Monday, February 15, 2010

St Therese and the sword - meditation from Arbp Fulton Sheen

Lent is approaching fast and we may need to think about our spiritual needs, imperfections, wants etc. What is the better way than to enjoy a crush course in the Little Way of our beloved Carmelite Saint, St Therese, the Little Flower, given by her disciple and third Order Carmelite, Archbishop Fulton Sheen? Let us see what he has to say....

The new way of St Therese is not to start thinking about how wicked you are, how sinful, but to begin looking at our Lord. And from that, you will see that you are not as good as you ought tobe, but yo will try to please the one you love. Let me give you some of her words along these lines. She said:

Jesus! i would so love Him, love Him as he has never been loved in the history of the world.

And one of the novices - for she was the Mistress of Novices - came to her one day, and she said, "Oh, I have so many virtues to aquire."

The Little Flower said, "No, you've got a lot of things to lose!"

That's the trouble. Our spiritual books tell us how to acquire humility. I told you about the 12 ways of St Bernard. Well now, you'll go crazy trying to develop those 12 ways. One of them is to love to be stomped on and trampled on. The Little Flower says, no, start loving the Lord, and then you'll no longer be proud. You cannot start acquiring, for example, the virtue of humility or fortitude. You can never fall in love with abstraction. You can only love a person. No one in the world ever fell in love with a theorem of geometry.

This is the trouble with secular humanism and materialism: There's no person to love. So then the new way of the Little Flower is....fall in love. Love the Good Lord, and then you will strive to please Him. And because you see that there are imperfections in you, you will love Him more so that they may washed away. This is not a little way, it's the new way because we've forgotten it. It's buried in Scripture. It's buried in Isaiah, buried in Psalms, buried in Zechariah, and she digs it out for us.

Now we come to the second point. What effect did it have on her? Now when we look at the picture of this frail little French girl, we think of her, yes, as the little Therese, frail, meek, humble. But does love make one that way? Real lovers are courageous.

Do you know what she wanted to be? She wanted to be a soldier. She used to dream about it. In one of her dreams, someone was conscripting soldiers for an army. And she heard a voice saying, "Maybe we ought to ask for Therese." And she said, "Well, I'm ready." She said, "I'm sorry it's not a holy war, but I'm ready to fight anyway."

Now we never think of the Little Flower as having a saint whom she wanted to be like more than anyone else, but she did. Do you know who that was? Joan of Arc. Can you imagine her seated on a horse clad in armour? And she said: "If I were Joan of Arc, it would not be voices from heaven. It would be only the voice of my Beloved."

One of her favourite texts of Scriptures, therefore, was "I came not to bring peace, but the sword." (Matt 10:34)...And then St Therese said: "A sister showed me a photograph representing Joan of Arc, consoled by an interior voice. The saints encourage me from above, and they say to me, "So long as you are in fetters, you cannot fulfill your mission. But after your death, then will be the time of your conquest."

In other words, she said, "I'm going to be a warrior and a soldier after my death, I am in no battlefields, now except the battle of the spiritual life."

This figure gives you some idea of, for example, her powerful intercession. This, too, accounts for her love of missions. She is the patroness of the Propagation of the Faith, though she was never in mission lands. The reason she is the patroness of the Propagation of the Faith was because she loved missions, and she corresponded all her life with two missionary priests and offered up her sufferings for them.

Yes, that is true, but there is a deeper reason still. This woman was in love, and she wanted her Beloved known all over the world. That's why she loved the missions! As she put it:

"Like the prophets and the doctors, I would enlighten souls, I would travel the whole world to preach Your name and set up Your glorious cross in pagan lands. But one mission could never suffice for me. Would that I could, at one and the same time, proclaim the gospel to the world, even to the remotest of its islands. I  would desire to be a missionary not only for a few years but to have been one from the creation of the world and to continue to the end of time."

Love makes one a missionary. When we cease to love, we cease to be a missionary. Now it is sometimes asked, for example, why is there a decline of conversions today? It is  due to ecumenism? No, it's not due to ecumenism. It's due to the fact that we're not making Christ the center of our lives. And if we were deeply in love with Christ instead of with social programs and the like (all which have their place, but here I am speaking of primacy), if we gave the primacy to Christ, then we would be on fire to save souls. After all, the reason we are tired in body is because we are already tired in mind. We have no love. The fires have gone out. We are cinders, burnt out cinders floating in the immensity of space and time. And here is a young girl. It is almost as if she is locked up in a gilded cage, absolutely straining at the leash in order to become a missionary. Why? Simply because she loved!

As I told you, love does not mean just simply to have and to own and to possess. It's not sitting on the throne waiting for others to serve. It's the going out, the spending of oneself. Love is not the circle circumscribed bt self. It's like a cross outstreched to embrace the whole world.

Love isn't Buddha, fat, sleek, a well-oiled body, hands folded across the breast intently looking inward, thinking only of self. It's the picture of thin saints looking out for the mission to the world, as Therese looks out in many of her photos. And therefore, she loved this text, the sword. And she says many times in her writings that "I am entering Carmel to bring the sword to the monastery of Carmel." In other words, it needed a little fire. She entered it to change it. And her reason for doing so was right.

We are fond of talking peace today, but all we mean by peace is lack of disturbance. Our Lord said, "I came not to bring peace." God HATES PEACE in those who are destined for war! And we are destined for war, spiritual war. We've forgotten that we're in a combat. We are in genuine combat. When our first parents were driven out of the garden of Paradise, God stationed an angel with a flaming sword, a two-edged sword that turned this way and that. Why? To keep our first parents from going back to eat of the Tree of Life and thus immortalize their evil. And the only way we can ever get back again into paradise is by having that sword run into us. It's flaming because it's love. It's two-edged because it cuts, and it penetrates. It's not the sword that's thrust outward to hack off the ear of the servant of the high  priest as Peter did. It's the sword that's thrust inward to cut out all of our seven pallbearers of the soul, the pride and covetousness, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, and sloth.

This was the sword she loved. And this sword is what we've forgotten in our modern world with the dripping away of discipline, the ascetic principle. The disciplinary principle of the Christian world had moved to the totalitarian countries. And concerning the sword, I quoted the sword in relationship to the Garden of Eden, but in the prophecy of Zechariah, we read this:

"This is the very word of the Lord of Hosts: Oh sword, awake against my shepherd." (Zech 13:7)

Who is the shepherd? Our Lord. So Zechariah is having the heavenly Father say, "Sword awake! Awake against My shepherd, against My Son, against Him who works with Me." So when our Blessed Lord came to this earth, the sword of Herod was raised against Him. Did anyone ever raise a sword against a two-year-old Caesar? Or a six-month-old Stalin? Why the sword against Him? because He plays a role in salvation. It belongs to warriors. And as the heavenly Father ran the sword into His own Son, the Son ran the into His own Mother. Simeon said to Mary, "You, too, shall be pierced to the heart." (Luke 2:35) So the Father ran a sword into His Son, the Son into His own Mother, and Our Lord into us.

"I have come not to bring peace, but the sword." This , then, is the way of the warrior and the little girl who wanted to be a soldier. And there was not much difference in her mind between a soldier and a missionary.

to be continued...