The Little Way is Lived in Hidenness (Part 3)

The Little Way is not about self-praise, but a school of small acts done with great love for God’s glory. Humility, self-effacement, obedience, hiddenness, unfaltering charity and all the discipline they require are what define St. Therese’s Little Way. For her, God does not demand great deeds, recitation of long prayers, or ascetical practices, but only gratitude and self-surrender. “Offer to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” (Ps. 50:14).“God has need of our love; He has no need of our works”.[1] Small acts done with love exceed great deeds done for personal glory, gratification or simply out of obedience. So, to perfect ourselves, we ought to love God above all things and humble ourselves below all things. The aim is to perform small acts of love without reckoning, or being noticed. God who sees in secret will notice. “In reality, I am only what God thinks of me. I expect the praise I deserve only from God”.[2] My joy is to “Appear before God empty-handed, and spend your treasures as you gain them”.[3] Hiddenness and self-forgetfulness are two of the most important themes in Therese’s life and teachings. After all, did not Christ himself live a hidden life for 30 years?unknown

She became devoted to the suffering ‘Holy Face’ of Christ in order to enwrap herself in hiddenness. According to Von Balthazar, “her whole life in Christ is concentrated into her devotion to the Holy Face”.[4] In fact, the whole Monastery had a devotion to the suffering Holy Face of Jesus that was reflected on the veil of Veronica. This included an outdoor shrine in the cloister garden. Therese was constantly looking to see the hidden Holy Face of Jesus in everyone and everything. Her devotion to the ‘Holy Face’ even exceeds her devotion to the Child Jesus. This devotion became the centerpiece of her spirituality. Behind the Holy Face, she disappeared so that Christ may appear for all to see. Here lies the depth of her humility.

unknown-1Hiding behind the Holy face of Christ was a mean to console those through whom Christ is suffering. First, through the Holy Face, she associates the suffering of her father, who was mentally ill, by extension all sufferings, to the passion of Christ. She thus received permission to add to her religious name ‘of the Holy face’. Thus, her complete name became “St. Therese of Lisieux of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face”. It was the mirror through which she conceived Christ.[5] Secondly, her devotion to the Holy Face was a way to reawaken the indifferent and the complacent. As someone puts it, “This is a commentary on our callousness, our myopia, our devaluation of what is precious, our blindness to the poor, and our lack of awareness in our relationship to God”.[6] She believes ”to live from love is to dry Christ’s face”[7] in the needy. Thirdly, her attraction to the Holy face was her own way to hide herself so that her acts may glorify God instead of herself. Thus, she made the words of the suffering servant entirely hers: “…There was no beauty or majesty in him. There was nothing special about… him. People looked down on him. They didn’t accept him. He knew all about pain and suffering… (Cf. Is 53: 2-3). Therese thus wished to be hidden from all view, go unnoticed, and be forgotten by all in order to find her beloved. “Christ is a hidden treasure. To find a hidden thing, we must be hidden ourselves”.[8] So, our life like the divine face, hidden with Christ in God, is revealed in the same measure as it is hidden in the divine mysteries. In this ambiance, the soul is no longer set before the veil that hides Christ’s face, but behind it.[9] Consequently, Christ’s face will be revealed in her, and so one cannot look at her without seeing the face of Christ.[10] This veiled face becomes the medium through which Christ is consoled and wretched souls are saved.

[1]Story of a soul, 113

[2] Stertenbrink, 126

[3] story of a soul, Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, 277

[4] Von Balthazar, 157

[5] Von Balthazar, 157

[6] unknown author, Key Elements in Therese’s spirituality, p2

[7] ibid, from her last conversation,

[8] von Balthazar, 158

[9] von Balthazar, 158

[10] von Balthazar, therese, 159

The Little Way (part2)

To achieve what is said in part one of the Little way, Therese resolves to seek out a mean to become a saint by a very short, straight, “Little Way” that is completely new.[1] In her mind, this way will be as new as a new technological invention; after all we live in an age of inventions; that way will be like “an elevator by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection.”[2] Grace inspires boldness in us. When the Holy Spirit overpowers us, we dare to try to find new ways to live the gospel. Where can she find that elevator or way? She turns to Holy Scripture where she finds “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me…”(Prov. 9:4). There, she finds that Jesus’ arms are the elevator that will raise her up to heaven.[3] The inspired word of God, which is ever new and fresh while remaining old, “opens new vistas, new and unforeseeable paths”[4] for her. There we have it. the new way to greatness must be achieved through littleness.therese07

Here is the great lesson Therese wants to teach us here: greatness comes from smallness. She wants to be a great saint, but instead of trying to do something noticeable, she lowers herself, persevere, and surrender her will to God. What the prophet Micah said in relation to the birth of Christ can be applied to Therese here. “You, Bethlehem-Ephratha too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2). Therese who thought herself too small to be among the great saints is counted among the greatest saints that had ever graced the Church because she chooses to live the opposite of what she wanted to be. St. Francis de Sales advised, “when dealing with a character flaw, resort as much as possible to practicing the contrary virtue, and connect everything to it”.[5] Therese did precisely that. She wanted greatness, yet she chose littleness. She wanted fame, yet she chose hiddenness. Later, she became all at once, not just before men, but also before and because of God. Is this not a common occurrence in Scripture— the little giving rise to the great, wonderful things coming where you least expect them? Did stuttering Moses not speak up to mighty Pharaoh? Did the slave nation not defeat the mightiest army? Did tiny David not slaughter the giant Goliath? It is clear that when we surrender to God’s way, mighty forces come to our help.

img_0252Therese seems to intuit that method from God. After the Fall, God called Abraham, an unknown and powerless man to leave his country and move to an unknown land (Gen. 12), and made a great nation out of him. Out of all the powerful nations of the world, God chose a small and insignificant country for the savior of the world to be born; what’s more, while under the occupation of the most powerful nation on earth—Rome. In the midst of a wide world full of kingdoms with their mighty events and dramas, he devoted himself to little things, to individual men and women, and on “little people”. In a country where there were popular movements to overthrow the Romans, our Lord devoted many hours to one Samaritan woman, the one Nicodemus, the one Martha, the one Mary Magdalene, the one Lazarus, the one Simon Peter. That tells us the infinite value of the one (the little) is the key to the Christian understanding of the many (the great). God’s greatness is magnified more evidentially in small things.[6]

Do you want to please God too? well, it is possible, don’t become hopeless. trust wholeheartedly; choose the opposite of your flaw. you will succeed.

[1] Jacques Philippe, The Way of Love, p. 9

[2] Story of a soul 207

[3] Story of soul, 208

[4] Phillipe, 19

[5] Rudolf Stertenbrink, Wisdom of the Little Flower, 127

[6] Inspired from a quote of Anglican Primate Michael Ramsey used by Stertenbrink, 65-66

The Little Way of Therese (part1)

There is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint (Leon Bloy).

As we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, I see no one more fitting than St.Therese of Lisieux, my friend, my guide, my favorite saints, my aspiration and inspiration, to offer to my readers. She teaches us in very simple ways how to become a saint through her little way.

imagesWhat is the “Little Way” of St. Therese anyway? It is to become like a little child and acknowledge our powerlessness before the mighty God. As she puts it at the very beginning of her autobiography, “God’s Love is made manifest as well in a simple soul that does not resist His grace as in one more highly endowed”. Self-abasement is the characteristic of love; it seems that God enjoys coming to little souls. If all souls resembled the holy Doctors who have illuminated the Church, it seems that God would not stoop low enough. But He has created the little child, who knows nothing and can but utter feeble cries, and the poor savage who has only the natural law to guide him, and it is to their hearts that He deigns to stoop”.[1]

As the German writer Rudolf Stertenbrink puts it, “at the center of Theresian spirituality stands the concept of being a child in the presence of God”.[2] Therese wanted nothing more than to become more and more a child in the presence of God. Let us probe into the essence of a child! A child knows that it is nothing in and of itself; it has nothing; it can do nothing. A child is weak, innocent, naïve, and utterly dependent on others. A child has to look up because it expects everything to come from above. That’s what Therese believes will bring us in radical friendship with God. As she puts it in a letter to her sister Leonie on July 12, 1896:

“Look at a little child who has just vexed its mother, either by giving way to temper or by disobedience. If he hides in a corner and is sulky, or if he cries for fear of being punished, his mother will certainly not forgive the fault. But should he run to her with its little arms outstretched, and say: “Kiss me, Mother; I will not do it again!” what mother would not straightway clasp her child lovingly to her heart, and forget all it had done? …She knows quite well that her little one will repeat the fault—no matter, her darling will escape all punishment so long as it makes appeal to her heart.[3]

501a5172db413080cab0e8a0e172dd58With this, there is nothing counterintuitive about spiritual childish. As Stertenbrink asserts, “who is it within us who believes, hopes, prays, forgives, loves, and trusts? Who is it within us who weeps and laughs?”[4] It is the child at the bottom of our heart. The children within us is the part that most resembles the creator. A person who wants to brow and flourish must not lose contact with the child within. The disciples rebuked the little children who were coming to Jesus perhaps because they had lost contact with the child lying within their souls (cf. Luke 18:15-17). The perspective constitutes a fundamental characteristic of the Little Way. Whoever discovers this child hidden deep within is saved from dependence upon the past and fear of the future. It becomes possible in “the present moment”.[5] I bet there are some reading this who are caught up in the past mistakes. The Little Way offers a way out. Anyone can try it. If you fail, you just try again.

The ‘Little Way’ does not come without a fight. As a novice master, observing the novices, she noticed, “all souls have more or less the same battles to fight”.[6] So they need purification in order to be at the service of God. In a letter she sent her sister Céline on July 7, 1894, she reminds her of the spiritual dryness our soul sometimes undergoes as we journey in this valley of tears. “I went down into the garden to see… if the vineyard had flourished, but the pomegranates were in bud…”(cf. Song of songs 6:10, 11). There are times when the sweet consolations of God’s love and mercy are only “arid and waterless waste”. Since we are wayfarers, we feel “as gold is tired in the fire so must our souls be purified by temptation”.[7] What must be the proper attitude in these trying periods? She suggests that we fight even without the hope of winning the battle.[8] We must keep going no matter how strong the struggle may be.

One night, she had a dream in which soldiers were needed for a war; she readily accepts to go. Not surprisingly, her heroes were the Crucified Jesus and the martyrs. To make Christ known, she would not mind being mistreated like the crucified Lord, flayed like St. Bartholomew, plunged into boiling oil like St. John, ground by the teeth of wild beasts like St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bread worthy of God. She would offer my neck to the sword of the executioner like St. Agnes and St. Cecilia, and like Joan of Arc she would murmur the name of Jesus at the stake.[9] Although she was not privileged enough to suffer martyrdom, she fought to do every small acts as if it were her last act. In the same way, to master the little way, we must be armed with the spirit of the sword fighting as if that was our only chance; we never fight alone; Jesus, who had come to bring not peace but war, empowers us to fight and fights for us. We become victorious through these fights. Is there any winner who did not have to fight/struggle? Thats what makes the victory succulent actually. Victory is won at the point of the sword.[10]st-therese-1

The ‘Little Way’ is the way of love. Realizing that she is not called to the battlefield like a warrior, or to die at the stake like Joan of Arc— the heroine of France– “God made me understand that my personal glory would never reveal itself before the eyes of men, but that it would consist in becoming a Saint”[11]— she commits herself to battle by means of love. Inspired by the sight of a statue of The Blessed Joan of Arc, she prayed, “I burn to do battle for Thy Glory…. I know the warfare in which I am to engage; it is not on the open field I shall fight… My sword is Love! O my Jesus! I will do battle, then, for Thy love, until the evening of my life”.[12] She believes that no battle is fiercer and more final than the battle of love conducted with the sword of the spirit.[13] That battle is against the flesh, the will to power, the pharisaic attitude of self-glorification persisting in the faith. Fighting to love is the only worthy battle. When we fight with assiduous passion, “the heavenly militia comes to my aid since it cannot bear seeing us defeated after being victorious in the battle of love”.[14] We fight more courageously when we have heaven fighting for us and that’s our great victory.[15] So while we must be coward in the battle against the flesh, the battle to love must be fought relentlessly. If we persevere, then the heart becomes bolder and we will march from victory to victory.[16] Fight! Fight! Fight!

In the next post, I will give more concrete examples of what the little way entails.

[1] Story of a soul, 14

[2] Rudolf Stertenbrink, Wisdom of the Little Flower, 22

[3] Therese Letter 3, July 12, 1896

[4] Stertenbrink, 21

[5] ibid 21

[6] Story of a soul, 239

[7] Letter 18, July 7, 1894. http://www.catholicbible101.com/St.%20Therese%20Story%20of%20a%20soul.pdf

[8] Counsels and reminiscences of Therese, the little flower, http://www.catholicbible101.com/St.%20Therese%20Story%20of%20a%20soul.pdf

[9] Story of a Soul, 193

[10] Urs Von Balthazar, Therese, 171

[11] Story of a Soul, 72

[12] Prayer inspired by a statue of Joan of Arc, http://www.catholicbible101.com/St.%20Therese%20Story%20of%20a%20soul.pdf

[13] Von Balthazar, 174

[14] Story of a Soul, 222

[15] ibid

[16] Von Balthazar, 172

 

Concrete Love!

We are not allowed to fail in loving. We are made to love. Every learning, experience, study should deepen our knowledge and will to love. We will be judged on love. So, as the church is looking for new ways to spiritually re-awaken the faithful who are drunk with the wine of secularism and indifference, it is only if we teach them how to love concretely that they will be sobered up. Who but St. Therese is better fitted for that task since it was she who brought to light the idea of doing small things with incredible amount of love. Therese of Lisieux is the saint of love. Although all the saints became saints as a result of love, it is Therese who emphasized for us how to practice love. What is her understanding of charity?

She believed Jesus’ command at the Last Supper — love one another as I have loved you— constitutes the Magna Carta of our faith. How we live this reveals our identity.[1] She noticed that Jesus did not love his disciples for their natural qualities; they were poor uneducated fishermen while he was eternal wisdom. He loved them because he wanted them to enjoy the kingdom. We too must become students in the school of love and master every aspect of it in our striving to become true disciples. Thus, she discovered a new insight about charity. “True charity consists in bearing with the defects of others, in not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues. Above all I know that charity must not remain shut up in the heart, for “No one lights a candle, and puts it in a hidden place”.”[2] That means we must be charitable not only to those who are dear to us, but also to all without distinction. Unlike the old law which commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, the new commandment given by Jesus urges us to love them as Jesus himself loves them i.e. more than ourselves.[3]img_0252

Marred by weaknesses and imperfections, unless Jesus loves in us, we cannot love others as Jesus loves us.[4] Thus grace becomes the epicenter of this commandment; grace empowers us to do what we would not otherwise be able to do on our own. So, frequent participation in the sacraments becomes crucial because they are the source of grace. As Aquinas shows, “the Sacraments are necessary for our salvation since it’s the only healing remedy against the disease of sin”.[5] Since we are living in the age of the new evangelization, if it is to be successful, practical love as developed by St. Therese and the celebration of the sacraments will have to go hand in hand.

Charity is concretized in how we approach every act. As she puts it, “it is not enough [to say we] love; we must prove it”.[6] That proof will happen under trials sometimes. The more united we are to Jesus the deeper we can love. So when we see defects in others, if we look at them with the eyes of love, we automatically see their virtues and good intentions.[7] She called that “small victories in the battlefield”. For example, in the convent where she lived, there was a sister who had the gift of displeasing Therese in her ways, words, and character. She could not stand her. She decides to practice charity toward her because “charity does not consist in feelings, but in works”;[8] she decided to do for that sister what she would do for the person she loved the most”.[9] So every time she meets her, she prays for her. When sister says something that was hurtful, instead of responding, Therese would smile most charmingly, or if she could, she’d change the conversation for as she sees it, “arguments don’t change hearts”.[10] If she could not resist the sister in her hurtful manner, she would run away like a coward to avoid sinning. She became victorious over that temptation through prayer, kindness, and virtuous cowardice. By preferring to see the sister as Jesus sees her, Therese knew she was pleasing Jesus for “just like an artist is pleased to receive praise for his work, the divine artist is pleased when we don’t stop at the exterior, but penetrate the inner sanctuary of his work where he dwells”.[11] Therese practiced that love so well, one day that sister asks Therese, “what attracts you so much toward me? Every time you look at me, you smile”. Success!

st-thereseCharity penetrates even the most hardened hearts; it heals even the most wounded; it soothes and frees the soul to focus on its natural inclination. Therese overcomes her temptations by mean of love. Charity changes mind and heart. It opens doors. She focused in growing in personal love, then that affects those around her drastically; love is irresistible; confronting the sister would create more friction and pain. Fraternal correction would only hurt her pride. How many today are wounded, broken, bruised, abused, and used because they don’t know how to love? Instead of detesting that sister, who gave her at first every chance to do so, she prefers to see Jesus hidden n the depths of her soul.[12] Would you like to change a bad coworker, neighbor, friend, unleash the power of love within you and participate in the sacraments very frequently, then wait to see marvel. How many people going to church regularly don’t know how best to live the truth? To be a Christian is the result of an encounter with the person of Jesus; that encounter should give a radical direction to our lives.

What am I talking about? Are there examples out there of that concrete love I am talking about? Maximilian Kolbe manifested that love at Auschwitz when he replaced father of three who was chosen to die. It is alive in St. Gianna Mollo’s daughter for whom she gave up her life. it is alive in those who strive to love the poor. we can touch in parents who sacrifice everything out of love for their family.

Lastly, charity is an interior disposition manifested externally. Performing many actions for others without interiorly disposed is not charity; in her words, “when charity has buried its roots deeply in the soul, it shows itself externally”.[13] So there can be charity in refusing to do for someone what cannot be done. It all depends of the disposition of the soul. Reform your soul. Convert.

This may sound obvious to many; that’s consoling; however there are many who don’t understand this fundamental calling of the Christian life, or how to live out their calling. A simple conversation with them reveals all this. That’s difficult to preach effectively morality, the cross, fasting, almsgivings, praying for one’s enemies, forgiveness etc. to people when they don’t get the basics. Unless they understand love is the basis of all these, unless they become love themselves, these will be a burden on them, and homilies will sound like blah blah blah.

The little way next be patient please

[1] Story of a soul, 219

[2] Story of a soul, 220

[3] Story of a soul, 220

[4] Story of a soul, 221

[5] ST III, 61, 1

[6] 225

[7] story of a soul, 221

[8] Story of a soul, 222

[9] ibid

[10] Story of a soul, 223

[11] Story of a soul, 222

[12] Story of a soul, 223

[13] story of a soul, 228

Love: The Cornerstone

Without a doubt, the foundation of the Christian life rests on love. All doctrines, all ecclesial laws, all spiritualties, all theologies aim at deepening the virtue of love. Without love, all efforts would miss the forest for the tree, or confound the stars for the sun, or prioritize means over end. Thats why love is always the unspoken attraction that brings two people together. St. Paul, powerful evangelizers that he was, understood the point of the Christian life profoundly. Thus, he wrote that even if we have all spiritual gifts and powers in the Christian community enabling us to occupy lofty position, if we don’t have love, it profits nothing. If we speak in tongues, they will cease; if we have knowledge, it will be done away. Love alone, the greatest of the spiritual gifts, will last (I Cor. 13:1-13). Love is the greatest equalizer in life.

imagesThis insight into the mystery of God encapsulates the call of every Christian. Love alone allows us to become godlike. From a Christian point of view, it is a noble task to be the mother Teresa of the poorest of the poor; it is praiseworthy to fight for justice like martin Luther king using nonviolence; it is ideal to convert a continent like the religious missionaries of the 16th to 18th centuries. However, unless charity constitutes the cornerstone of this endeavor, it does not leave an indelible mark in The Book of Life. All human inspiration must begin with charity and lead ultimately to greater charity. When she was seeking for her specific call (since she was already a Carmelite sister engaged to pray for priests) within the church, St. Therese of Lisieux discovered a pivotal and illuminating passage in the epistle of St. Paul that points her toward the epicenter of what it means to follow Christ.[1]

She went through a searching period. She felt that burning desire to do more in the church. It can be said that she was looking for her call within her call. At first, she wanted to be a warrior/martyr performing heroic deeds for Christ, guarding the pope, or going on crusade to defend the faith; she did not want just one type of martyrdom; she wanted to be flayed like St. Bartholomew, boiled in oil like St. John, tortured like St. Agnes and St. Cecilia, and guillotined like Joan of arc.[2] Then, she felt the vocation of the priest which would enable her to carry the living Christ in her hands and give him to thirsty souls; at the same time, she wanted the humility of St. Francis who did not feel worthy to receive the sublime dignity of the priesthood. As if the battle in her heart was not divisive enough, she felt the vocation of the apostles and the missionaries by which she would travel throughout the world to preach the glorious name of Christ.[3]

There are many who are reading this who felt like they are torn between many things in life or in the church. St. Therese can be a lamp within their feet. if you don’t know what God wants you to do with your life yet, you can never go wrong loving intensely. That’s enough to make you a saint, which is the goal of every life. As a faithful daughter of the church who wanted nothing but to do the will of God, she accepts that while they may be many spiritual gifts, not all can be doctors, martyrs, evangelists, priests etc. therefore, “I abase myself to the very depths of my nothingness, and raised myself so high I was able to reach myself”.[4] She then discovered something more excellent than all these wants. Without love, these desires don’t lead to God. In this discovery, her restless soul found solace.[5]

images-1Charity is the breadth, length, height, and depth of all vocations. The heart of the church burns with love, as she understands her. Love is the heart that pumps blood in the body of the church enabling her to function. It is love that makes the heart of the church beats. “If love ever becomes extinct, apostles would not preach the gospel, martyrs would refuse to shed their blood, and priests would become social workers. Love is everything because it encapsulates all vocation. In the midst of this discovery, she uproariously exclaimed “MY VOCATION IS LOVE; in the heart of the church, my mother, I shall be Love”.[6] Now, this discovery gives her the key to be the greatest in the church. The measure of her greatness will be the measure of her love. Let this be known, dear friends, what was true for St. Therese is true for all of us we are to be love. We will be as great as our love. As Aquinas famously puts it, “from love we came, by means of love, to become love, and to return to love”. No one but ourselves can stop us from becoming love and returning to love. We are each called to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. God is love, St. John the evangelist tells us. To be like him is to become enwrapped in love. Therefore, if you dream of the height, if you want to reach the mountaintop both in this life and the next, if you want to achieve something noble, worthwhile, if you want to shake the earth, unleash the power of love hidden within your heart. Genuine love is power.

How she lived her vocation to love marks the 20th century and continues to be unraveled in the 21st century. St. Pius IX did not hesitate as a result to dub her the greatest saint of the modern times. No small feats! St. John Paul II proclaimed a doctor of the church although she died at 24 and lived behind closed doors in her last 10 years on earth. The “Little Way” by which she lived her vocation to love is the most known and pursued spirituality right now. it is what inspired countless people to live holiness in an unprecedented way. That’s what inspired mother Teresa and her sisters to love the poorest of the poor so drastically.

I will explain the little way in the next post. Patience please!

[1] Story of a soul, 192

[2] Story of a soul, 193

[3] ibid 192

[4] ibid 194

[5] ibid 194

[6] ibid 194

Behold the Woman!

It is often said that behind every great man, there always is a great woman. This certainly has come true in Jesus and our Blessed Lady. Through grace and cooperation with God’s plan, she made him into what he had become for the world. Just like a woman is always crucial into what kind of person a child becomes, Mary was vital into what Christ became. Remember she was not a puppet in the hands of God; she freely chose to cooperate; no one forced her. As we celebrate the feast of her Assumption— the belief that she was taken body and soul into heaven without knowing any corruption— we owe her so much gratitude for allowing us to hope of salvation by giving us Jesus. I mean God did, but she cooperates. Is it not strange that in an era where Feminism is at its height The Blessed Lady is not on every lip, TV shows, books, movies, and arts as the greatest example of women’s power? If this movement got it right, she should be its vanguard.

M_AssumptionReflecting on what God had accomplished through her, it is concluded that she is the highest honor of our race. Why? No human beings can deem to be the bearer (mother) of God. No one occupies such a pivotal role in the liberation of a race as she did. No hero or heroine was that crucial in any cause. Our salvation begun as a result her fiat; we could speculate about what would have happened had she responded negatively, but all we know she did not. Because of her, heaven and earth, God and human had come together. By such occurrence, the human race that was galloping in the direction of hell makes a U-turn. The church never fails to honor her for playing such a powerful role. That’s why we dare call her Mediatrix, Co-Redemptoris of our salvation. That means she was the spark that started the whole fire though she probably did not foresee the consequences of her fiat. God could have done otherwise of course had he preferred it, but he did not and she cooperated with the divine plan. We can all learn from her exemplary life. Don’t we all want to do something heroic, magnificent, and extraordinary? Well, we can. Search for God’s plan and follow it intensely. Then be ready to be amazed.pier

She is such a powerful figure for all young men and women striving to be a “person of the Beatitudes”. She remained a virgin before (because she has not known Joseph yet), during (because she bore the child through the power of the Holy Spirit—that’s a miracle), and after (because both Joseph and her understood that what had happened set them apart for a special mission) giving birth to Christ. When promiscuity is so widespread, when clothes and body image are cut to show the power of our maleness and femaleness, when it is deemed “embarrassing” to preserve one’s virginity until marriage, she offers an alternative. Her voice goes out to all striving or doubting whether it is worth preserving themselves. She’s telling us a resounding yes; it worth it. The great pearl that you are was not made to be known by multiple partners or seen by all.

family2Moreover, as the greatest mother who had ever lived, she is a great model of what it means to be an excellent mother, and a teacher to all fathers. To all women, she teaches how to accompany a child as the child is trying to grow in wisdom and age. She let him be, and through that she discovered who he is—do whatever he tells you (John 2). To fathers, she teaches how to treat a child when things don’t go as planned. Finding him in the temple, notice how she did not yell at him, but rather she asked him a question— Son, why have you treated us this way (Luke 2:48)? Joseph stands there and observes how she does it. we men don’t handle things this way. Another lesson is that in our attempt to help those who need help in this journey, she is a great example of how best to do so— never in a nagging or imposing way. She teaches us that asking questions, attentive listening go a long way.

Mary Mother of God, teach us how to navigate this current!

Juxtaposing Amoris Laetitia and Cardinal Newman

It is often believed that doctrine and spirituality do not always go hand in hand. The former seems to care about maintaining the principles of the faith while the latter is concerned about the human person. In the apostolic exhortation Amoris Latitiae—the two seem to have juxtaposed beautifully; that’s almost an unprecedented move. It captures the attitude of our Lord who while he set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals. The way he treated the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery are two illustrating examples.

Of course, the Church has always been aware of that attitude. John Paul II proposed the “law of gradualness” in the document Familiaris Consortium. It’s the understanding that the human person “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth” (34). Just like a teacher would not teach his students Calculus until he goes through all the lower math levels, we should not impose the high idealism of the spiritual life until a person is ready to understand, interiorize, and embrace the full truth of Jesus’ teachings. It is prudent to gradually teach a person, accompany him/her until that person is in the position to fully carry out the objective demands of the law. We must say like St. Paul, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.” (1 Cor. 3:2). When will we know the person is ready to embrace the full teaching depends on the pastor’s relationship with the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth to his shepherd. Not black or white! What if the person is never ready? That’s a fair question.

UnknownThe church is in the business of reintegration not casting off. She is always ready to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart (Amoris Laetitia 296). So, if someone exhibits a way of life incompatible with the Christian ideal, that person needs to let the gospel penetrates his life so he can experience conversion. Pastors of souls are there to help through that process. that simply means there will be a lot of new beginnings and fall start. The church’s role is simple to patiently stand alongside each person as they keep on trying. Again, this is the first time a church document dealing with doctrine is juxtaposing doctrine and spiritual growth.

Remarkably, the document mentions that despite the struggles, a person can take part in the social service of the church like Knight of Columbus, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul, prayer meetings together with the discernment of the parish priest. That’s a way to avoid the person from feeling separated from the community. The goal is to help “people feel not an excommunicated member of the Church, but instead a living member” (299). It is important to understand that participation in the community does not always mean serving at the altar during the liturgy. I don’t think there has ever been any clearer statement on this issue until this. While no one was ever rejected, many did feel that way. The hope is that this clarification brings out some changes.

Now, in case of divorced and civilly remarried, “it is the responsibility of the church to help them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and assist them so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them” (Amoris Laetitia 297). Again, that’s when the law of gradualness comes handy. Pastors of souls must work with those living in an irregular marriage until they are fully integrated into the life of the Trinity. That means they must meet regularly with their pastor until they can find a solution that brings them fully into the flock of God. Currently, they are absolutely part of God’s flock, but not fully. Spiritual direction and instruction have as their ultimate goal to bring them fully into the church.

confessions-about-confessionWithout falling into casuistry, the document cleverly maintains that not all divorced and civilly remarried can be pigeonholed as one. There must be “a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”. Therefore, priests have a duty to initiate a process of accompaniment and discernment in order to “guide the divorced and remarried to an awareness of their situation before God (300). A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives (305).

The following cases cannot be treated in a general manner: A second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity” must be treated atypically because it does not fit the general norm.

Or the case of someone who has made every effort to save her first marriage and was unjustly abandoned, and so entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing while subjectively certain in conscience that her previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid” deserves special attention.

Someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family cannot be seen as the same as the above.

The document throws light of factors at play when judging a case of divorced and civilly remarried. “ a person may know the rule full well, yet have great difficulty in understanding (notice it says understanding not accepting) “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.” This is an important point. It entails that a person may be living in an irregular situation yet possesses grace and charity. As Aquinas puts it, “someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well” (ST I-II, 65, 3, ad2). This is very enlightening. That means because of the particular circumstances that surround a divorced and civilly remarried person, he/ she may not be as culpable as another person divorced and remarried couple (302). Again, not all cases can be put in the same basket. A negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the culpability of the person involved. So responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases (302).

A logical question that follows from this unfamiliar teaching is: is this a departure from the mother doctrine as laid out in Familiaris Consortium, or is this part of hermeneutic of continuity? Put otherwise, is this a legitimate development of what Jesus said in Matthew 19:9 (whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”), or a corruption of it?

That leads to what John Henry Newman, the great towering Anglican figure who converted to Catholicism, said n his work entitled On the Development of Christian Doctrine about the criteria for a doctrine to be developed genuinely. Chapter 5 is worth your time.

For a doctrine to be developed genuinely, it mus9c712f6115b426b6081d1f94edc217d9t preserve the essential form and structure of what came before it. It is genuine if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last. By the same token, butterfly can be seen as a genuinely development of caterpillar. While butterfly is not the same as a caterpillar, it preserves the essential form and structure of a caterpillar.

An authentic development illustrates, corroborates that from which it proceeds. A child is an illustration of the parents. Christianity is a legitimate development of Judaism.

An authentic development has the power to assimilate. While it takes what is best and sound for its own development, it rejects what does not square off with its future life. Doctrines and views as they relate to man are never placed in a void; they are found in the crowded world, and make way for themselves by interpenetration, and develop by absorption. They interpenetrate people and are absorbed according to the mode of the recipient. As recipients grow into deeper understanding and gain more experiences in life, their understanding of doctrines is bound to undergo deeper and expansive development.

So does Amoris Laetitia constitute a departure from Matthew 19:9? It would serve anyone interested in answering this question to take Cardinal Newman as a mentor and companion. He could save a great deal of embarrassment.