Seers and Knowers

4 Feb

Nearly a month has passed since my arrival in Cali to serve in the Basilian house and in the parish, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Our Lady of the Assumption), and to teach French in the high school of the same name. The students have been back in school for almost three weeks, and the house has returned to a more regular and busy schedule also. I arrived in Cali with very little knowledge of Spanish, so my struggle to learn a new language, but also a great joy in applying myself to this undertaking, have been expected. In addition to being immersed in Spanish, I am also receiving daily tutoring in the language, so my vocabulary has been improving rapidly already. 

The devotion and vibrancy with which our faith is expressed in Colombia has been especially encouraging. The Congregation of St. Basil is well-established and respected here, and many in the parish have identified me as a Basilian Associate before I have even had the opportunity to explain in tentative Spanish, “Soy un candidato canadiense de los Padres Basilianos. (I’m a candidate of the Basilian Fathers from Canada)…”, though in this first stage of formation we wear neither the wooden cross nor the white shirt that Basilian seminarians and priests wear in Colombia. 

In my previous article, I wrote about the prophetic role played by St. John the Baptist in St. Luke’s Gospel. While imprisoned for having spoken out against the illicit marriage of the tetrarch Herod Antipas to Herodias, the wife of Antipas’ brother Philip (cf. Luke 3:19-20), John acts as a prophet, although not by the classical image of one who foresees and preaches about what is to come. St. John fits this definition, too, but he is more importantly a model for those who are persecuted for righteousness, as well as for the humble, for the poor, and for the otherwise disadvantaged. (cf. Luke 6:20-26) 

Many Colombians fit into those categories represented by St. John the Baptist. Colombia’s average annual per capita income is about $2180 U.S. (cf. Gran Enciclopedia Espasa, vol.5, 2848 ) Poverty is abundant, and violence is a persistent threat, yet in only a short time here, I have encountered, especially among the poorer people, a joy that comes with an attraction to Christ and a desire to share fraternal love through everyday actions. This manner of living Christian life is prophetic in its own right. The poor tend to be better messengers of Christ’s message that draws us together toward God, the source of all love and of all mercy. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14, 1 John 4:7-10) 

My summary of the life of Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux on this blog was meant to be, in part, my personal testimony to the love of God that works timelessly through the intercession of Ste. Thérèse and all the saints to empower us to do the Lord’s will. Like St. John the Baptist, but in modern times, Ste. Thérèse was and is a great prophet of love and messenger of the will of God, and is therefore rightly a Doctor of the Church. Her example of poverty, of humility, of chastity, of discipline, of obedience, and of contemplation is worth emulating, especially since she lived so recently. However, one easily becomes inattentive to the power of Ste. Thérèse’s message because it is written so simply. She wished this simplicity for herself repeatedly; “Little Thérèse” somewhat reluctantly wrote her autobiography on the orders of her sister, Pauline, then-Prioress of the Lisieux Carmel. 

This great saint, co-patron of France, of missionaries, and of the sick and dying, and patroness of florists, recognized prophetic love and working solely to please God as her entire vocation. The opening manuscript of “The Story of a Soul”, and indeed the entire “mystery of (her) vocation”, began in prayer. Kneeling before a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ste. Thérèse asked for Our Lady’s intercession so that she might do only according to God’s wishes in writing about her life. Thérèse then recalled the words from the Gospel of St. Mark, “(Jesus) went up the mountain and summoned those whom He wanted, and they came to Him”, and from St. Paul’s  letter to the Romans: “For He says to Moses: ‘I shall show mercy to whom I will, (and) I will take pity on whom I will.’” (Mark 3:13, Romans 9:15-16). 

Ste. Thérèse conveys two related messages here: God’s mercy is at the root of all of our vocations, and God calls us all, whether strong or weak, rich or poor, to different vocations- some great and some obscure- as Ste. Thérèse’s metaphor of the flowers in God’s garden beautifully illustrates on the second page of her autobiography. Sr. Thérèse of the Child Jesus wondered, as often do we, why God shows extraordinary patience toward some who commit terrible sins but are then converted dramatically and then become great saints, such as Sts. Paul and Augustine. On the other hand, some “are given such favours that they become unable to tarnish the immaculate brilliance of their baptismal robes…” (Ms. A, 2vo) Ste. Thérèse resolves this problem of perceived inequality of divine grace among people by recognizing that God created the entire garden and all its flowers. Not all people can be the tall roses and the pure white lilies; the souls symbolized by the little violets and daisies please God just as much, and Our Lord showers the small flowers with sunlight just the same as the tall ones, as if each one were “the only flower on earth.” (Ms. A, 3ro

Whatever our vocation, our duty and our joy is to please God. Patient and persistent prayer enable us to better recognize our divinely-given and divinely-inspired vocations. Furthermore, attention to our inner spiritual nature allows us to see Christ in other people, especially in the poor and in those who otherwise have few worldly merits. 

Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us again: “The love of our Lord is revealed as well in the simplest soul that resists His grace in nothing as in the most sublime soul. In fact, love properly understood, means self-abasement…” (Ms. A, 3ro) The examples of Ste. Thérèse and of other saints reveal to us the Way of Love that Christ commands us to follow. (cf. Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 22:34-40) The poor and the suffering are so frequently the brightest beacons of God’s love, and God calls those who serve among the poor to emulate the simple depth of their faith. Thus, Jesus blesses “the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3) 

God, who made himself small in coming to us as a human being, is too often alone in recognizing the value of those who possess little of this world. Nonetheless, He asks us to love as He loves- to treat each flower in His garden as if each were alone on earth. In loving all of God’s creation, we are made rich. This is explained metaphorically in the opening pages of Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux’s autobiography. In the same discourse, Ste. Thérèse contemplated the lives of saints whom God “caressed from the cradle to the grave” (Ms. A, 2vo), and also characterized herself as one in the process of ‘seeing’ God- “Le voyant…” (Ms. A, 2vo) By extension, we are all called upon to be ‘seers’ of God- to be ‘les voyants’. Two years later, on her last manuscript page that she wrote before being moved to the infirmary of the Lisieux Carmel in July, 1897, Thérèse described the Greek mathematician Archimedes as “un savant”- a knower- who, although he was knowledgeable, lacked God whose love is the ultimate knowledge. (Ms. A, 36) 

God is the full union between the seer and the knower. Having been created in God’s image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:27), we are challenged to represent and to bear witness to this union between seeing and knowing. Primarily, then, our vocation is to love. (cf. Ms. B, 3vo) St. Paul provides us with a Biblical example of this same point in his letter to the Corinthians: 

“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially, then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13) 

At one time a persecutor of the Church, St. Paul underwent a dramatic and miraculous conversion. At least at first glance, Paul’s conversion seems sudden. Chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles begins with Saul on the road to Damascus in search of followers of Jesus that he would bind in chains and then take back to the authorities in Jerusalem. (cf. Acts 9:3) Instead, Saul was blinded by a celestial light and then brought to Damascus by those traveling with him. In Damascus, an initially reluctant Ananias, on God’s insistence, laid his hands on Saul, who was then able to see again. (cf. Acts 9:10-18 ) The story seems simple, though Paul later wrote that his only boast was in his weakness and that the Lord’s grace was sufficient for him to persevere: 

“I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell (within) me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) 

In the very next verse, St. Paul again reminds those who view him as a ‘super-apostle’ that he is such precisely because of his nothingness. (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:11-12) When Saul was blinded on the road to Damascus, God saw for him. When Saul the Pharisee knew no other way than the letter of the law, God knew “a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) In the same manner as Christ teaches us, He taught St. Paul what he would need to sacrifice in the Lord’s name. (cf. Acts 9:16) Thus, neither our conversion nor that of St. Paul is sudden; the road to love, to witness, and to self-sacrifice is lifelong, though Christ promised to accompany us forever. (cf. Matthew 28:20) When we do not see, Christ sees for us, and when we do not know, Christ knows all. 

In the great mystery of our faith, the Eucharist, Christ comes to us truly and fully. We pray during the Mass that we might be in union with the Lamb of God who gives Himself to us to remit our sins: 

“Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.” 

This prayer is our petition that as God sees and knows, we might also come to be seers and knowers. In becoming nothing as our Lord is everything, we come to union with Him (cf. John 3:30). In doing simple works lovingly, we come to see and to know God who is Love. (cf. 1 John 4:8 ) 

Every Christian ought to pray that we never tire in our witness to God’s love, first in our example and then in our words. Our prayer must be as persistent as are our struggles, from learning a new language to recognizing Christ in those who are of another culture or those who are poor or sick. It was a deathly ill Thérèse of Lisieux who spoke of tireless dedication to her vocation- of the reason why God created us and of how we exist to do His will- on July 17, 1897, just two months before she died: 

“I sense that I will enter into rest…But I sense above all that my mission is yet to begin; my mission to make God loved as I love Him, to give my ‘little way’ to souls. If the Good God grants my desires, my Heaven will come to earth until the end of the world. Yes, I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth. This is not impossible, because even in the midst of the beatific vision, the angels keep watch over us. 

I do not yet wish to have myself a feast of joy; I do not wish to rest while there are still souls to save. But when the angel says: ‘Time is no more!’ (Revelation 10:6), then I will rest. I will be able to rejoice, because the number of the elect will be complete and all will have entered fully into that joy and into that rest. My heart is thrilled by the thought…” (Last Conversations, “Le Carnet Jaune”, 17.7) 

With all her remaining energy, Ste. Thérèse spoke of the love that saves- the love that, as St. Paul reminds us, “never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:8 ). This is “the love of Christ that impels us”, so that in turn we might “encourage (others) while it is still ‘today’”, in St. Paul’s words, even as we are encouraged also. (2 Corinthians 5:14, Hebrews 3:13)  Our mission, then, is especially to lead those who are small and those who are poor by making ourselves small and poor in spirit. St. Paul captures the urgency of our calling: “While it is still ‘today’”, yet there are saints in every age, and it is never too late to recognize our summons from God, as St. Augustine did in his prayer from his Confessions, Book 10:  

“Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Late have I loved Thee. And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair thorns which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst and shoutest and burstest my deafness. Thou flashest, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odors, and I drew in breath and pant for Thee. I tasted and hunger and thirst. Thou touchest me, and I burned for Thy peace…” 

Late have we, the people of Israel (in the Hebrew sense of the word, meaning ‘struggling with God’), loved the Lord who has given us everything and asks us for so little. Let us pray, in the words of St. Paul to the Romans (9:1, 4-5), that we might bear witness to Christ and thus to love, our reason for being: 

“I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness…They are the Israelites, theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.” 

WRS 

Aquí estoy, Señor, para cumplir tu voluntad.

Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will. 

-Hebrews 10:9

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One Response to “Seers and Knowers”

  1. nova 2 hd apk January 5, 2012 at 3:31 am #

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