For those of us who are self-assured, this from André Louf will hit home–hard, but in a hopeful way.
God’s purpose is to crush our idols. There is in us a self-assurance to which we cling to the point of despair but with which God cannot do anything. He wants to take that assurance from us. This causes us so much pain, and our disappointment with God is so intense that we are strongly inclined to curse him, that we even begin to doubt his existence, or that in some way we want to get even with him. None of this is too serious. For even in the most embittered curse we still voice something of our faith and in every blasphemy the true image of God is still present, if only in a hidden and perverse fashion. It is God himself who takes us into his hands, God who–we think–attacks us because he wants to remove that which is dearest to us and to which we are unknowingly attached, heart and soul–the little idol which we have carried with us for years and which we adore as the true God.
We cannot escape this. . . . In quiet confidence and humble self-surrender we try to accept this reality. And as we wait for it with an almost indiscernible but nevertheless a deep joy, God gradually opens our eyes. His look makes us free to look back. Till now we had known him only from hearsay; soon, very soon, we will have seen him with our eyes.
When you feel that you have nothing left to give . . .
In my position as superior of our community, there are many days when I feel like I don’t have anything to give my sisters–not that I don’t want to–I just feel very poor. I also feel that way pretty much all the time in prayer these days. I have always experienced great encouragement from the story of the widow’s mite. Some words on this topic from Andre Louf, abbot emeritus of the Cistercian monastery of Mont-des-Cats, France:
Jesus was elated over the poor widow who offered two copper coins. She gave from her poverty and in so doing offered up everything she had to live on (Mk 12:42-44). The others had also given money, a lot of it even, but “from their surplus wealth” . . . Jesus, however, preferred the two miserable coins of the widow to these substantial gifts even though the coins were of no significance in the sum total of the collection. Why did he rate this gift more highly? Jesus’ answer was very simple: “She, from her poverty, put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Does this mean the others should have been more generous? Should they have given larger sums? Of course not. They were naturally free to do this and a higher contribution would certainly have been appreciated. But that was not what was important to Jesus; the issue was not so much one of quantity. Even if the rich were to give more, they would still only be giving from their abundance. For them it would always remain immensely difficult to give from their poverty. It is the same for us: whatever we may give of all the things that belong to us–our money, our time, our magnanimity, our health, our thousand good qualities–even if we put all this at Jesus’ disposal, still we are only giving from our abundance. And it will always remain hard and even painful for us to give from our poverty. To give everything to Jesus always means to give from our poverty and that is not an easy thing to do. But it is precisely this gift that Jesus expects from us all . . . To give from our poverty means, first of all, to know that we are poor, that we have discovered in ourselves the wound for which (for that matter) no one is responsible but which for ever makes us utterly poor indeed, poor to a degree we would not dare to admit to ourselves. . . [The widow] accepts the fact that she just wants to give what she has because Jesus looked at her and accepted her as she was. Happy are they who dare to give from their poverty: in the eyes of Jesus they have given everything they had. (from Mercy in Weakness)
“The Hebrew word for faith (emûnah) derives from the stem emeth, faithfulness, one of God’s greatest attributes. God is merciful and faithful (hesed we’ emeth, Gen 24.27). We might as well say, tender and tough. For emeth evokes the image of a rock on which we can lean or build. God will not move; we can always count on him. Our faith is a the act of leaning on the toughness or ‘sturdiness’ of God. The liturgical word ‘Amen’ has the same stem. To say ‘Amen’ is above all to believe; it is the act of affirming the sturdiness of God as it comes through to us from his Word or from the person of Jesus. The Apocalypse of John says of Jesus that he is at once amen and pistos — faithful (Rev. 3.14). He is faithful in two directions. It is his privilege boundlessly and, as it were, recklessly to lean against his Father, because he as no other may count on his Father’s power and ‘sturdiness’. Similarly in his relation to us he becomes the eminently sturdy and powerful one against whom we on our part may lean just as recklessly and boundlessly.”
The Hebrew word for faith (emúnah) derives from the stem emeth, faithfulness, one of God’s greatest attributes. God is merciful and faithful (hesed we’ emeth, Gen 24.27). We might as well say, tender and tough. For emeth evokes the image of a rock on which we can lean or build. God will not move; we can always count on him. Our faith is the act of leaning on the toughness or ‘sturdiness’ of God. The liturgical word ‘Amen’ has the same stem. To say ‘Amen’ is above all to believe; it is the act of affirming the sturdiness of God as it comes through to us from his Word or from the person of Jesus. The Apocalypse of John says of Jesus that he is at once amen and pistos–faithful (Rev. 3.14). He is faithful in two directions. It is his privilege boundlessly and, as it were, recklessly to lean against his Father, because he as no other may count on his Father’s power and ‘sturdiness.’ Similarly in his relation to us he becomes the eminently sturdy and powerful one against whom we on our part may lean just as recklessly and boundlessly. (André Louf, Tuning Into Grace)
Here is a major reason for you to have hope: Jesus “always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb 7.25). He continually stands before the Father showing Him His wounds that speak more loudly than words, the wounds He gained by the passion of His love for you and that He chose to maintain in His flesh after His resurrection. Think about that: He wanted to keep His wounds. St. Bernard says: “Thy Heart has been wounded so that the visible wound should make us know the invisible wound of love.” Another place he says: “The iron has pierced His soul and has touched His heart, so that He might know how to be compassionate to our infirmities. The body’s wounds betray the secret of the heart and disclose a great mystery of love, the merciful goodness of God Who came from heaven to visit us.” That’s how much He loves us–how much He loves you. And He continuously stands before the Father displaying His unfathomable love for you.
This ongoing prayer is the most important thing in the world, the only thing in the entire universe that carries real weight. It is the prayer of a human being who is God, this God who became human but who returned to his Father to present the universe to him for all eternity. (Andre Louf, Mercy in Weakness)
So when you start thinking, “No one ever prays for me. I’m all alone,” stop and remember “he always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb 7.25)–always lives to make intercession for you.
Many of our sisters work with the poor and the marginalized. Often I hear one or the other of them talking about seeing Jesus “in the distressing disguise of the poor” (Mother Teresa). This morning I was reading a chapter from Andre Louf’s book, Mercy in Weakness, and came across this: “Nothing more closely resembles the face of Jesus and of God than the face of a human being, from the most famous to the most miserable.” As I pondered that sentence, I began to think about how, at the same time as looking for the face of Jesus in others, we need to look for His face in ourselves. You are I are each an icon of Christ. As I continued to read the chapter, I came across these confirming words:
The Holy Spirit, from the moment of our baptism, day after day, resculpts in our heart the features of Jesus’ face, not only his physical face but also his ‘spiritual’ face. Every believer bears the glorious features of Jesus’ face, the holy face of our beloved Saviour, as though it were engraved in his or her heart, usually–sadly enough–without knowing it.
As we strive to see Christ in others, let’s not miss His beauty in us. You are an icon of Christ.
Today is the anniversary of my final vows to our community, The Servants of God’s Love. This morning before Mass I picked up a book I am reading–for the second or third time–Mercy in Weakness, by Andre Louf. This is what I read: “Jesus called to him those whom he himself wanted” (Mk 3:13). Of course, this refers to Jesus’ calling of the twelve apostles, but isn’t it just as true for us, each of us–for, yes, He called me to religious life, but it is just as true that He called you to whatever you said yes to in your own lives. The RSV says: “those whom he desired”. Think about that today: God called you, and me, out of desire for you.
A person was simply selected because Jesus preferred him, without any further motives. Jesus chooses the rich and the poor, Jewish nationalists and collaborators, ordinary people and fishermen. At the moment of selection what matters is not what these people are. He simply prefers them because he loves them, each one individually. Nothing other than Jesus’ love and preference explains this selection.
He prefers you because He loves you, short and simple. And not just when He called you. Even now.