IMG_0789At Matins, the first hour of the Divine Office this morning, we had one of my favorite verses as a responsory: “Cum essem parvula, placui Altissimo.” ‘When I was little, I pleased the Most High!’ It reminded me at once of this holy card I have posted on my door at the seminary, which shows St. Thérèse in Heaven kneeling at the feet of Our Lady and the child Jesus she loved so much. Mary has a bouquet of roses in her lap, and Thérèse is taking them one by one and dropping them down to earth, fulfilling her promise to spend her Heaven throwing down a shower of roses. If you look closely at the horizon, you will see the dome of St. Peter’s and the spires of the city of Rome: Thérèse, the “Little Flower,” is throwing her flowers of love down over the whole Church!

“When I was little, I pleased the Most High.” It seems to me that those few words are a concise summary of everything St. Thérèse taught in her simple, hidden life. To live a life pleasing to God does not require one to do great things. Maybe that’s the way to live a life pleasing the crowd, striving for greater and greater accomplishments to win people’s admiration or respect, but it is not the way to the heart of the Most High.

To please God does not require one to be the best, the brightest, the greatest looking, the most (fill in the blank). God does not need my eloquence to be pleased with me. God does not need my works or my many words to be pleased with me.

“When I was little, I pleased the Most High.”

Not: “When I stayed up all night keeping vigil (or working on that paper until 3:00 in the morning), I pleased the Most High.”

Not: “When I M.C.’d that Mass, I pleased the Most High.”

Not: “When I gave a talk or led a prayer night at my youth ministry placement, I pleased the Most High.”

Not: “When I got all A’s, I pleased the Most High.” (Good thing, too, because I definitely didn’t last semester!)

Yes, all those things may please Him, but it is not because they are great things in themselves. It’s not as if our works please God in proportion to how important they are in the sight of the world or how perfectly we do them. They give joy to the Father’s heart only in the proportion that they are done with love.

“The value of the gift is in the love of the giver,” they say. The great things we do so that others will see them, or to live up to our own Pharisaical standards for ourselves, count for nothing in the light of eternity. They weigh no more than rust on the scales, a drop in the bucket. But the little things we do, which no one will ever know about except you and God, done purely out of love for Him and because you know they will please Him—those are truly great in His sight.

And love increases as selfishness decreases. I have to be empty of self-interest, of pride, of vanity, of concupiscence, of greed, and of all the other little teeming grasping lesser loves if I am to be filled with the one Love which really satisfies. I have to be “nada” if I am to be filled with God’s “todo.” To truly love is to be truly little.

When I was little, I pleased the Most High.”

And so, all God desires of me is … my littleness. My lowliness. My ordinary, sleeping-in-late, distracted-at-prayer-ness. My sinfulness! My weakness! God desires it. Not any of it for its own sake, but all of it for my sake. He desires me as I am, here and now, on April 9th, 2018 A.D.

Speaking of which, today is a pretty special day to me for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s my 22nd birthday,
  2. It’s the day St. Thérèse, my awesome Sister-Saint, entered the Carmel of Lisieux in 1888 (130 years ago today!),
  3. It’s the feast of the Annunciation—normally celebrated on March 25th (nine months before Christmas), but as Palm Sunday fell on that day this year, the feast was “translated” to the first available date after the Easter Octave—which happened to be today.
  4. The exact same thing happened in 1888, so Monday, April 9th of that year, on which St. Thérèse first received the Carmelite habit as a postulant, was also the feast of the Annunciation. (So cool!)
  5. As you may remember, my religious title as a Carmelite was Bro. Matthew of the Incarnation, so today is not only my birthday, but would have been my feast day in the Order! (I’m still celebrating it as my own 😉 )
  6. Today also marks a year and a day since I returned from Carmel to the Archdiocese of Portland. My two brother novices who “ran the course with joy” have both now professed their first vows as Carmelite friars. I was blessed to be able to attend Bro. Dustin’s first profession last month back in San Jose and Bro. Frank’s two days ago in Vancouver, B.C. Our Holy Mother Teresa is smiling in Heaven to have received these new sons!

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I have had a year since I left to think, to pray, to keep discerning how God is calling me to live out my vocation. To enter deeply into the mysteries of all He has been doing in my life and in my heart. I do not have all the answers yet; I can’t say everything is clear. But I can say that the further I persevere in darkness and obscurity, “without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart,” the simpler and littler things seem to become.

For example, my heart is not wrestling with big questions or anxious about future possibilities. My discernment is no longer about which state in life God is calling me to—diocesan priest? Carmelite friar? husband and father? I am content to leave all of that in my Father’s hands. He has brought me to this place and state, and my heart resounds with a deep loving confidence that He will perfect the work He has begun. My discernment now is about what will please Him today, this hour, this minute: how I can be open to His love in this class, in praying this hour of the breviary, in this conversation: how I can be receptive to that love, and how I can be more open to reveal and share it with those around me.

“While I was yet a little one, I pleased the Most High.” And the littler I am, the more I please him! The abyss of my misery calls out to the abyss of God’s mercy, crying: Which is greater? The deeper my nothingness, the more deeply I can be filled with His All. “For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” (Romans 11:32).

God desires you, too, as you are at this time, wherever you are, however you are feeling, whatever you may have done or failed to do. Not at some unspecified future date. Not if you meet some preconceived list of conditions or achieve some hoped-for success or fame. Here. Now. In this place. As you are. “The Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come.'” (Revelations 22:17).

Our Holy Father Francis gave me a great birthday gift: his new apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.” In it he writes:

15. Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life (cf. Gal 5:22-23). When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: ‘Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better’.

And again a little later on:

34. Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, ‘the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint’.

AMEN! Let us listen to the Holy Spirit whispering to us through the words of Our Holy Father. “Do not be dismayed … Do not be afraid … Let everything be open to God … Allow yourself to be loved and liberated.” 

How?

Let yourself be little. Let yourself remain little. “‘Remaining little’,” writes Thérèse, “means that we recognize our own nothingness, that we await everything from the goodness of God, as a little child expects everything from its father, that we are not solicitous about anything, and that we do not think about amassing spiritual riches.”

“That is why I have remained little; my only care has been to gather flowers of love and sacrifice and to offer them to God for His good pleasure.”

“When I was little, I pleased the Most High.”

 

 

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