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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Communing with the Communion of Saints

     For several years I've been interested in this being "in Christ":  what does that mean and how does it manifest in my life?  One aspect of being a part of Christ's mystical body involves the communion with saints.  From Merriam -Webster.com, communion is defined as an act or instance of sharing; intimate fellowship; a close relationship with someone or something; a body of Christians having a common faith and discipline.  From a lovely podcast on the communion of saints (1), communion was defined as the sharing or exchange of intimate thoughts or feelings on a mental or spiritual level.  I can certainly see the sharing of thoughts and feelings with those living saints I know, but what about the saints who have since departed earthly life?  How do I commune with them?   What lessons are they trying to teach me? 

   Oh the great the joys of reading the lives of the saints, a perfect way for our saints to share their inmost feelings and thoughts...of course!  We have just about every type of person in our communion of saints.  (see Rev 7:9, St John's heavenly vision of a great multitude...from every nation, race, people, and tongue, First Reading from All Saints Day Mass).  I've so enjoyed reading about the lives of St Therese of Lisieux, St Ignatius, the Blessed Virgin Mary and others. God can work through these members of His body, the Church--we participate in the saints holy work when we discover and imitate their holy, love-filled and good ways of living.  Alan Schrek in Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs  (2), called it the incarnational principal.  For example, our ultimate role model, Jesus, provides us with ways of acting with love and compassion.  So when we model these Christ-like behaviors to others, it reflects His life in the world. St. Paul recommended this as well:

       1 Cor 11:1  "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."  
       Hebrews 13:7 recommends "remember your leaders,
       those who spoke to you the word of God;
       Consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith."  

Thus, as we humans model our lives on persons both living on earth and those passed on, through which we are able to bring Christ to others and grow His body.   Pope Emeritus Benedict explains it this way:
    At the General Audiences in the past two years we have been accompanied by the figures of so many saints: we have learned to know them more closely and to understand that the whole of the Church’s history is marked by these men and women who with their faith, with their charity, and with their life have been beacons for so many generations, as they are for us too. The saints expressed in various ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One. They let Jesus so totally overwhelm their life that they could say with St Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Following their example, seeking their intercession, entering into communion with them, “brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from their fountain and head issue every grace and the life of the People of God itself” (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n. 50 and CCC 957).  
   For the past year I've immersed myself in reading about St Thérèse of Lisieux, the patroness of my confirmation name, and a wonderful model of holiness is every day life. Several years ago, I paged through her autobiography, Story of a Soul (4), but I didn't appreciate its treasure.  Last year in Lent our parish hosted weekly talks based on the book, I Believe in Love, by Father Jean C.J. D'Elbée, and so began my reading frenzy on the Little Thérèse.  My very latest reading project on her, The Way of Trust and Love (5), by Father Jaques Philippe, is my absolute favorite!  Father Philippe has a most awesome way of explaining St Thérèse, her way of spiritual childhood, and its practical application to daily living.  What a treasure, I highly recommend reading this book!

   My first delight was how St Thérèse used the elevator, namely Jesus, as the means to achieve the heights of heaven.  To do this she had to remain little and become even more little.  She looked at all kinds of wonderful saints and felt just like an obscure grain of sand compared to a lofty mountain top, yet had that deep desire to attain heaven and sainthood.  She realized that "God cannot inspire unrealizable desires.  I can, then, inspite of my littleness, aspire to holiness."   Yes, for awhile there reading the lives of saints brought me discouragement for they were so holy, I too felt like that grain of sand.   Yet Thérèse searched scripture and found Proverbs 9:4:  "Whoever is a little one, let him come to me."  She sounded quite like St Paul, writing, "I am not disturbed at seeing myself weakness itself.  On the contrary, it is in my weakness that I glory, and I expect each day to discover new imperfections in myself." (4, pg 224, C 15r)  Amazingly, she found a way to be happy and to profit from her miseries, and came to understand that her faults caused God no pain, filling her with joy.  Fear had filled her with recoil, yet love made her advance, quite quickly too.  Therese noticed that  "Jesus doesn't want me to lay up provisions; He nourishes me at each moment with a totally new food;  I find it within me without my knowing how it is there.  I believe it is Jesus Himself hidden in the depths of my poor little heart; He is giving me the grace of acting within me, making me think of all He desires me to do at the present moment." (4,pg 165, A 76r)
    I discovered another beautiful, holy woman with that unfailing reliance and trust in God:   Blessed Dina Belanger, a religious sister from Quebec.  She writes, "O Jesus, O my heavenly Mother, I know that it is you who are fighting my battles; grant me the grace constantly to be faithful in allowing you freedom of action." (6, pg 256)  Not only did Blessed Dina rely on Jesus, she felt him to be her divine substitute and relied on His personal redemption:  "Sweet Master, O my divine Substitute.  I always rely on your infinite generosity to pay my debts.  Not to mention my debts towards God and towards you, I count on your power and your love to repay infinitely my debts toward others."  (6, pg 21).  Spiritual substitution...a new name for an idea brought to light in the Bible; we find it in these two religious women and in Saint Paul's writings:  
       Galatians 2:20  "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me..."
       Romans 8:32  "He did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all,
       how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"--
Yet the idea is even older as evidenced through out the Psalms, 
        Ps 37:23-24  Those whose steps are guided by the Lord;
       whose way God approves,
       May stumble, but they will never fall,
       for the Lord holds their hand.-- .
       Ps 23: 4  Even when I walk through a dark valley,
       I fear no harm for you are at my side;
       your rod and staff give me courage. --
       Ps 28:6-8  Blessed be the Lord,
       who has heard the sound of my pleading.
       The Lord is my strength and my shield,
       in whom my heart trusted and found help.
      ...Lord, you are the strength of your people...
    But remember Moses confronting the Lord and how his speech had never been eloquent?  The Lord responded: Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb?  Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Go, then!  It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say."  Ex 4: 10-12  One could say that God's plan all along involves indwelling us to shape us in His love.
   I find this idea profound:  that God would so love me to save me at my weakest points by offering His own grace, strength, skills and power--I suppose He'll help at any point, as long as I ask for His help!!  Its taken me a while to realize that I do need this saving power every day, and have come to daily "beg for the grace" (as taught in the Ignatian prayer series Lord Teach me to Pray--Thank you St Ignatius!).  St Thérèse came to realize being little also " means not being discouraged by our faults, because children often fall over, but they are so little they don't hurt themselves badly."  Father Philippe explains the fall we take in our little state is not from a great height (the height of pride or self sufficiency, for example), so we aren't really hurt, and we get up and throw ourselves into our parent's arms, then start over again.(5, pg 42)We must have faith and trust in God that He will provide for our needs as they arise.  Jesus reminds us that we need not be anxious about the past or future (Mt 6: 31-34), and He tells St. Paul His grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9) One factoid of note, Jesus said at least 10 times (according to wikianswers.com) "Your faith has healed you." Must be important!

     St. Thérèse's little way reconfirms the biblical way of total trust and belief (faith) in God (His mercy and love), and His ability to save us from the mess of our life. Humility means accepting our poverty and weakness, accepting ourselves as we are, with love, knowing we are still beloved by God. It also means living in the moment and not worrying, begging God for grace needed for each challenge we face. Humility also means realizing that every good and beautiful thing in life comes from God, the one source of truth, goodness and beauty. We might also make the next step and live each day with a grateful heart too.

    Lastly, I'd be a loud gong if I left out love (1Cor13) for St Thérèse's chosen vocation was love.  Her goal in loving was to be like God:  bearing each others burdens and faults, not being surprised by their weaknesses and learning from each act of virtue we see them practice. Mother Theresa reminds us, “It's not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.”  No one is immune from the ability to show kindness and compassion to another; never should it be "hidden in the bottom of the heart." ( 4,pg 220, C 12r)  For when St Thérèse felt charitable, "it is Jesus alone who is actiing in me, and the more united I am to Him, then more also do I love my Sisters." (4, pg 221, C 12v)  So, if we can't muster the love from our own will, we can certainly beg God to pour His love into us, be our divine substitute, beg for the grace to love another as He would love. 

"The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers, and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and doing the least of actions for love." --St Thérèse
    Yes, my friends in Christ's wonderful, mystical body, the Communion of Saints, have taught me some of their ways to greater holiness using attitudes of love, humility, gratitude and trust, and total reliance on God's grace.  Now I have to work on putting that all into daily use!  I'm sure we could change the world if we'd only strive forward on this path of holiness! 
Praise be to God for the Communion of Saints
Our role models and teachers in holiness
   All you Holy Men and Women pray for us!
Feast of All Saints, 2013
1.  Podcast on Communion of Saints:  http://radiomaria.us/livingwithmarytoday/feed/podcast, Nov 4, 2011, by Father John Fletcher
2.  Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs, Alan Schrek, Servant Books, 2004
3.  From Pope Benedict's General Audience on Wednesday, 13 April 2011
4.  Story of a Soul, ICS Publications, 1996
5.  The Way of Trust and Love, Father Jaques Philippe, Scepter Publishers, 2011
6.  The Autobiography of Dina Belanger, The Religious of Jesus and Mary, 1997

1 comment:

  1. A delightful post, Janet!
    I agree with you about that WUNderful book by D'Elbée; it has made it to the "Top 5" of the Best books I have ever read, and led me to a deeper appreciation of St. Thérèse.
    Good work, Janet; thank you!


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