St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a Model for Catholic Parents

Of all the Saints, perhaps it is Little Thérèse who shows us the most perfect example of what it means to depend entirely on God, to accept His invitation to absolute dependence through total abandonment to His Divine Will--to practice unconditional love and acceptance of God, oneself and all others. In I Believe In LOVE, Father d'Elbee explains how we do that and why it is so hard for us. There's no stretching required to apply this to our parenting. It consists of ceasing our own flight from vulnerability, and abandoning ourselves and our lives and all our loved ones to God's infinite mercy through unconditional love and acceptance that is felt and understood by the receiver:

“What we can always do, however, is to love, with our will, our littleness and our poverty; we can love our nakedness and our powerlessness and come to have nothing but a single treasure: our blind abandonment to mercy.

"That is a program for the interior life which is within your reach.

"Do you know what misleads us? The fact that the best men are often so hard. They grow tired of pardoning. They do not forget the wounds they may have received. The world is pitiless in its judgments. It would seem that the perverted should be less severe than others, if only from looking at themselves. Quite the contrary, because mercy is a fruit of grace. Listen to the Pharisees, behind their whitewashed facades, passing judgment on the poor publicans.

"We apply to the Heart of Jesus the measure of our own miserable little hearts, so mean, so narrow, so hard, and we do not succeed in comprehending how good, how indulgent, how compassionate, how gentle, and how patient is Jesus Himself.

"We are severe particularly through lack of humility. This lack of humility prevents us from going to Jesus with the childlike confidence which permits Him to make our hearts gentle and humble like His, to exchange our hearts for His.

"Yes, it is really this which misleads us. We have not experienced a truly merciful, universally merciful heart, always benevolent and understanding, which attracted by misery, always knows how to bend over it in compassion. Yet that is what the Heart of Jesus is like."

Because of the oneness of humanity with God, it is impossible to unconditionally love and accept our children if we do not ALSO unconditionally love and accept ourselves and our neighbors, and most importantly the infinitely merciful will of God. And this unconditional acceptance is made possible only by the persistent interior disposition to accept ALL the Joy and ALL the Suffering it pleases God to allow us for His glorification. This act of Total Abandonment happens in a moment, in the Present moment. We do not FIRST learn to love our children unconditionally, and THEN ourselves, and THEN God or our neighbors. In THAT moment when we abandon ourselves to the Divine Will, we discover what has always been present in us--that we are capable of unconditional love and acceptance of ALL--that this is the very purpose for which we were created--that the Kingdom of Heaven is truly within each of us.

For some of us, the process toward Total Abandonment begins with the desire to love and accept our children unconditionally. For others another object will be their motivation. The cancer which afflicts our world today is the loss of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity--the loss of Unshakable Confidence in God and in Ourselves. We have allowed ourselves to be influenced by the heresy of Jansenism, believing ourselves to be depraved and as such, incapable of love, and we have infected our own children with this disease. Because of it's emphasis on preserving an awareness of and accepting our vulnerability, embracing each moment for what it is, and on unconditional love and acceptance, and thereby modelling sanctity for our children, the spirit of what we refer to as "attachment parenting," especially when combined with the transformative power of sanctifying grace, which is the very life and love of God in our souls, is a powerful antidote to this cancer.

There are a few things that Total Abandonment is not, the understanding of which is essential to its practice:

Total Abandonment is not resignation to persisting in our sinfulness, weakness and faultiness. It is a paradox that only after we accept ourselves and others and the suffering that is a direct consequence of our fallen nature, can we begin to transcend that fallen nature. To become like Christ, we must embrace suffering. As long as we are living in fear of suffering, as long as we are seeking to improve ourselves and others in order to avoid suffering, we will never transcend our nature which is the cause of our suffering. The fear of suffering consists of two inseparable objects: that we are unable to love, the consequence of which is eternal infinite suffering, and that we are able to love infinitely, the means to which is eternal infinite self-sacrifice, which we equate with suffering. When we are in pursuit of happiness—the quest to love, and in flight from suffering—the fear of our ability to love, we are running after and away from love. And as long as we are in flight and pursuit we are not in possession and we are not in the moment. Suffering can only be embraced in this moment. Love can only be given and received in this moment. As long as we are living in the past or in the future we are in flight and pursuit and neither in possession of love, nor possessed by it. All virtues spring from charity and charity is practiced right now. To be present right now we must humble ourselves by accepting ourselves as we are and accepting God’s will in each moment. This is embracing suffering. There is no other way. If we wish to find true, lasting happiness, we must turn and face suffering and embrace it as Christ embraced the Cross. Christ’s Passion and Death was His victory over sin, the cause of all suffering. Our victory over sin consists first in our accepting our sinfulness. Our victory over suffering consists in our embracing it. “If you would save your life you must lose it.

Total Abandonment is not withdrawing ourselves or identifying ourselves with our limitations. It is a willingness to take risks for the sake of love. It is opening ourselves up to discovering God’s will for us in the creative impulses of love that we experience from moment to moment. It is accepting the possibility of failure to overcome the fear of failure and all its consequent sufferings in order that we might allow God to use us as His instruments—in order that He might be glorified in us.

Total Abandonment is not indulging in our sinfulness and weakness, knowing the suffering that it brings—or accepting future suffering for pleasure right now. This doesn’t mean that we deny that we have desire for the pleasure, but that we acknowledge and accept the feeling of desire humbly, without acting on in, without criticizing, blaming or judging ourselves for it, but with compassion for our weakness, neediness and vulnerability, and utter dependence on God for our fulfillment; that we accept every moment of weakness, letting it sink into our souls fully, so that our awareness of our vulnerability is increased with our consciousness of our dependence on God. In the words of St. Therese, "How happy I am to see myself imperfect and having so great a need of receiving the mercy of God at the moment of death!...Instead of rejoicing in my dryness, I ought to attribute it to my lack of fervor and fidelity. I ought to be distressed at sleeping during my prayers and acts of thanksgiving. Well, I am not distressed. I think little children please their parents as much when they sleep as when they are awake."

Total Abandonment is not the same as passivity and it is opposed to reactivity. When our interior disposition is oriented toward the love of God, oneself and one’s neighbor, then one’s exterior actions will be appropriate and intentional. When our choices are no longer driven by inordinate self-love, or the fear of suffering, then our choices are informed by the virtue of prudence, which, simply put, is a state of equilibrium between love of God and neighbor, and love of self. Only after we have achieved this balance can we work toward positive change in our world, radiating Christ to all with whom we come in contact, drawing all these in with us. When Jesus says, "He who loves me will keep my commands," He is making a promise, not an ultimatum. When our interior disposition is directed solely toward the love of God and total abandonment to His will, our actions will necessarily be in conformity with His will.

Total Abandonment doesn’t mean we accept ourselves as “selves” but accept the moment to moment events of life and our experiences of them without becoming attached to or identifying with them. We accept ourselves not as separate, distinct and independent individuals, but as parts of a greater whole, parts of the Mystical Body of Christ, sharers in the oneness of His divinity*, united to the Communion of Saints by grace, and to humanity in general in that our souls are all made in His image and have their being in and of Him. In accepting ourselves, we return to Him as the source of our being, discovering our oneness with God and with our neighbors, finding in ourselves and in them God Himself, recognizing a sameness of purpose and of need. Though God doesn’t need man for His fulfillment, since His love is infinite He delights in the magnitude of His love and the plenitude of those He has created to share in His love.

No matter where I begin, I arrive always at the same conclusion: in order to do that for which God created us, to love as Christ loves, we must embrace suffering with a persistent intention and desire. There simply is no other way. And in order to accomplish this all we must do is to overcome a mental block, an illusion that exists only in our imaginations, that has grown up there like a weed and is just as easily plucked.

*[“From the Holy Spirit springs an unending joy, the likening to God; to be made God, however, is the highest that man can wish and desire.” (St. Basil De Spir. Sancto, cap. 9) "We do not speak of a dissolution of our substance in the Divine Substance, or even of a personal union with it, as in the Incarnation. We speak only of a glorification of our substance into the image of the Divine Nature. Neither shall we become new gods, pretending independence of the true God, but in truth we are made, by the power and grace of God, something which God alone is by nature; we are made like Him in a supernatural way. Our soul receives a reflection of that in a supernatural way. Our soul receives a reflection of that glory which is peculiar to Him and above all creatures." (Fr. Matthias J. Sheeben, The Glories of Divine Grace, Ch. 6]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could you please pray for me who so misserably fails at motherhood that I fear I am chasing my children away from God?

Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

" turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."