Saturday, September 26, 2009

Perpetual Oblation and Christian Joy

Alfonso Ossorio 1916 - 1990
Perpetual Sacrifice, 1949
Ink, wax, and watercolour on Whatman watercolor board
overall: 99.3 x 66 cm (39 1/8 x 26 in.)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Bert Gerresheim (b. October 8 1935 )
Station of the Cross Number 11 (detail): Saint Maximilian Kolbe, 2007
Bronze relief panel (detail)
The Heilig-Geist-Kirche in Bielefeld, Ostwestfalen

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, 1683, - 1754
The Ecstasy of St Francis 1729
Oil on canvas
Pinacoteca Civica, Vicenza

Corrado Giaquinto ca.1694-1765
The Trinity with Souls in Purgatory c. 1743
Oil on canvas 39 x 29 1/8 in. (99.06 x 73.98 cm) (canvas)
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis

William Bouguereau 1825-1905
Une âme au ciel/A Soul Brought to Heaven circa 1878
Oil on canvas 70 3/4 x 108 1/4 inches (180 x 275 cm)
Musee du Périgord, Périgueux

Of St Thérèse`s theology, Pope John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter, Divini Amoris Scientia:

“The core of her message is actually the mystery itself of God-Love, of the Triune God, infinitely perfect in himself. If genuine Christian spiritual experience should conform to the revealed truths in which God communicates himself and the mystery of his will (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 2), it must be said that Thérèse experienced divine revelation, going so far as to contemplate the fundamental truths of our faith united in the mystery of Trinitarian life.

At the summit, as the source and goal, is the merciful love of the three Divine Persons, as she expresses it, especially in her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.

At the root, on the subject's part, is the experience of being the Father's adoptive children in Jesus; this is the most authentic meaning of spiritual childhood, that is, the experience of divine filiation, under the movement of the Holy Spirit. At the root again, and standing before us, is our neighbour, others, for whose salvation we must collaborate with and in Jesus, with the same merciful love as his.

Through spiritual childhood one experiences that everything comes from God, returns to him and abides in him, for the salvation of all, in a mystery of merciful love. Such is the doctrinal message taught and lived by this Saint.”

What was her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love ?

Prior to her death, very few other people knew about this Act. Her sister Celine also made the same act at the same time.

Thérèse`s sister, Céline (Sr. Geneviève) gave the following testimony at the diocesan inquiry into the life of St. Thérèse about the Act of Oblation (from Saint Thérése of Lisieux by Those Who Knew Her, edited by Christopher O'Mahony, Dublin, Pranstown House, 1989 reprint, pages 128-129):

"On 9 June of the same year 1895, the feast of the Blessed Trinity, she received a very special grace during Mass, and felt within herself an urge to offer herself as a holocaust victim to Merciful Love. After Mass she took me with her to mother prioress; she seemed beside herself and did not say a word. When we found Mother Agnes, for it was she who was then prioress, she asked her if both of us could offer ourselves as victims to Merciful Love, and gave her a short explanation of what that meant. Mother Agnes was at a loss; she did not seem to understand too well what was going on, but she had such confidence in Sister Thérèse's discretion that she gave her full permission. It was then that she composed the act called 'An Offering to Love', which she carried next to her heart ever afterwards."

In Chapter 9 of her Autobiography, St Thérèse discusses her Act of Oblation which occurred on June 9, 1895 (Trinity Sunday)

“In the year 1895, I received the grace to understand, more than ever, how much Jesus desires to be loved. Thinking one day of those who offer themselves as victims to the Justice of God, in order to turn aside the punishment reserved for sinners by taking it upon themselves, I felt this offering to be noble and generous, but was very far from feeling myself drawn to make it.

“O my Divine Master,” I cried from the bottom of my heart, “shall Your Justice alone receive victims of holocaust? Has not Your Merciful Love also need thereof? On all sides it is ignored, rejected . . . the hearts on which You would lavish it turn to creatures, there to seek their happiness in the miserable satisfaction of a moment, instead of casting themselves into Your Arms, into the unfathomable furnace of Your Infinite Love.”

“O my God! must Your Love which is disdained lie hidden in Your Heart? I think, if Thou should find souls offering themselves as victims of holocaust to Your Love, Thou would consume them rapidly; You would be well pleased to suffer the flames of infinite tenderness to escape that are imprisoned in Your Heart.”

“If Your Justice—which is of earth—must needs be satisfied, how much more must Your Merciful Love desire to inflame souls, since ‘Your Mercy reaches even to the Heavens’?” (Psalms 36:5). O Jesus! let me be that happy victim—consume Your holocaust with the Fire of Divine Love!”

Dear Mother, you know the love, or rather the oceans of grace which flooded my soul immediately after I made that Act of Oblation on June 9, 1895. From that day I have been penetrated and surrounded with love. Every moment this Merciful Love renews me and purifies me, leaving in my soul no trace of sin. I cannot fear Purgatory; I know I do not merit to enter even into that place of expiation with the Holy Souls, but I also know that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory. I know that Jesus could not wish useless suffering for us, and He would not inspire me with the desires I feel, were He not willing to fulfil them.”

We get some more insight as to what was involved in this act through a letter written by Fr. Lemonnier to Sister Geneviève in June 1895 obviously in response to a letter by Sister Geneviève (Céline) to him:

“Dear Child,

You can see my happiness over your joy! And I sense your joy very profound. Rejoice in this bliss; surrender yourself totally without any look elsewhere but on Jesus. Jesus! Who is all for you. Yes, my child, you are victim but not alone, Jesus is there, immolating Himself in you and through you. How good it is to offer oneself totally to Jesus so that He may continue as adoring, expiating Victim, but above all as loving Victim!

Dear little flower who will console Jesus for so much ingratitude He receives from creatures.

Dear child, I bless you with all my heart, you and your Angel of the Child Jesus. I bless you, and I ask you to stir up one another in good, and that you not only be good and holy religious but that you do good, that your zeal may be a fire spreading itself and causing a real conflagration in your dear Carmel.

You will pray my child, you and your dear sister, for the Father who has the most paternal interest in you.

May Jesus bless you and keep you in these sentiments all through your life.

A. Lemonnier”

(Taken from General Correspondence Volume Two Translated by John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1988 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002 U.S.A.)

The fullest explanation is contained with a scrap of paper written by Thérèse and held together by bits of sellotape found in the copy of Scripture which Thérèse kept by her side and consulted and read each day.

The extract below reproduces most of the underlinings, capitals and punctuation found in the original

It is a love letter to God.

It memorialises and records the free act of her offering amongst other things the totality of herself to God

A Holocaust is a total sacrifice consumed by fire. The word “Sacrifice” derives from a Middle English verb meaning "to make sacred", and in turn from Old French, and from the Latin sacrificium: sacr, "sacred" + facere, "to make".

It is commonly known as the practice of offering food, objects (typically valuables), or the lives of animals or people to the gods as an act of propitiation or worship



Offering of myself
as a Victim of Holocaust
to God's Merciful Love

O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make you Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!

Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Saviour and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.

I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my Dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the sayings of His mortal life:"Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!" I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.

I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of you to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.

I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.

After earth's Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love Alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years.

You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.

In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.

I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!

Marie, Françoise, Thérèse of the Child Jesus
and the Holy Face, unworthy Carmelite religious.

This 9th day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
In the year of grace, 1895”

(Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 276-278)

Accompanying the oblation is Christian Joy - joy in the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this is why the message of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face was, has always been and is so attractive, timeless and popular.

Christian Joy is not pleasure. Modern society has too many opportunities to purchase the pleasure of “artificial paradises” which are imperfect and transient.

Her writings exhibit true Christian Joy which is evidence of an authentic message and teaching. Christian Joy is “self-multiplying”. It is not self-referring.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete in Domino (On Christian Joy) (9th May 1975) Pope Paul VI (perhaps not the figure that one would immediately associate with Joy) discussed the importance of Christian Joy:

“When he awakens to the world, does not man feel, in addition to the natural desire to understand and take possession of it, the desire to find within it his fulfilment and happiness?

As everyone knows, there are several degrees of this "happiness."

Its most noble expression is joy, or "happiness" in the strict sense, when man, on the level of his higher faculties, finds his peace and satisfaction in the possession of a known and loved good. (Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 31, a. 3.)

Thus, man experiences joy when he finds himself in harmony with nature, and especially in the encounter, sharing and communion with other people.

All the more does he know spiritual joy or happiness when his spirit enters into possession of God, known and loved as the supreme and immutable good. (Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, ibid., II-II, q. 28, aa. 1, 4.)

Poets, artists, thinkers, but also ordinary men and women, simply disposed to a certain inner light, have been able and still are able, in the times before Christ and in our own time and among us, to experience something of the joy of God.

But how can we ignore the additional fact that joy is always imperfect, fragile and threatened? By a strange paradox, the consciousness of that which, beyond all passing pleasure, would constitute true happiness also includes the certainty that there is no perfect happiness. The experience of finiteness, felt by each generation in its turn, obliges one to acknowledge and to plumb the immense gap that always exists between reality and the desire for the infinite.

This paradox, and this difficulty in attaining joy, seems to us particularly acute today. This is the reason for our message.

Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual.

Money, comfort, hygiene and material security are often not lacking; and yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many. These feelings sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent care freeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage.

Do people perhaps feel helpless to dominate industrial progress, to plan society in a human way? Does the future perhaps seem too uncertain, human life too threatened? Or is it not perhaps a matter of loneliness, of an unsatisfied thirst for love and for someone's presence, of an ill-defined emptiness? On the contrary, in many regions and sometimes in our midst, the sum of physical and moral sufferings weighs heavily: so many starving people, so many victims of fruitless combats, so many people torn from their homes!

These miseries are perhaps not deeper than those of the past but they have taken on a worldwide dimension. They are better known, reported by the mass media—at least as much as the events of good fortune—and they overwhelm people's minds. Often there seems to be no adequate human solution to them.”

Further on in the Exhortation, Pope Paul VI gives three examples of saints who epitomise Christian Joy, one of whom is St Thérèse:

“We would like to evoke more especially three figures that are still very attractive today for the Christian people as a whole.

First of all, the poor man of Assisi, in whose footsteps numbers of Holy Year pilgrims are endeavouring to follow. Having left everything for the Lord, St. Francis rediscovers through holy poverty something, so to speak, of the original blessedness, when the world came forth intact from the hands of the Creator. In the most extreme abnegation, half blind, he was able to chant the unforgettable Canticle of the Creatures, the praise of our brother the sun, of all nature, which had become transparent for him and like a pure mirror of God's glory. He could even express joy at the arrival of "our sister bodily death": "Blessed are those who will be conformed to your most Holy will...."

In more recent times, St. Therese of Lisieux shows us the courageous way of abandonment into the hands of God to whom she entrusts her littleness. And yet it is not that she has no experience of the feeling of God's absence, a feeling which our century is harshly experiencing:

"Sometimes it seems that the little bird [to which she compared herself] cannot believe that anything else exists except the clouds that envelop it.... This is the moment of perfect joy for the poor, weak little thing.... What happiness for it to remain there nevertheless and to gaze at the invisible light that hides from its faith."( Letter 175. Manuscrits autobiographiques, Lisieux. 1956, p. 52.)

And then how could one fail to recall the luminous figure and example for our generation of Blessed Maximilian Kolbe, the authentic disciple of St. Francis? In the most tragic trials which have bloodied our age, he offered himself voluntarily to death in order to save an unknown brother, and the witnesses report that his interior peace, serenity and joy somehow transformed the place of suffering—which was usually like an image of hell—into the antechamber of eternal life, both for his unfortunate companions and for himself.”