Friday, October 7, 2011

Marriage and Family: St. Thérèse and the Vocation to Love

This season of Cinema Catechism, we are exploring the theme of Marriage and Family, and the film for October is Miracle of St. Thérèse.

St. Thérèse?? OK, I can see what Thérèse Martin has to do with the family part -- she came from a very devout and pious Catholic family, her parents are both beatified, her four surviving siblings all went on to become nuns. But Thérèse was a cloistered nun, what does she have to do with marriage?

Quite a lot actually. True, she did not enter into a earthly human marriage with a man, but she did have a spouse. She loved with a spousal love in a spousal relationship. And to understand that, we must first understand the idea of "marriage as primordial sacrament," in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

A "sacrament" is an outward visible sign of a mystical nonvisible reality. And in the marriage of man and woman, we see the primary model for God's plan for humanity.

Indeed, there is a spousal meaning revealed in the human body, as shown both in natural observation of the human body and as explained in the opening chapters of Genesis. "Man," male and female, made in the image of the Trinity, is by "his" nature a social being, made for relationship. It is not good that man should be alone -- in solitude, he is missing an essential element, he is incomplete. Man is made for relationship; hence he (singular) is made both male and female (plural). Thus, it is not just any relationship man is made for, where they (plural) are male and female (plural), but he is specifically oriented toward a spousal relationship, a loving communion of persons become one that is fruitful, just as the Trinity is a loving communion of three persons in one divine being who is procreative. Again, in the human marriage of man and woman, we see the primary model for God's plan for humanity.

In scripture, in the story of Salvation History, we can plainly see God's relationship with humanity in general, and Israel in particular, described in spousal terms. The Annunciation to Mary has often been described as a kind of marriage proposal by God to her, with Mary saying "yes" on behalf of all mankind. The first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding, and many of His parables involved marital imagery. Jesus is, of course, the Bridegroom, having taken as His virginal Bride, the Church. And in the eschatology of the Book of Revelation, life after the resurrection of the body is described in the spousal terms of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. So, marriage is clearly the model by which to understand God's plan for us.

There is a spousal meaning to the human body, every human body. Since we all have a human body, we are all made for a "spousal" relationship of some sort, we are made to love and be loved in that pure and complete fullness of love that is both unitive and procreative, that involves a communion of persons that bears many fruits. This might manifest itself in the human marriage of the flesh, the marriage of a male and female, especially in the Sacrament of Matrimony, resulting in physical children. But it also manifests itself in the spousal relationship that a priest has, in the manner of Jesus, with His Bride, the Church, whereby, in that virginal marriage, there is a loving communion of persons that is fruitful, that results in spiritual children. Likewise, this spousal relationship might manifest itself in a spiritual marriage with Jesus, as we see with Sister Thérèse and other consecrated women religious.

But what about the rest of us? Those who are still "single," who have yet to discern their vocation (marriage or religious life) or who have discerned that they are called to marriage, but, for some reason, it has not happened? Or what about those with a same-sex attraction?

Single people have a vocation too, but it is not a vocation to solitude. It is not good that man should be alone -- in solitude, he is missing an essential element, he is incomplete. Each of these single people also has a spousal meaning in his or her very body. They too are called to that vocation which is the primary vocation of all -- the vocation to love. They too are called to love and be loved in a relationship of pure and complete love, the fullness of love with the Lord that is communion with Him and is fruitful. So, if they cannot enter into a human marriage, for whatever reason -- if, for example, they have not found anyone who wants to marry them or because they are same-sex attracted -- they are still called to a relationship of spousal love. If they wish to be true to the person that are made to be, even if they do not pursue the consecrated religious life, they should still seek to love the Lord and His Bride as a spouse loves his or her beloved, fully and completely, in a dynamic and fruitful loving communion of persons.

The Story of a Soul
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Chapter 8
On the morning of September 8, peace swept over me and I made my vows in that “peace which surpasseth all understanding.” I demanded innumerable favours. I felt that I was really a queen and I made full use of my title to ask the King for every kind of benefit for His ungrateful subjects. I forgot no one. I wanted every sinner to be converted that day and for purgatory to be emptied. . . .

It was the Nativity of Mary. What a beautiful feast on which to become the Spouse of Jesus! It was the little new-born Holy Virgin who presented her little Flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little on that day except for the graces I received and the joyful peace I felt as I gazed at the stars in the evening sky and thought that I should soon ascend to heaven and be united with my divine Spouse in eternal happiness.

On September 24, I took the veil. . . . Eight days after I took the veil, our cousin, Jeanne Guérin, married Doctor La Néele. Some time later, as we were talking in the parlour, she told me of all the care she lavished on her husband. Her words stirred me and I said to myself: “It’s not going to be said that a woman will do more for her husband, a mere mortal, than I will do for my beloved Jesus.” I was filled with fresh ardour and made greater efforts than ever to see that all I did was pleasing to the King of kings who had chosen me as His bride.

When I saw the letter announcing Jeanne’s marriage, I amused myself by composing an invitation which I read to the novices to make them realize what had struck me so forcibly: how trifling are the pleasures of an earthly union compared to the glory of being the bride of Jesus.
Creator of Heaven and Earth
Supreme Sovereign of the Universe
Queen of the Court of Heaven
Announce to you the Spiritual Marriage of their august Son
Little Thérèse Martin
now Princess and Lady of the Kingdoms of the Childhood of Jesus and His Passion, given to her as a dowry by her divine Spouse from which she holds her titles of nobility OF THE CHILD JESUS and OF THE HOLY FACE.

It was not possible to invite you to the wedding feast held on the Mountain of Carmel, September 8, 1890, as only the heavenly Court was admitted, but you are nevertheless invited to the At Home tomorrow, the Day of Eternity when Jesus, the Son of God, will come in the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead in the full splendor of His majesty.

The hour being uncertain, you are asked to hold yourself in readiness and to watch.

Chapter 11
When I awoke from [a certain] dream, I believed and I knew that heaven exists and that souls dwell there who love me and look upon me as their child. . . .

O my Beloved! This grace was only the prelude of the greater ones You wished to shower on me. Let me recall them to You, and forgive me if I talk nonsense in trying to tell You again about those hopes and desires of mine which are almost limitless ... forgive me and heal my soul by granting it what it wants. It should be enough for me, Jesus, to be Your spouse, to be a Carmelite and, by union with You, to be the mother of souls. Yet I long for other vocations: I want to be a warrior, a priest, an apostle, a doctor of the Church, a martyr. ... I would like to perform the most heroic deeds. I feel I have the courage of a Crusader. I should like to die on the battlefield in defence of the Church.. . .

Like the prophets and the doctors of the Church, I should like to enlighten souls. I should like to wander through the world, preaching Your Name and raising Your glorious Cross in pagan lands. But it would not be enough to have only one field of mission work. I should not be satisfied unless I preached the Gospel in every quarter of the globe . . . I should like to have been [a missionary] from the creation of the world and to continue as one till the end of time. But, above all, I long to be a martyr. From my childhood I have dreamt of martyrdom, and it is a dream which has grown more and more real in my little cell in Carmel. . . . My Jesus, fling open that book of life in which are set down the deeds of every saint. I want to perform them all for You!

Now what can You say to all my silliness? Is there anywhere in the world a tinier, weaker soul than mine? Yet just because I am so weak, You have granted my little, childish desires and now You will grant those desires of mine which are far vaster than the universe. These desires caused me a real martyrdom, and so one day I opened the epistles of St. Paul to try to find some cure for my sufferings. . . . [I read,] “Be zealous for the better gifts. And I show unto you a yet more excellent way.” The apostle explains how even all the most perfect gifts are nothing without love and that charity is the most excellent way of going safely to God. I had found peace at last. . . .

Charity gave me the key to my vocation. . . . I realized that love includes all vocations, that love is all things, and that, because it is eternal, it embraces every time and place.

Swept by an ecstatic joy, I cried: “Jesus, my love! At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love! I have found my place in the bosom of the Church and it is You, Lord, who has given it me. In the heart of the Church, who is my Mother, I will be love. So I shall be everything and so my dreams will be fulfilled.” . . . How brightly this beacon of love burns! And I know how to reach it and how to make its flames my own.

I am only a weak and helpless child, yet it is my very weakness which has made me daring enough to offer myself to You, Jesus, as the victim of Your love. . . . My heart has no desire for riches or glory, even the glory of heaven. That glory belongs by right to my brothers – the angels and the saints. . . . But what I demand is love. I care now about one thing only – to love You, my Jesus! Great deeds are forbidden me, I cannot preach the Gospel nor shed my blood – but what does it matter? My brothers toil instead of me and I, a little child, well, I keep close by the throne of God, and I love for those who fight. Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Well, I will scatter flowers, perfuming the divine Throne with their fragrances, and I’ll sweetly sing my hymn of love. Yes, my Beloved, that is how I’ll spend my short life. 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. I wish both to suffer and to find joy through love. Thus will I scatter my flowers.


Also, you may find of interest the blog Sponsa Christi, a young consecrated virgin reflects on her vocation.

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