Army of Heaven
Christmas was an historical event, the Redeemer coming into the realm of time and humans, but it is also a mystical reality always alive in the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. Even as we wait during Advent, we know that the Eternal Child of Christmas comes again to touch His faithful who have prepared in prayer, fasting, almsgiving: to be born in us anew, to give us the gift of divine life.
Christmas is of course widely embraced beyond the Christian community. The secular refraction of Christmas is rife too with signs that indicate that humanity knows still it dwells in darkness on earth and rejoices in the presence of light. Which human being is unaffected by the colorful, joyful, magnetic illumination of winter darkness? Christmas is the moment when deepest night meets truest light, and as the light remains despite cavernous earthen blues, what shall we fear?
Fr. Michael Gaitley is the author of 33 Days to Merciful Love, a personal retreat in preparation for consecration to Divine Mercy. A consecration is a prayerful human commitment to a divine opportunity. The 33 Days guide is a fresh intuition into spiritual childhood, or St Therese’s ‘little way’, from which Holy Church has located one of its rarest doctors.
The ‘little way’ is not an invention. The Church has ever preached the primacy of humility as cardinal virtue. What is new is the recognition that human beings, inheriting a modern age where nearly everyone is wounded, inherits a little way that applies itself to every one. Fr. Gaitley reminds us that the French child of God was not some safe ‘hothouse’ flower but suffered the early tragic loss of her mother, experienced a too scrupulous Christian culture in her own country growing up, and knew how easily sin can take anyone away through the wounds of life and human weakness.
We are living in the era of addiction, an epidemic where many people medicate the invisible wounds of life with too much of something else, while the intoxicants multiply. It is as if we do not know virtuous, selfless living skill because of habit in preoccupation. Jesus Christ is Savior from slavery to self.
A little soul is one who has not any prodigious gift or power, a waif who without God can do nothing. An addict is a child who cannot overcome wretchedness or stupidity. It is precisely such weak persons who gain most from the mercy of God. God draws nearest to those in greatest need. Pope Francis reminds us in recent book, God's name is Mercy. Our woundedness is then a gift, ‘happy’ because it attracts the God Who is mercy.
The poor, hope in Christ Himself to be their self-mastery. But the rich send themselves away empty because they don’t think they need or want anything from the Master. If God is infinite, how does His mercy not go beyond and beyond our incapacity to see this limitlessness? St Therese reacquaints the entire Church with trust in the one Uncreated Being, who emerges as He truly is, was and ever shall be, The Eternal Father of love.
The retreat takes the initiate through four essential realities to welcome. The first is trust, citing the examples of Abraham and Mary, to ‘hope against hope’, even minute to minute, in the divine will.
The second is to see constantly our personal handicap, which Father Gaitley names ”darkness”, that is, our littleness, our difficulty, being patiently accepting of it. Yet also willing, to try to lift our foot against it with a tenacious faith in God’s certain intervention if we fail, which just might be every time.
The third is to make an offering of self, to console Jesus, whose unfathomable gifts of mercy often go unreceived because of human “self sufficiency” and lack of asking; to also be increased in compassion and be oneself merciful in life; to long for God, believing that a martyr of love will die the sweetest of all deaths: no purgatory!
This offering is summed up best in the doxology of the Mass, where our little offering (self) can be lifted up through, with and in Jesus’ superperfect offering.
The fourth is entering The Darkness. Therese knew the darkness of life, the tragedy of her own frailty, which made her cling impetuously to God. She saw that she could not compete with God’s cosmic ocean of love, that she was truly little and that He is great in everything. Father points out the supreme proof of this kind of faith: a tuberculosic death gives way to ravishing beauty, a completed life of faith is crowned with an unforgettable supernal smile of beatitude.
The consecration prayer composed by Fr. Gaitley, based upon Therese’s words, comes to a stunning admission in the next to last paragraph: “Finally, I believe, my God, that you can and will make me into a saint, even if I won’t see it, even if I have to struggle all my life against vice and sin, even if I have to wait until the very end. This blind hope in your mercy, O Lord, is my only treasure.”
The radical confidence of St Therese in the Powers of Heaven, clears the way for all to be saved, especially the worst of the worst. How else can we interpret her hope, that is, the convergence of Infinite Mercy and bold human faith?
Here is a light ready to conquer all if there is but unblinking faith, the spirit of trying, however unsuccessful effort may prove. God will intervene, will do the rest, if we are but faithful to the end. If we do fall there is always the sacrament of confession waiting, whose ever fresh blessing will never be exhausted. God’s imponderable mercy simply eclipses anything that seems unforgiveable no matter how often or how gravely we trip in error. All are reconciled forever in the majestic Blood of Christ.
The astonishing shift that appears through Therese descends as a blessing for the children of the debilitated modern age. The Little Flower loses her devout mother at age four, grieves for ten years in all the signs of post-trauma syndrome; oversensitivity, neediness, scrupulosity , self-reliance, perfectionism, weakness, inadequacy: littleness - the ordinary frailty of wounded humanity. By a prodigy of grace she ‘rises above’ at age 14 and goes on to enter consecrated life! Nothing is impossible for God!!
For the recovering, we too are little flowers, with a litany of developmental defects, who know that we have to believe in God’s mercy, else we will not escape the madness of uncared for affliction or the lie of refused salvation. We too will come to know the intimacy of the Christ’s healing embrace which is called devout life, also known as complete dependence on God. Grace is everything!
The real work is accepting our shortcoming, our hard-to-change long-term deformity, our peculiar, chafing hardship: oppression, obsession, compulsion, addiction, long-suffering... letting divine grace be enough for us. Our bad habit is the very center of our weakness; the suspension of instant, permanent remedy is the ‘holocaust’ of offering. It’s a great challenge because our problem really is the habitual pleasure, the too-familiar, ever-comfortable, fast-acting intoxication of lusts, which want to be a biological entitlement attached to a deformed state, disordered passion in the absence of any means of sexual giving. Yet this is why and how He is the Heart of Mercy: the last will be first, and the least are the greatest in the Kingdom.
Through the intercession of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face we pray: God in Heaven, Help us all know we can trust You more than we think we can. You know our flesh is weak and our desire for doom gluttonous. Father of Mercy, give us the grace to accept unrelieved weakness but save us from addiction to the same weakness. Help us to accept our littleness but spare us temptation to stupidly exploit it. We boldly hide neither weakness nor stupidity from you Father, we beg your clemency and protection through Jesus. Amen.