happiness." What strength and joy of soul would be mine in the midst of pain if I would but follow this wise teaching!
Dear St. Therese I begin to understand more and more the source of your surprising strength in pain, and suffering, for what can be impossible to one who leans on God Almighty's power, living in the loving consciousness of His abiding presence in the soul? Knowing that He is the best and most tender of Fathers, it is but natural that I realize that all that befalls me comes from His love, and hence is intended for my highest interests, my eternal welfare. Obtain for me the grace to live with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in my heart, to take trustful refuge to Him in instant prayer, to find my joy and strength in dwelling ever with Him as the Sweet Guest of my soul. Thus it will be easy for me quite spontaneously to see His hand of love in all that befalls me and to accept even the sharpest thorns with joy in my heart. This alone, indeed, may not be sensible, it may not lessen the intensity of the suffering, but it will help me to realize that God always gives the grace necessary to bear the sufferings of the present, and that when the future shall have become the present He will pour out a new measure of grace from the tabernacle of my heart where He has set His abode. Help me to live in the present, with no thought of the greatness of pain that is past, and still less preoccupied with what my loving Father may be pleased to send me in the future. I also recommend to you the special intentions for which I am making this Novena…. God will refuse you nothing.
Other Novena Prayers on page 46.
- For a more detailed explanation of this beautiful doctrine see the Techny pamphlet: "Living with God in My Heart."