Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Another Goes His Way a Weakling and a Failure

Another meditation by guest blogger Owen Swain

Another goes his way a weakling and a failure,
     with little strength and great misery --
Yet the eyes of the Lord look favourably upon him,
     he raises him free of the vile dust.

Lifts up his head and exalts him
     to the amazement of the many. - Sirach 11, First ReadingOffice of Readings, Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time.

As we begin Ordinary Time again we find in the above quote a spiritual economy that is so extraordinary it must shock people who live according to a secular value system. Could it be that when we are most weak, when we are very poor materially or spiritually or both, and even when we have failed, that this is exactly when  we are most open to the great mystery of a undeserved love?

Jesus recalls the divine Wisdom of this spiritual economy of God in the, perhaps more, familiar words of his sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew's Gospel.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . 
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Mt 5.3,5 NRSVCE

St. Basil [close to the heart of this writer, a Basilian Lay Associate], in the Second Reading of the day, "Love of God is not something that can be taught" which is rather daunting for the priest, the parent or anyone who finds themselves a teacher. Love of God is totally the gift of God and likewise, says St. Basil the our reason, "implanted in us like a seed." St. Basil saw his role as teacher to be "to try to fan into flame the spark of divine love that is hidden within you, as far as I am able through the power of the Holy Spirit."

Sometimes then the greatest teacher is providential experience, a kind of experience that is not capricious or based on feelings, though effecting our emotions to be sure but rather is grounded in the reason implanted in us and grown as we embrace the Love that is contrary to what we might, ironically, naturally think. What do I mean? 

Reflecting on these two Readings I looked for a connection between them and found one sensible to me in the words of another saint, a teacher by lived experience as much as by word and someone declared not only saint but Doctor of the Church, a woman, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.  In a stellar book I am bound to mention again come the words of the saint in a letter to her sister who was both her natural sister and a fellow religious, Marie. Thérèse wrote to answer Marie's objection, "Yes, you [Thérèse] posses love, but I myself [do not]! This brief reflection cannot do justice to the spiritual desperation that Marie expresses. Thérèse also wrote to the young man, Maurice, a religious in the making who wrote to her often with objections of his failures and with words echoing the concern that too many of us share, concern that we are simply to ordinary, to plain even to mediocre to amount to much of anything in Christ.

Thérèse's response to each is as revolutionary as the words of Sirach and of our Lord Jesus and as I close with them I pray with St. Basil that the Holy Spirit may speak to our hearts and minds, especially those who may feel weak and useless and poor.

"Let me tell you, Marie, that my desires for martyrdom are nothing. It is not they which give me the unlimited confidence which I feel in my heart. . . .What pleases  God in my little soul is that He sees me loving my littleness and m y poverty: it is the blind hope that I have in His mercy. [The emphasis is Thérèse's.] That is my only treasure. Why can it not be yours/ . . . To love Jesus, the more one is weak, without desires and without virtues, the more one is suitable for the operations of (God's) consuming and transforming love. It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to love."

"[Maurice] the more one is weak, without desires and without virtues, the more one is suited for the operations of God's love consuming and transforming love."

-  -

Beloved: be loved!
owenswain.com / artist

Painting; The Thankful Poor (1894), Henry Ossawa Tanner
Book; Maurice and Thérèse the Story of a Love, [Archbishop] Patrick Ahern, published by Darton, Longman and Todd, 1999