Chapter Talk – November 17, 2019 – 33rdSunday of the Year – cycle-C
I received from Abbot Damian of Spencer a copy of his homily that he gave last week for the funeral Mass of Br. Meinrad. He concluded his homily with the following: “I’ll let St. Therese and Fr. Thomas Keating have the final words. Therese expressed her conviction in this way: ‘Even if I had on my conscience every conceivable sin, I would lose nothing of my confidence. My heart overflowing with love, I would throw myself into the arms of the Father, and I am certain that I would be warmly received.’ ‘Fr. Thomas’s comment on this conviction of Therese was: This is one of the greatest insights of all time into the nature of God and our relationship with him.’ Let me ask us: What is the profound insight of Therese, this young Carmelite nun? What is she saying about the nature of God? And to bring it more personally to ourselves, what does it tell us about our own image of God, our own personal experience of who God is?
For Therese, no matter what sin was on her conscience, she never lost the trust in God’s unconditional love, a love so palatably manifested in Jesus. This unconditional mercy of God evokes within her a state of overflowing love. The One who first has loved her and us awakens our love in return.
In my last two chapter talks I spoke of the importance of becoming our true selves and of ‘being with our self’. As we discover this true self, we are also discovering who God is for us, intimately and personally. Finding our true selves, the ‘working out of our salvation’ through conversion, is connected with a changing image of God. Thomas Merton, if you recall, wrote that to be saint is to be my true self. He wrote a lot about the ‘false self’. This false self is the self that quickly sees the ‘sin’ and imperfections of others and murmurs about them. This partial, false is the self that is quick to make harsh judgements under the label of righteousness…a righteousness that lacks mercy. If we are called to be Jesus’ heart and eyes in all that we are and in all that we live, is this the image of God that mirrors the nature of Christ and his Abba? Our true self is the one most closely aligned with the heart and demeanor of Christ. We are to let our bearing, our orientation toward one another, as the Philippians hymn says, arise out of our life in Christ.
This is Therese’s image of God: Therese’s heart is ‘overflowing in love’ because she has experienced very often God’s forgiveness: ‘It is the one who is forgiven little that loves little’ (Lk 7:47). She places her wounded heart into the immense heart of Mercy; she is received with open arms into the embrace of God. With this exchange her truest and deepest self can now love more fully, even the sister who would treat her unjustly! The hardened heart is converted to a heart of flesh, a heart forgiven is a heart expanded, wide open in mercy and forgiveness. Her God is not a God of condemnation nor a God that places ‘righteousness’ over ‘mercy’.
What is the image of God that Jesus embodied and that he calls us to live? If we are to be the continuation of Jesus’ living word, if we are to be like his heart and consciousness, then the finding of and the living from our true selves becomes essential, for as our partial, false self is transformed, a shift slowly happens in our thinking and in our attitudes. As we live daily together, how we orient ourselves to one another will tell us immediately how Christ-like we are in the moment and will also tell us that we are not with ourselves.
I conclude with words from Thomas Merton who could easily have been writing about St. Therese. However, in this text he is writing for us, about the possibility that is there for each one of us as we seek and find our true identity in Christ: “The eyes of the saint …consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by anything and judges no person’s sin. She knows the mercy of God. She knows that her own mission on earth is to bring that mercy to all people….The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and the core of our own souls” (New Seeds of Contemplation, p.24-25).
Sr Kathy DeVico, Abbess