Humble ConfidenceREV. JEAN C. J. D'ELBEé
You must believe in the love of Jesus for you. Love calls for love. How do you give Jesus love for love? Before all and above all, by your confidence in Him.
A man must be heroic to live always in faith, hope, and love. Why? Because, as a result of Original Sin, no one can be certain with the certainty of faith that he is saved, but only with a moral certainty based upon fidelity to grace; and because as sinners we are constantly tempted by doubt and anxiety.
It was in order to resolve this conflict between our desires and our powerlessness that Jesus came to earth and took our infirmities upon Himself. Little Thérèse understood that it is our state of misery which attracts His mercy.
Before her, St. Paul wrote, "Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me." "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me." How profound is the theology of St. Paul! He glories in his infirmities; he rejoices in being weak, because Jesus is there.
For it is this confidence, and nothing but confidence, which will open the arms of Jesus to you so that He will bear you up. Confidence will be for you the golden key to His Heart.
In her desire to be holy, and comparing herself to the saints, St. Thérèse said that there was, between them and herself, the same difference as between a mountain whose summit is lost in the heavens and an obscure grain of sand, trampled under the feet of passersby. Rather than becoming discouraged, she thought:
All the theology of little Thérèse, which echoes that of St. Paul, is summarized and put at our disposal in these lines, on which we could meditate endlessly without exhausting their richness.
What I cannot do myself Jesus will do. He will take me and lift me up to the summit of the mountain of perfection, to the summit of the mountain of love.
It is true that instinctively we seek to climb the rough stairway of perfection instead of taking the gentle elevator of the arms of Jesus. This is because we have been told so often of our miseries. We have been told, and rightly, that we are miserable; and then, we have been told about Jesus that He is good, yes, but not enough that He is wondrously good, infinitely good, infinite charity. No one has told us at the same time that He is Savior before He is Judge and that, in the Heart of God, "justice and peace have embraced."
We have been trained in the habit of looking at our dark side, our ugliness, and not at the purifying Sun, Light of Light, which He is, who changes the dust that we are into pure gold. We think about examining ourselves, yet we do not think, before the examination, during the examination, and sitter the examination, to plunge ourselves, with all our miseries, into the consuming and transforming furnace of His Heart, which is open to us through a single humble act of confidence.
I am not telling you, "You believe too much in your own wretchedness." We are much more wretched than we ever realize. But I am telling you, "You do not believe enough in merciful love."
We must have confidence, not in spite of our miseries, but because of them, since it is misery which attracts mercy.
Oh, this word, mercy — misericordia — "miseris cor dare," a heart which gives itself to the miserable, a Heart which nourishes itself on miseries by consuming them. Meditate on this word.
St. Thomas says that "to have mercy belongs to the nature of God, and it is in this that His omnipotence manifests itself in the highest degree."
Little Thérèse perceived this when she wrote these lines which complete and crown her manuscript: "Yes, I sense that even if I had on my conscience all the sins which can be committed, I would go, my heart broken, to repent and throw myself into the arms of Jesus, for I know how much He cherishes the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because the dear Lord in His provident mercy has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I am lifted up to Him by confidence and love."
Again, shortly before her death, speaking to Mother Agnes, she said, "You may truly say that if I had committed all possible crimes, I would still have the same confidence; I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water thrown into a flaming furnace." All possible crimes, a multitude of offenses, a drop of water in an immense furnace: that is the proportion.
And this affirmation is so logical, it is irrefutable.
When I have preached this doctrine of confidence in the midst of our misery, taking my support from little Thérèse, I have often, very often, met with this objection: "Yes, she was marvelously confident, but she could say that 'from the age of three years she had never refused God anything.' If I, too, could claim never to have refused Jesus anything since my childhood, it would be easy for me to be confident as she was."
Yes, people have made this objection, and I have always understood why it was made. But she foresaw it and answers it in the last sentence of her great letter to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, a fundamental monument of her doctrine. It is like a will:
I imagine very clearly what took place in her spirit and in her heart. She, who so wished to attract little souls to follow her, thought how they would be tempted to discouragement in seeing how faithful she had been, so she declares that, if there were a soul more miserable than hers, it would receive even more favors, as long as it abandoned itself in complete confidence to infinite mercy. This is true, since merciful love is for the miserable.
I want to tell you something in confidence. These words had a decisive influence on the orientation of my own interior life.
One day, seeing that I fulfilled perfectly the first condition of the program, to be weaker than St. Thérèse, I decided to apply myself with my whole soul to fulfilling the second: to abandon myself in complete confidence.
She knew the weight of the words she used. She asks self-abandonment, and I shall show you that abandonment rightly understood is the greatest of all renunciations. And she asks more than immense confidence, more than confidence to the point of foolishness; she asks complete confidence — that is to say, a confidence as great as our weakness, as great as our misery.
Of course, when we see ourselves to be so unworthy, so fainthearted, falling every moment, how could we not be tempted against confidence? The question occurs: "Is the love of Jesus, His merciful love, really so great? Is it as great as that?" His merciful love is without limits; His mercy is infinite.
That is why you can and must live this doctrine which opens the kingdom of Heaven to the most miserable and the road of sanctity to the poorest. I insist so emphatically upon this point because I know that the consideration of our miseries is an objection which returns constantly in our daily struggle to advance in perfection.
And more than St. Paul, more than little Thérèse, it is the Gospel which teaches us this doctrine of salvation. It is the Gospel where we see that what Jesus asks of us, before and above all, is humility and confidence.
Look at the prodigal son. He leaves his father's house. He displays frightful ingratitude toward his father, who is so good; he demands his part of the inheritance to go carousing, far away. Soon he finds himself stripped of everything and is forced to reflect. In the depths of his abjection, he has the grace to recall the goodness of his father. "I shall rise up and go to my father." That is confidence. But, humbly, he recognizes himself to be a sinner: "I shall say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you; I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.'"
You know how the father received him, not as a servant, but as a beloved son. Seeing him coming from afar, he runs to meet him; seized with compassion, he throws himself on his neck, presses him to his heart, and, embracing him, he tells his servants, "Bring, Bring forth quickly the first robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry." And there was dancing and music. These eloquent details with which the story ends show us a father exulting in his happiness. And why? He tells us why and repeats it to the jealous older brother: "This my son was dead and has come to life again; was lost and has been found."
Oh, this desire, this need of the Father of Mercies to retrieve His lost child and give him life! That is the Heart of God!
Remember that, each time you pick yourself up after a fall, the feast of the prodigal son is renewed. Your Father in Heaven clothes you again in His most beautiful cloak, puts a ring on your finger, and tells you to dance with joy. In a living faith, you will not approach the confessional with dragging feet, but as if you were going to a feast, even if you have to make a great effort each time to humble yourself and to conquer the monotony of the routine.
After the absolution, you should dance like the prodigal son did at the request and for the joy of his father. We do not dance enough in the spiritual life.
This marvelous parable gives us a fundamental lesson about education. Parents, educators, give the children confided to your care an understanding of this divine mercy by believing in it and practicing it yourselves. It is this faith which will prevent them from falling again, and, if they fall, they will rise again; they will come back, because you will have acquainted them with the gentleness of God. They will say, "I know how good God is. I know how to abide in His mercy. From the depths of my sin, I shall rise up and go to my father."
They are happy parents who have shown this way to their children, without weakness or compromise, but with a goodness so like that of God that, in their worst difficulties, they can say humbly with tremendous confidence, "I shall rise up and go to my father; I shall rise up and go to my mother; and through them, I shall go to my Father in Heaven." How many young people have lost the Faith, not from having fallen, but from not having been helped, with love, to pick themselves up again as many times as was necessary.
The good thief also teaches us humility and confidence. A whole life of crimes, a whole life of sin: a few minutes before dying, one word of humility and confidence, and he is saved.
In the same way as the prodigal son recognized his guilt, the good thief, speaking to his companion, cries, "For us, this is justice; we have received what we deserve." Then he looks deep into the eyes of Jesus and reads there who He is: the gentle Savior.
"Lord, remember me when You shall come into Your kingdom."
And the ineffable answer is "Amen, I say to you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise." For you, no Hell, not a second of Purgatory. The confident look you gave me, this meeting of our eyes, in my mercy and in your faith, has purified you in an instant and rendered us inseparable. Now you are completely pure and already in Heaven.
A whole life of sin, one humble and confident look toward the Crucified, and there was the first canonized saint, and canonized by Jesus Himself! A thief who stole Heaven!
When you see how miserable you are after an act of infidelity, a failure which has humiliated you, if you look toward Jesus, with the look of the good thief, do you not believe that you will be purified in a moment, in a second, as he was, and more than he, you who make retreats in order to love Jesus better? You will, on the condition that you have the humility of the good thief and his confidence and desire for Heaven.
Jesus needs nothing but your humility and your confidence to work marvels of purification and sanctification in you. And your confidence will be in proportion to your humility, because it is to the extent that we realize our need of Jesus that we have recourse to Him, and we sense this need to the extent that we justly realize our unworthiness.
Think of the woman of Canaan: she is a pagan, a foreigner. She asks Jesus to cure her daughter who is possessed by a demon. Jesus lets her see that since He has come for the lost sheep of Israel, He has nothing to do with her. Humbly she accepts this, which is the truth, but confidently she insists, "Lord, come to my aid." And Jesus shows Himself to be apparently even harder. Often He acts in this way with souls to whom He wishes to grant a high place in His love, in order to test their faith. He answers her, "The bread of the children is not to be thrown to the dogs." The Canaanite woman then finds, in her humble confidence, this exquisitely appropriate response: "That is true, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table." She asks no more than a crumb at the banquet of merciful love! Jesus is conquered.
"O woman, great is your faith; be it done to you as you will": Fiat tibi sicut vis.
"You have stolen my Heart; you have stolen my will from me by your faith filled with love; I can refuse you nothing."
Is it too much to say, after that, that confident souls steal God's omnipotence?
You who are not foreigners, you who are not dogs under the table, but the children of the house by your baptism, you can — you must — go to Jesus with even more assurance than the Canaanite woman, recognizing that you merit nothing, but expecting everything from a completely gratuitous and infinite mercy.
Recall the centurion: it is always the same thing — humility and confidence. "Lord I am not worthy, but speak only a word and my servant shall be healed." And he explains, "I have under me soldiers. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it.
Jesus replies in admiration of such logic: "Amen, I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel. . . . As you have believed, be it done to you."
In the manner of the centurion, you also must say, "I am not worthy to receive You; I merit nothing; I am an abyss of weakness and cowardice; I make resolutions and do not keep them; I fall over and over again. But Jesus, say only one word, and my soul shall be healed."
Jesus was so delighted by the centurion's words that he willed them to be fixed in the Liturgy of the Mass, to be forever the most perfect preparation for Communion.
I can imagine the centurion in Heaven, enjoying the unspeakable glory and beatitude of hearing these words, which came from his heart, repeated at the moment when Jesus is received in the Host by all priests and all communicants, in all the Masses which are celebrated in the entire world until the end of time. What a Heaven for him! What glory! Why? Because he recognized his own unworthiness, and he believed.
W hen Jesus tests your faith, give Him, like the Canaanite woman and the centurion, these responses that eternal Wisdom inspires in the little ones, and He will be filled with admiration for you, too, and will shower His graces upon you.
What does Jesus lament most when He is with His Apostles? Their lack of confidence. "Men of little faith!" This is the main reproach He makes to them. He does not say to them, "Men of no character, men without energy, without discipline." No, he says, "Men of little faith!"
Jesus was crossing the lake of Tiberias in a boat with His disciples. He was asleep in the stern. A great windstorm blew up, and the waves poured into the boat so that it was already filled. Seized with anguish, the disciples awakened Jesus: "Lord, save us; we are perishing!" And rising up, He reprimands the wind and says to the sea, "'Peace! Be still!' And the wind abated and there was a great calm." Then, turning to His Apostles, He asks, "Where is your faith?" I can hear Jesus scolding them with gentleness, but with pain, too: "Why is this? I was in the boat with you — I slept, but I was there — and you were afraid; you were terrified. You doubted either my omnipotence or my love. Do you not know after all who I am, and do you not know after all with what tenderness my heart watches over you continually?" It is truly such doubt that pains and offends Him most.
But you see, we have lost so completely the notion of the entire confidence that He expects of us, that we sometimes make a prayer of the words for which He reproached His Apostles: "Lord, save us; we are perishing!"
This is not how we should pray, but rather, "With You, Jesus, I cannot perish; You are always in the boat with me; what have I to fear? You may sleep; I shall not awaken You. My poor nature will tremble, oh yes! But with all my will I shall remain in peace in the midst of the storm, confident in You. "
In hours of anguish, think of the Divine Master calming the violent storm with one word. This will be a tremendous source of comfort for you as you wait — peacefully — for Him to waken.
The great tempest is what our sins stir up in our souls. It is there that Jesus must arise in order that "a great calm may descend."
Listen to what little Thérèse has to say in the fable about the weak little bird who, not having wings strong enough to soar in the heights, at least has eyes and a heart to gaze at the Sun of love: "With bold abandonment, he remains gazing at his Divine Sun. Nothing can frighten him, neither wind nor rain; and if dark clouds come to hide the Star of love, the weak little bird will not move away, for he knows that on the other side of the clouds his Sun continues always to shine."
"I am not always faithful, but I never get discouraged. I abandon myself into the arms of Jesus, and there I find again all that I have lost and much more besides."
"Since He has granted it to me to understand the love of the Heart of Jesus, I confess that He has chased all fear out of my heart. The memory of my faults humiliates me, leads me never to rely on my own strength, which is nothing but weakness; but even more this memory speaks to me of mercy and love. When we throw our faults, with a completely filial confidence, into the devouring furnace of love, how could they not be totally consumed?"
Here we reach an essential point in the "little way." It is that a soul that is disposed to please Jesus in everything, that has committed everything to Him in freely committing its will — and these souls are more numerous than you might think — a soul that has made an oblation as a victim to merciful love (I shall return to this), an act which the weakest souls are called to make because they are "more fitted to the operations of consuming and transforming love," such a soul, in its thirst for purity, can remember that it is continually purified in the fire of love.
"Ah, since this happy day [of my offering] it seems to me," cries little Thérèse, "that each moment this merciful love renews me, purifies my soul, and leaves on it no trace of sin."
She sees herself to be pure, not by her own efforts — no one is confirmed in grace — but because she has been purified and renewed and regenerated in the fire of mercy to which she has delivered herself.
Two months before her death, when someone said to her, "You are a saint," she answered, pointing to the tops of the trees in the garden, golden in the setting sun, "My soul appears to you to be all brilliant and golden because it is exposed to the rays of love. If the Divine Sun stopped sending me His fire, I would immediately become dark and full of shadows."
Thus the soul which suffers to see itself tarnished by its faults and failings, and which exposes itself to the rays of the divine, transforming Sun, can say to Jesus, "Jesus, I come to You completely beautiful, beautiful like the Sun which You are, pure with Your own purity, beautiful with Your own beauty, rich with Your own treasures." That is the copiosa redemptio: "plentiful redemption."
See what a life of love is established between Jesus and us in such a union. I need to have constant recourse to Him, but He is always there, and my need for Him is always satisfied. Jesus purifies us each moment, but we must desire it with an immense desire and believe in it.
To the sick who asked Him to cure them on the roads of Palestine, He posed only one question: "Do you believe that I can heal you?" "Yes, Lord!" "Be it done unto you as you have believed."' He says to you now, "Do you believe that I can purify you in a moment and wipe from your soul every trace of sin?" "Yes, Lord, I believe." "Then it is done," replies the Lord, "because you believe, because you do not doubt it, because you know enough to cling to my infinite mercy, because you remember how I treated the prodigal son, the good thief, and the woman of Canaan, when they vanquished me by their humility and confidence."
St. Margaret Mary heard Jesus say to her, "Do you believe that I can do it? If you believe it, you will see the power of my Heart in the magnificence of my love."
Moral misery is a sickness much greater than a disease. I desire to be purified much more than the blind man desired to see or the paralytic to walk. We must have this sincere desire — but you do have it; if you did not, you would not be making this retreat.
We touch here upon the very basis of the interior life, the basis of the Redemption, the basis of the Gospel. Live this faith, this hope, and this love. Live the theological virtues, so named because they lead us to God and unite us to Him. Live this humble confidence and "all the rest will be added unto you."
It is this which intimately unites the soul to Jesus, which brings us heart to Heart with Him, which grafts the branch again into the vine which He is.
"If anyone thirst" — and especially if he thirst for purity and love — "let him come to me; let him drink who believes in me. "
We know that souls who thirst in this way constantly return with fervor to the sacrament of Penance, a marvelous source of humility, and a means to know their faults better and to repent of them in the supernatural joy of confessing them; in spite of natural repugnance, an occasion to renew wholeheartedly the firm purpose of amendment and especially an occasion to plunge themselves once more, like the prodigal son, into the furnace of mercy. Even if they think that their Communions, their use of the sacramentals, their confident acts of love have already purified them, they will go faithfully to receive, along with the absolution, a purification which is most special because it is sacramental, a new effusion upon them of the Blood of Jesus, their only hope, without forgetting that this recourse is necessary only for serious sins.
I imagine you are like me. I need to be happy; I need to live on love; I need to be festive; I need to sing; and for all that, to which my being aspires, I need to know that I am forgiven.
Psychiatrists attribute most of the neuroses and mental disequilibrium so common today to the suffering caused by feelings of guilt. The remedy proposed by unbelievers is to suppress the notion of sin, to remove from man the sense of sin. This is obviously a radical remedy. But it does not succeed. The conscience is still there. They may succeed in partially and temporarily stifling it, but they cannot kill it any more than they can kill God.
No, the remedy is the peace which Jesus gives us in the certainty that we are forgiven because we are loved.
St. John declares, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity."
Our love for God is a love of friendship, a love received and given. Since, in friendship, a certain equality is necessary between the two friends, God has made Himself man, brought Himself down to our level, has made Himself like us; and correspondingly, He has raised us up to Himself by sanctifying grace.
Thus we can attain the life of friendship with Him of which St. Thomas speaks with admirable insight: "In the love proper to friendship, he who loves is in his friend by the fact that he makes his own the fortunes and even the misfortunes of his friend. Also it is proper to friends to will the same things." What constitutes friendship, then, is mutual confidence in unity of will.
Jesus has a Heart like ours. He took it in order to be able to love us as we would love Him. That is why a sin of defiance offends and hurts Him more than a hundred sins of weakness.
I have often noticed that to reward an act of confidence, Jesus gives us the occasion to make an even greater act of confidence.
Recall the scene on the lake. The Apostles are in the boat, which is being battered about by waves, for the wind is rough.
At the fourth watch of the night, Jesus comes toward them, walking on the sea. The disciples mistake Him for a ghost and cry out in fear. Immediately Jesus says, "Have confidence; it is I; be not afraid."
Peter says, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." "Come," answers Jesus. Peter rushes out onto the water, but seeing the violence of the wind, he is afraid, and, as he starts to sink, he cries, "Lord, save me!" Then Jesus extends His hand, takes hold of him, and says, "Man of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Peter had made a beautiful act of confidence by jumping out onto the sea. To reward him, Jesus gave him a chance to make an even greater act of confidence by permitting him to sink into the water. Peter made the first act of confidence but, alas, not the second!
Martha and Mary demonstrated their confidence in Jesus in an exquisite fashion at the bedside of the dying Lazarus by sending Him a message which was a prayer of marvelous delicacy and proved how they knew His Heart, His compassion, and His friendship for Lazarus: "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick!" How touched Jesus must have been by such a prayer! To reward Martha and Mary for the tenderness of their confidence, He permitted Lazarus to die, giving them the chance to demonstrate a confidence a thousand times greater by an act of faith in His omnipotence. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, but before He did so, He required, as always, an act of faith.
Jesus reminds Martha who He is: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, although he be dead, shall live. . . . Do you believe this?" That is the great question, the condition for the miracle. "Do you believe that I can do it? Do you believe that I am going to do it, that I am going to bring your brother back to life?" Martha makes the act of faith: "Yes, Lord . . . I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." She has already said to Him, "I know that whatsoever You will ask of God, God will give it to You. "
This is what Jesus is like with those who love Him. He does not grant the first prayer; He permits a greater trial. And we become distressed: "I have prayed, and I have not been heard. All is lost; all is finished. God does not listen to me. He does not love me." Because God loves you, He wants to see how far you will push your confidence. He wants to be able to say to you, as He did to the Canaanite woman, "How great is your faith!"
Do not be like Peter sinking in the waves, but rather like Martha and Mary before the tomb of Lazarus, with confidence unto death. Believe, believe in the divine omnipotence! Believe in Love!
"Lord, increase my faith!"
The highest and most complete proof of love is to surrender ourselves completely, giving all our confidence to Him whom we love. Be with Jesus as a friend with his friend, very loving and very beloved. Take your weaknesses and faults to Him, as you take Him your acts of generosity. The acts of generosity are for the Judge who is so good; the weaknesses and the faults are for the Savior. And everything is for the Friend.
"I will not now call you servants . . . but I have called you friends."
Confidence, confidence without limits, full, filial, total, all-inclusive: that is what I want you to take away from this retreat. It is this confidence which works all miracles.
Souls are brought back to life by receiving this secret of Heaven. When they have understood, they take wing, they soar, generosity becomes a need for them, and this happens in a spirit of simplicity which removes all danger of presumption and pride.
It is, of course, necessary to admit that we are all abysses of wretchedness, of sin, since the Original Sin of Adam. Yet even so, Jesus wants us to be happy. He wills "that [our] joy may be full." Peace — His peace — is the happiness which prevails over the suffering of seeing ourselves so full of sin.
Jesus will give us this peace in proportion to our confidence in Him, to the extent that we do not doubt that it is He who saves us, He who purifies us, He who makes us beautiful, He who says to us, "This very day you shall be with me in Paradise." "Begin your Paradise with me right now because you have understood that I am the Savior and that I came to earth to give men the peace of my Heart, the heaven of my Heart here below."
"Peace to men of goodwill." "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you."
It is such happiness for Jesus to see a soul profit fully from His Redemption and the price of His Blood, for after all, if He came down from Heaven, if He performed all these "foolish" acts of love, the Incarnation, Calvary, and the Eucharist, why was it? In order to make us happy by giving us a hundredfold here below, and the possession of eternal life.
"Behold your King comes to you, meek, and sitting upon an ass."
Is that an unattainable spirituality? It is nothing but the Gospel, and the Gospel is for everyone. Let us conclude with the admirable exhortation of St. Paul to the Philippians where we find the joy, the charity, the confidence, the prayer, the thanksgiving, and the marvelous peace which surpasses all understanding in Christ Jesus:
Rev. Jean C. J. d'Elbeé. "Humble Confidence." chapter two from I Believe in Love: Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2001): 25-53.
Reprinted with permission of Sophia Institute Press.
Rev. Jean C. J. d'Elbeé is a French retreat master who has been profoundly affected by Saint Therese of the Child Jesus’ “little doctrine” He made it the subject of ten spiritual conferences contained in his book I Believe in Love. In the form of a personal retreat, he explains St. Therese’s teaching about confident love, leading readers to a profound personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Through his reflections on Therese’s life and teaching, Fr. d’Elbee unfolds for the reader the inner meaning of the psalmist’s cry, “Lord, You have opened my heart, and I run in the way of Your commandments.”
Copyright © 2001 Sophia Institute Press
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