Saturday, 17 April 2021

Carmelite Mysticism Historical Sketches - The Apostolate of Carmelite Mysticism

St. Therese Draws the World to Carmel.

Now, as never before, the eyes of the world are turned toward Carmel. In its garden a flower has opened its petals, of such ravishing beauty that countless numbers have directed their step hither, wishing to remain in the pleasance where such lovely flowers bloom. They examine anew the secrets of this beauty and once more ask themselves of what the loveliness of Carmel consists. This one flower has in turn drawn attention to so many others that the world has been filled with admiration for life in Carmel and on all sides new convents have been founded in order to fill the world with those sanctuaries in which one may live so saintly a life.

I refer to the flower of Lisieux, Little St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, whose name has flown over the world, whose life's story has been translated into all languages, who is called by God to add new lustre to the glory of Carmel.

Characteristics of Her Life.

To describe in a few minutes a life so filled with proofs of intercourse with God, with virtue and abundant infusion of grace, is next to impossible. However, I will try to summarise briefly that which is most characteristic in her life and which at the same time shows her to be one of the loveliest and most eloquent examples of the school of Carmel.

Practice of the Presence of God.

In the first place surely, comes her desire to converse with God, to lead a higher life for and through Him. She thoroughly understands that the living God who fills heaven and earth, and at the same time dwells in our innermost heart must be the object of our thoughts and love. Most striking in her life is, therefore, her living in God's presence. She may justly repeat the words of Elias the Prophet: "God lives and I stand before His face." To strengthen this in her mind she fostered the devotion to the Holy Face, called herself after it, pictured it for herself. It was an unsurpassed means, not only to see God as man, but to ascend through His Manhood to the Deity, and to live in the bosom of the Trinity as He had lived there from eternity.

Her Love of God.

As a result of this contemplation of God, love for God wells up in her with irresistible power. Her spirit has been called a spirit of love and so it is. However, it is no blind desire, but love sprung from intellectual contemplation, from knowledge acquired through faith. In order to remain firm in our love towards Him, she wants us continually to contemplate God's works and notice the proofs of His love. It is noteworthy that she very eagerly admires Nature and the loveliness of our earthly creation, that she enjoys the magnificence of flowers, the glory of a starry sky, but yet she wishes us to leave all this after a short time in order to mount up through this to God. They are a means, not an end.

Her Humility and Simplicity.

From her life before the Face of God, and her love and admiration for His power and majesty a third idea springs forth, fitting remarkably well into the scheme of the Order. I mean the idea of her own nothingness compared with God, her wonderful consciousness of her own smallness and slightness, her humility and her conception of herself as being only a child. This characteristic is often met with in the older saints of the Order, as simplicity and humility are the special hallmarks of the Order. How has Blessed John Soreth not stressed this specialty? Cardinal Gasquet quite pithily points out the characteristics which distinguish the Order of Carmel from the various other Orders: Simplices et sinceri. The life of little St. Therese has indeed given this phrase a peculiar weight and strength. It is so often said by various Carmelite spiritual authors -- and it tallies so well with our spirit -- that the Order is not called to do great things, to be spoken of, but to make itself loved and attractive by doing ordinary things well, without much talking or noise; to live in a certain seclusion for and with God more than for and with men; to attach value to what God desires more than to what man sets high store by. The first demand of the school of Carmel is a silent introversion in order to live in and with God. From this contemplation springs the feeling of smallness and nothingness, modesty and simplicity. "Unless you become like little children, you shall no enter the Kingdom of Heaven." In the Collect of the Mass of the Little Flower (Oct. 3rd) the Church expressly mentions these words of Our Lord, so that with the help of St. Therese we may be able to lay these difficult yet necessary foundations for the house of our sanctity.

Her Trust in God.

One of the paradoxes of St. Therese's life is that she, while making herself small and weak, enlists the help of Him in Whose strength she can undertake anything. Her hope and trust are wonderful.

Importance of "Little" Things.

A second paradox is that by paying attention to the most trivial things of daily life and seeing them with the eye of God, this saint makes them great and meritorious. Leading the most ordinary life, without being in the least remarkable, she knows how to make of her life an uninterrupted series of the most heroic acts of virtue and to be continuously busy with God. In perfect accordance with all this, we notice, fourthly, little St. Therese 's perfect surrender to God. It is, as it were, one with her consciousness of her littleness and nothingness.

Her Conformity to the Will of God.

She is quite in the hollow of God's hand and surrenders herself absolutely to what His Providence decrees. She strives after, as perfectly as possible, a conformity to the divine will. In this St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was a wonderful example for her in her own Order, and she loved to meditate upon her. This latter saint, one of the greatest glories of our Order, and so exalted in mystic contemplation, above all in the contemplation of the holy Trinity, was forever repeating: "It is God's Will." This was for her absolutely final. Little Therese was like her. She was deeply convinced and firmly persuaded that without mortification a spiritual life is an impossibility. Only for little St. Therese there was no better opportunity for mortification than accepting everything from God's hand just as He sent it. Constant conformity is not so easy, but this is just the reason why it is the most proper means of mortifying and suppressing ourselves. She absolutely secluded her own will and never wanted to give it play. The image of the rose shedding its petals had a particular charm for her. She wanted to shed all her leaves, to tear oft all her petals and strew them on the path of the Lord. He had to come along that road; she wanted to force Him, as it were, to come and fulfill her desire that He visit her. One of her favourite maxims was: "If you faithfully please Him in the small things of life, He will be bound, nay He cannot but help you in the more important ones." She wanted to be Jesus' flower, not to rock idly on its stem, but to be picked by Him, to die for Him before His eyes, to be strewed in His path and to be trodden on. Another rule of life for her she embodied in an ejaculation or aspiration: "I fear but one thing, to retain my own will, Take it, Lord, for I choose only what Thou choosest."

Mary Her Ideal.

As a fifth trait in her character I should like to mention that her ideal on the "Little Way" was Our Lady. Two words of Mary were deeply impressed on her memory: -- "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." From her youth she had a fervent, childlike devotion for Our Lady. Her statue stood in front of her in the small room of her paternal home, and it seemed to her as if it smiled down upon her. She entered the Order of Carmel to be her child and to imitate her especially in her union with Our Lord. Just as the life of Our Lady was ordinary and consisted of a series of the most common, everyday acts, so Therese wishes her own life to be. If God had looked down with such great contemplacency on the humility of Our Lady and had even wished to descend into her, then He would also look down with pleasure upon her, if only she tried to grow a little like Mary. Mary surrendered herself unreservedly to God's wishes through her "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word." So little Therese gave herself unreservedly to God, wishing to please Him only, to trust Him, to be His alone. Like Our Lady, who was not disturbed when St. Joseph did not understand her condition, but left the explanation of this mystery to God, so little Therese gave everything into God's hands with a limitless confidence.

God had also descended upon her, she also saw God slumbering in her. She also wanted to taste of union with God with the same delicacy as that with which Mary enjoyed this delight. But lust as the descent of God into Our Lady at once incited her to an act of humility, made her go to Elizabeth, Therese likewise wanted her union with God, her surrender to Him, to manifest itself in humble acts of charity. Therefore, she best liked to hear Our Lady praised as the example of all virtues. What does Our Lady want with admiration if we do not imitate her and respond to the great grace which God gave us by making her our example and giving her to us as our protectress? She put herself, therefore, with the Infant Jesus, with Whom she felt one, in the hands of the Virgin Mother. To describe this she employed the most childish images. "When my frock is awry from play and my hair is disheveled, then Our Lady comes and pulls my pinafore straight, sets a flower in my hair and so I can go to Jesus." 

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