THE MERCIFUL LOVE OF GOD
“We therefore adopt as our own the prayer of the new Saint Teresa with which she ends her invaluable autobiography: ‘O Jesus, we beseech Thee to cast Thy glance upon a vast number of little souls, and to choose in this world a legion of little victims worthy of Thy love. Amen’.” With these words Pope Pius XI concluded his homily at the Canonisation of Saint Teresa. The word “victim” may cause misgiving to some, though this should not be so, for Our Lord was a Victim, and it is enough for the disciple to be as his Master. Every one of us is clearly called to be a victim too. Our Lord is quite explicit on this point: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Clearly those words “little victims of love”, cannot be used of a few elect souls only, for Pope Pius XI prays that they may be legion.
Why does the Holy Father use such words on this particular occasion? It is because one of the ways in which Saint Teresa teaches us to love Our Lord is by recalling the fact that to be a “little victim of love” belongs to our everyday life, and is, in some degree, well within the compass of us all.
It was Saint Teresa’s intimate experience of the heavenly Father’s love in the midst of trial and suffering that gave her the particular sensitiveness to the Merciful Love of God which is such a special characteristic of the Little Way. Here, at once, she goes straight to the primary motive in our Redemption, the Father’s all-enveloping love. In so doing she delivers us from being so absorbed in our fear of the justice of God that we lose our sense of his mercy. Calvary, the divine plan for the restoration of humanity, does indeed satisfy the rights of Divine Justice, but its first motive was the Merciful Love of God, of which the Cross is the supreme manifestation: “God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son.” (John 3:16)
The result of Saint Teresa’s vivid sense of the Merciful Love of God, stooping down to embrace his children in their misery and weakness, was twofold. First, it aroused within her a deep realisation of how intensely he desires his children’s love: “It is the love of His creatures that the Creator thirsts for; He thirsts for love.” Again: “He is in such need of love.” To Saint Teresa God’s Merciful Love was a flood-tide longing to fill men’s souls and overflow them, a fire longing to consume the hearts of his children. “I am come to cast fire on the earth. And what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Luke 12:49)
Secondly, and inseparably from this vivid sense of the Father’s desire to be loved, there grew in the soul of Saint Teresa an acute consciousness of what the rejection of that love meant to him. To Celine she would say: “No, God is not much loved.” Again: “On every side the Merciful Love is rejected and unknown.” What is this but the cry of Saint John: “He came unto his own: and his own received him not.” (John 1:11)
This twofold sense of the heavenly Father’s longing for the love of his children and the utter tragedy of his children’s rejection of that love roused in her an overwhelming desire. She would offer herself without reserve to the workings of this Merciful Love so that she might console her heavenly Father by giving him, to the fullest degree, the love which he so desired from her own soul. At the same time she would offer herself to his love that she might win for him the love of countless of his children. This desire took definite shape in her Act of Oblation: “The offering of myself as a victim to the Merciful Love.” Let her tell in her own words how she was led to make this Act:
“In the year 1895, I received the grace to understand better than ever how much Jesus desires to be loved. While thinking one day of those who offer themselves as victims to the Justice of God, and who turn aside the punishment due to sinners, taking it upon themselves, I felt such an offering to be both noble and generous. I was very far, nevertheless, from feeling myself drawn to make it, and from the depths of my heart I cried: ‘O my Divine Master, shall Thy Justice alone find atoning victims? Has not Thy Merciful Love need of them also? On every side it is unknown and rejected... those hearts on which Thou wouldst lavish it turn to creatures, and seek their happiness in the miserable satisfaction of a moment, rather than cast themselves into Thy arms – into the fires of Thy infinite Love.
“O my God, must that Love which is disdained lie hidden in Thy heart? It seems to me that if Thou shouldst find souls offering themselves as a holocaust to Thy Love, Thou wouldst consume them rapidly and wouldst be pleased to set free those flames of infinite tenderness now imprisoned in Thy heart... O Jesus, permit that I may be that happy victim – consume Thy holocaust with the fire of Divine Love!”
Her twofold purpose stands out clearly in the text of the Act of Oblation: “I desire to love Thee and make Thee loved, and to labour for the glory of Thy Church by saving souls here on earth, and be delivering those suffering in Purgatory... I wish to labour for Thy Love alone, with the sole aim of pleasing Thee, of consoling Thy Sacred Heart, and of saving souls who will love Thee through eternity.”
The primary purpose is to console her Saviour. To Saint Teresa the saving of souls is but a secondary intention; she desires it less for their personal happiness than to secure more love for him.
With the trustful humility of a little child, Saint Teresa offers herself to God as an empty vessel, so that he may let the flood tide of his love flow into her; or, to use another of her illustrations, as a holocaust awaiting for the burning flames of his love to consume her as he desires. “I offer myself as a victim of holocaust to Thy Merciful Love, imploring Thee to consume me unceasingly and to let the flood tide of Infinite Love pent up in Thee pour into my soul, so that I may become a martyr to Thy Love, O my God.”
We now see what Saint Teresa meant when she said she wished to be a victim of love. She meant that by a complete surrender to God’s love, all her life should be made one with his in order to share his love. Thus “according to the expression of Saint Teresa the martyrdom of her life is the state of soul produced by the infinite tenderness of God overflowing without measure into a human heart necessarily limited.” She desires to love greatly, but, being only a creature, can love but little.
At this point most of us will pause, saying: This is not for me. Yet the Holy Father prays that there may be a legion of little victims of God’s Merciful Love. How can we who are so weak hope to attain this love?
Saint Teresa tells us. “My very weakness makes me dare to offer myself, O Jesus, as victim to Thy Love. In older days only pure and spotless holocausts would be accepted by the Omnipotent God, nor could His Justice be appeased save by the most perfect sacrifices; but now that the law of fear has given way to the law of love, I have been chosen, though a weak and imperfect creature, as Love’s victim. And is not the choice a fitting one? Most surely, for in order that Love may be wholly satisfied, it must stoop even unto nothingness, and transform that nothingness into fire.” The secret of being a victim of love lies in the fact that God’s Merciful Love, of its very nature, reaches out to those that are farthest away, to draw them to himself. “The weaker we are and the more wretched, the better material we make for His consuming and transfiguring fire.” With these words she gathers us all within the compass of her Act of Oblation. There is none so far away, or so weak, that he cannot respond to the prayer of the Holy Father for a legion of little victims of the Merciful Love.
Writing to her sister, Saint Teresa says: “The simple desire to be a victim suffices.” What is necessary then on our part is a sincere and persevering desire supported by an unwavering hope of obtaining from God all the graces necessary to return him love for love. This point is vital. God loves those whose desires are very great; he not only desires unbounded love, he commands it. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind.” (Mark 12:30) In fact he bids us love as he does. After this how dare we set bounds to our desire to do so; how can he fail to give us all we need to fulfil it? “I am certain,” says Saint Teresa, “that Thou wilt hearken to my desires. My God, I know the more Thou wishest to bestow, the more Thou dost make us desire.”
But desire, to be effective, must find definite expression. The victim of God’s love must co-operate with that love by ceaselessly striving for greater humility. “In order to enjoy the treasure of the Merciful Love we must humble ourselves, must acknowledge our nothingness; and here is where many a soul draws back.”
This is what we find so difficult in the Little Way – we must be “little”. This littleness, so far from being a mark of weakness, is the abneget semetipsum of the Gospel, that complete self-emptying which Our Lord demands of us all, as the expression of our love. The more self-love there is in our hearts, the less divine love there can be.
This self-emptying is achieved not by extraordinary exterior mortifications, but by the inner mortification of our will in every detail of the day. This is more sanctifying than any search for special suffering. Saint Teresa says: “I do not like one thing more than another; whatever God prefers and chooses for me, that is what I like best. It is what He does that I love.” She begins her Act of Oblation, not by offering herself specifically to suffering, but simply with these words: “I desire, O my God, to accomplish Thy Will perfectly.”
This is the abneget semetipsum of Our Lord made real here and now in the most practical manner. By this mortification of self-will the soul is laid open to the incoming flood of infinite tenderness; it is consumed in the flames of Merciful Love. We mortify ourselves that Christ may live more fully in us, that we may share more fully in his love for the Father.
The result of this self-surrender will be complete confidence in the Father. Saint Teresa describes this as “the self-surrender of the little child who sleeps without fear in his father’s arms.” This is what she means by becoming a “victim”, for nothing so completely immolates self in man as to become sincerely little.
Again she says: “This self-surrender alone really delivers the soul into the arms of Jesus.” The peace which comes through self-surrender is the direct fruit of humility; it can come in no other way. Our Lord has told us so: “Learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
It was God’s love alone that gave her the strength to offer herself as a victim of that love. She knew her “inability to ascend, by her own efforts, even the first steps of the ladder of sanctity.” So, in her Act of Oblation, she turns to the one and only Source. “I long to be a Saint, but I know that I am powerless and I implore Thee, O my God, to be Thyself my sanctity. All our good deeds are stained in Thy sight; I desire therefore to be clothed with Thine own Justice and to receive from Thy Love the eternal possession of Thyself.” In other words, it is correspondence with grace which makes it possible to become a little victim of Divine Love; fidelity to the life of the Holy Trinity within us; fidelity to that created gift by which we partake in the Divine Nature and become again the sons of God, children of our Father in heaven.
It is to the Holy Trinity that she addresses her Act of Oblation. “O my God, O most Blessed Trinity, I desire to love Thee and to make Thee loved.”
The Sacraments, and above all the Eucharist, are the means by which this divine life is nourished here on earth. “With confidence,” Saint Teresa prays, “I call upon Thee to come and take possession of my soul. I cannot receive Thee in Holy Communion as often as I would; but, Lord, art Thou not almighty? Remain in me as in a tabernacle; never leave Thy little victim.”
To co-operate with such an ideal may seem beyond our powers, but we are not left to our own resources. The centre of the Mass is the Blessed Sacrament. The High Priest places himself as the Victim on the altar in order that, in Communion, he may take possession of our souls and enable every one of us to live per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso.
Describing her First Communion, Saint Teresa says: “I felt that I was loved, and I said: ‘O Jesus, I love Thee and I give myself to Thee for ever’.” Here, at the age of ten, she begins her Act of Oblation. Her words seem to echo those of Saint Paul: “He loved me and delivered himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) To this Saint Paul made his own response: “I am even now ready to be sacrificed.” (2 Timothy 4:6)
The fruit of her Act of Oblation to God was a growing love of her neighbour. She tells us that it was after she had made the offering of herself that she received the grace to understand more fully the precept of charity. “I made it my study, above all else, to love God; and it was in loving Him that I gradually discovered the secret of His new commandment: ‘Little children, love one another as I have loved you’.” This love was a participation in the Divine Love of her Master. “The more I am united to Jesus, the more also do I love my Sisters.”
So completely surrendered was she to her heavenly Father that not only did his love flow unhindered through her in her lifetime to those immediately around her, but it has flowed since her death to a legion of little souls. Through her Act of Oblation she has become redemptive throughout the whole Mystical Body.
The same will happen with everyone who surrenders himself to the working of God’s love; he will become an unobstructed channel through which it will flow to other souls, that the Father may be more loved. But the surrender demands sacrifice, as the price and expression of love. “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
If only we can lose ourselves in Our Blessed Lord, we shall be able to love others with that quality of charity which rises above the daily petty annoyances and the clash of temperaments so often accentuated where true zeal for the faith is concerned. God’s Merciful Love will always be recognisable in us as a love independent of our personal likes and dislikes. Our Lord himself asks us for such love: “Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45) “He is kind to the unthankful, and to the evil. Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)
Saint Teresa closes her “Autobiography” with the prayer that, so far from being a small and select company, the number of little victims may be legion; and the Holy Father concludes his homily at the Canonisation of the Saint with this prayer: “We, therefore, adopt as our own the prayer of the new Saint Teresa with which she ends her invaluable autobiography: ‘O Jesus, we beseech Thee to cast Thy glance upon a vast number of little souls, and to choose in this world a legion of little victims worthy of Thy Love.’ Amen.” The Mass of the Saint ends with a prayer that our life throughout the day may be filled by the same love which inspired Saint Teresa to offer herself as a little victim to the Merciful Love of God: “May the heavenly mystery inflame us with that fire of love wherewith Thy virgin saint, Teresa, offered herself to Thee as a victim of charity for all mankind. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
With our Mother, the Church, thus inspiring, directing, and supporting us, and with the Saint herself at our side praying with and for us, we cannot say that this is beyond us – to whom Our Blessed Lord has said:
“Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus
as Victim of Holocaust
to the Merciful Love of God.
O my God, most Blessed Trinity, I desire to love Thee and to make Thee loved, to labour for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and by delivering those who suffer in Purgatory. I desire to accomplish Thy will perfectly and to attain to the degree of glory which Thou hast prepared for me in Thy Kingdom: in a word, I long to be a Saint, but I know that I am powerless, and I implore Thee, O my God, to be Thyself my sanctity.
Since Thou hast so loved me as to give me Thine only Son to be my Saviour and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. To Thee I offer them with joy, beseeching Thee to behold me only through the eyes of Jesus and in His heart burning with love.
Again, I offer Thee all the merits of the Saints in heaven and on earth, their acts of love and those of the holy angels. Lastly I offer Thee, O Blessed Trinity, the love and merits of the holy Virgin, my most dear Mother; and to her I entrust my oblation, begging her to present it to Thee. Her Divine Son, my well-beloved Spouse, during the days of His life on earth, told us: “If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you.” I am then certain that Thou wilt hearken to my desires... My God, I know it, the more Thou wiliest to give, the more dost Thou make us desire. Immense are the desires that I feel within my heart, and with confidence I call upon Thee to come and take possession of my soul. I cannot receive Thee in Holy Communion as often as I would, but Lord, art Thou not almighty?... Remain in me as in the tabernacle, never leave Thy little victim...
I long to console Thee for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I pray Thee to take from me the power to displease Thee. If through frailty I sometimes fall, may Thy divine glance purify my soul immediately, consuming every imperfection, as fire transforms all things into itself.
I thank Thee, O my God, for all the graces Thou hast showered upon me, in particular for having made me pass through the crucible of suffering. With joy shall I behold Thee on the last day bearing Thy sceptre, the Cross. Since Thou hast deigned to give me for my portion this most precious Cross, I hope I may resemble Thee in heaven and see the sacred stigmata of Thy Passion shine on my glorified body.
After this exile on earth, I hope to enjoy possession of Thee in the eternal Fatherland, but I have no wish to amass merits for heaven, I will work for Thy love alone, my sole aim being to give Thee pleasure, to console Thy Sacred Heart, and to save souls who will love Thee for ever.
At the close of this life I shall appear before Thee with empty hands, for I ask not, Lord, that Thou wouldst count my works... All our good deeds are stained in Thy sight. I desire therefore to be clothed with Thine own Justice, and to receive from Thy Love the eternal possession of Thyself. I crave no other throne, no other crown but Thee, O my Beloved. In Thy sight, time is nothing; one day is as a thousand years. Thou canst in an instant prepare me to appear before Thee.
That my life may be one act of perfect love, I offer myself as Victim of Holocaust to Thy Merciful Love, imploring Thee to consume me unceasingly, and to let the flood-tide of infinite tenderness pent up in Thee, flow into my soul, that so I may become a martyr of Thy Love, O my God.
May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before Thee, break life’s web at last, and may my soul take its flight, unhindered, to the eternal embrace of Thy Merciful Love.
I desire, O my Beloved, at every heart-beat to renew this oblation an infinite number of times, till the shadows fade away and I can tell Thee my love eternally face to face...
(Signed) MARIE-FRANCOISE-THERESE DE L’ENFANT-JESUS ET DE LA SAINTE FACE. (rel. carm. ind.)
Feast of the most Holy Trinity, the 9th June, in the year of grace, 1895.