Joy in Suffering/Sixth Day
St. Therese's "Armor of God"
(1) Her Breastplate:—The Gift of Fortitude.—Neither stoicism nor mere natural courage, nor even the Christian virtue of fortitude, suffices to explain the heroic and joyous manner of St. Therese in enduring pain; for even the infused virtues require deliberation and effort and are joined with slowness and labor in their exercise. But by the gift of fortitude one is inclined to submit promptly, joyfully, and spontaneously to even the least indication of the Divine Will also in the matter of suffering. Thus, in the martyrs who shed their blood amid the most frightful tortures it was the gift of fortitude that made them strong and even gay. St. Therese was also a martyr. Hers was an unbloody martyrdom, yet none the less real, and hence she, too, needed this special help. By constant prayer and fidelity to grace she gradually disposed herself for the fulness of the gift of fortitude, so that in due time she yielded without hesitation, though not without intense suffering, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit urging her to the entire immolation of herself. She herself said that she expected this aid from God because of her efforts in cooperating with His grace: "If you faithfully continue to give pleasure to Him in small things, Jesus will feel bound to help you in the greater." Speaking of the day of her Confirmation, she said: "On that day I received the gift of fortitude in suffering—a gift I needed sorely." When others marveled at her heroic patience, she exclaimed: "I have not yet had a moment's patience! It is not MY patience. People do not understand. It is Jesus who does all, and I—I do nothing but be weak and little." It is in this sense that she would have us interpret her memorable and prudent remark: "I could never ask greater sufferings of God. If He were to increase them, I would endure them gladly, because they would be of His sending. But if I were to ask for them, they would be my own, and I should have to bear them all alone; and I have never been able to do anything by myself." St. Therese fully realized the source whence she drew the strength to endure her long and painful martyrdom: "How utterly impossible it is to put such feelings into oneself! It is the Holy Ghost who blows where He lists, who gives them to us." Thus, by the gift of fortitude, St. Therese became strong with Divine strength and endured with joy what, humanly speaking, was quite unendurable—nay, her heart leapt spontaneously for joy at each opportunity for suffering, as that of a famished man does at the sight of food. Does mine…? How important it is for me to beg and dispose myself for the gifts of the Holy Ghost!
(2) Her Helmet:—Confidence in God.—St. Therese had sounded the depths of the tender Heart of God and knew that she could rely wholly upon Him. "O Jesus," she cried out, "suffer me to tell Thee that Thy love reaches even unto folly. What wilt Thou but that my heart should leap up to Thee? How could my trust have any bounds?" It was her strength in weakness: "When in the morning we feel no courage or strength for the practice of virtue, it is really a grace: it is the time to 'lay the axe to the root of the tree,' relying on Jesus alone…. He helps us without seeming to do so."
No matter how high the tide of her sufferings would rise, she would still cry out: "The Lord is my rock, upon which I stand, 'who teacheth my hands to fight and my fingers to war.' He is my Protector, and I have hoped in Him." Or again:
"Thy Heart which guards and giveth innocence
Will ever be my trust and firm defense;
If in my heart the sudden tempest rise,
To Thee, my Jesus, I shall lift my eyes."
When Heaven seemed to turn a deaf ear to her entreaties for relief and sent her instead new physical and mental pains, she playfully remarked: "I believe they want to see how far my trust may extend. But the words of Job have not entered my heart in vain: 'Even though God should kill me, I would still trust in Him.' … I feel that for the moment I should not be able to bear more, but I have no fear, for if my sufferings increase, God will increase my patience…. Nothing can frighten me, neither wind nor rain; and if the impenetrable clouds come to hide from me the Orb of Love, that would he the moment to push my confidence to the uttermost bounds, taking good care not to quit my post, well knowing that beyond the somber clouds the Beloved Sun still shines. Nay more, that would he the hour of perfect joy."
"When He would test my faith and hidden be
To smile when longing for His gaze once more,
Oh, that is heaven for me!"
Finally: "I have no fear of the last struggle, nor any pains—however great—which my illness may bring. God has always been my help. He has led me by the hand from my earliest childhood…. I rely on Him. My agony may reach its furthest limits, but I am convinced that He will never forsake me.' Her rule was: "We can never have too much confidence in the good God, He is so mighty, so merciful. We shall receive from Him quite as much as we hope for." How true her words! And now how much do I hope for—especially how much strength to suffer?
(3) Her Shield:—Unreserved, Childlike Abandonment to God.—Having such an almost boundless confidence in the tender love of her heavenly Father, St. Therese surrendered herself entirely to Him. By abandonment she understood the embracing beforehand blindly and with joy and enthusiasm of all that it pleased God to send her no matter how great the suffering involved. Her life was like a blank sheet of paper, at the bottom of which she affixed her signature and then placed it in the hands of God, to let Him write thereon all that might please Him, accepting in advance, with joy and gladness, whatever He would write, not knowing what it might be, but convinced it would be only for His glory and her own spiritual good. "The good God," she said, "wills that I surrender myself like a very wee child who does not trouble himself as to what will be done with him." Accordingly she gave herself to the Child Jesus to be His "little plaything," adding: "I told Him not to treat me like a costly toy that children are content to look at without venturing to touch, but as He would a little ball of no value, that He might throw to the ground, toss about, pierce, leave in a corner or else press to His Heart if it so pleased Him." … "If He wishes to break His 'little plaything' to pieces, He is quite free to do so; yes, I want only what He wills."
In her illness she confessed: "I am now sick and I shall never recover. But I am at peace. For a long time past I have not belonged to myself; I am wholly surrendered to Jesus. If it please Him, I am content to have my sufferings prolonged for years." Come what may.
"Safe in His arms Divine, near His Sacred Face,
Resting upon His Heart, of the storm I have no fear;
Abandonment complete, this is my only law." Even when it is a question of life and death her only guide is still abandonment: "I have no greater desire to live than to die; if Jesus offered me my choice, I would choose nothing. I want only what He wills; it is what He does that I love." For the same reason she could say: "Whatever has come from God's hands has always pleased me, even those things which have seemed less good and beautiful than the gifts made to others."
But abondonment meant no mere idle passivity, for she was ever alert, ever intensely yet calmly active: "I sleep, but my heart watcheth!"
"… sleeping on Thy Heart I smile forever more,
And tender words of love I whisper o'er and o'er."
If, in spite of all this, God seems to forget her entirely, she has no anxiety: "He is free to do so, since I am no longer my own but His. He will weary sooner of making me wait than I of waiting!" What a challenge! Meanwhile she continues peacefully to assure Him of her trustful love and surrender:
"Fear not, sweet Lord, my faithful watch I keep,
I wake Thee not till lowering skies are riven.
In peace my heart shall wait Thy coming from above,
And I shall charm Thy Heart with sweet refrains of love."
She gives as reason for this peace:
"Ever since I have given up ALL self-seeking,
I lead the happiest life possible!"
"Remember, Jesus, that Thy Holy Will
Is all my repose and my joy most blest;
In holy abandonment—nothing I fear—
In Thy sacred arms, my God, I rest!"
Hence she could say toward the end of her life: "Now the spirit of self-abandonment is my only guide. I have no other compass, and I know not how to ask anything with eagerness, save the perfect accomplishment of God's designs upon my soul…." How such a disposition must have delighted God! Would I not give Him a similar joy?
Dear St. Therese, with all my heart I thank God for making you such an invincible warrior by clothing you with His own divine armor of fortitude, confidence, and abandonment. But how truly you merited this favor by your singular fidelity to prayer and zealous correspondence with grace and the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. Pray for me, that I may realize how much I, too, could do and bear for the love of God, if I but had the divine gift of fortitude; beg it earnestly for me from the Holy Spirit. Help me to understand more fully something of the loving tenderness of the Heart of my heavenly Father, who deigns to abide in my own soul always, that I may be filled with a boundless trust in Him, knowing that we can never have too much confidence in Him if we are in real earnest about loving Him and seeking to give Him joy in everything. Above all, obtain for me abandonment—a childlike, boundless, unreserved trustful, blind and loving abandonment springing from a deep conviction of God's great love for me. I, too, wish to give up ALL self-seeking. May all that pleases God also be pleasing to me! May I accept it unconditionally and without question, beforehand, knowing that it can only be for my good! I, too, wish to let Him choose for me. to be like a signed blank sheet or a "little ball" in His hands, willing all and only what He wills, be it joy or pain. I also earnestly recommend to you the special intentions for which I am making this Novena…. God will refuse you nothing.
Other Novena Prayers on page 46.