By JOEL PADGETT
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
“If you find me dead one morning, don’t be troubled: it is because Papa, God, will have come to get me. Without a doubt, it’s a great grace to receive the sacraments; but when God doesn’t allow it, it’s good just the same; everything is a grace.”
These words, filled with wisdom beyond their years, were spoken by a saint and doctor of the church on June 5, 1897. Three months later, St. Therese of Lisieux would pass away from tuberculosis at the young age of 24. Her words were not merely those of someone suffering from an extremely painful, terminal illness, but also those of someone who was undergoing a severe “trial of faith.” She had yearned so ardently for heaven, yet for eighteen months, up until shortly before her death, it was as if any “natural satisfaction in [her] desire for heaven” was taken from her, leaving her in the “thickest darkness.”
These details are important because they really make her message all the more impactful. When things are going well, it might be relatively easy to consider everything a grace. However, in the eyes of the world, things were not going well for her. She was dying. She was in extreme pain with almost no respite. And she was in great spiritual darkness. Regarding the latter, it was not merely an interior darkness. Her illness also left her physically incapable of receiving the Eucharist. So even that consolation was stripped from her, and this could in no way have been easy for someone like her who was so incredibly in love with Jesus Christ, who is really, truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament. Yet, in spite of all of this, she says – and sincerely means – “Everything is a grace.”
I think that someone can only say and mean this when they truly live with the awareness that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8); that “God is with us” (Mt 1:23); and that nothing escapes God’s Providence. Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, a Discalced Carmelite like St. Therese, delves into this in a remarkable way in his book, “Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us.” He strongly insists that “God has everything in his hand. Nothing exists outside the sphere of his influence. Nothing can upset his plans.” And he has good reason to insist upon this. Another great doctor of the church, St. Augustine taught that “Nothing happens that the Almighty does not will should happen, either by permitting it or by himself doing it."
In theology, the distinction between what God merely permits to happen and what God directly wills to happen is respectively referred to as God’s passive and active wills. Rightfully, Father Stinissen points out the importance of this distinction on a theological level, but he also shares a great insight on a practical level: “When it has to do with real life, however, with unavoidable events and our reaction to them, we might wonder if speculation about the difference is not often a subtle form of escapism. If God does not will the evil that befalls me, I do not need to accept it. Then I may in good conscience rebel against it.”
To avoid this escapism, Stinissen suggests we follow the advice of another great spiritual father, Jean-Pierre de Caussade: “Be profoundly persuaded that nothing takes place in this world either spiritually or physically, that God does not will, or at least, permit; therefore, we ought no less to submit to the permissions of God in things that do not depend on us, than to His absolute will.”
This should never be misconstrued as an excuse to make light of things. Trials are trials, and we ought to be both aware of and compassionate toward the countless struggles that people around the world, including those who are closest to us, suffer. Likewise, blessings are blessings, and each and every day is full of these gifts from God. Moreover, it is an invitation to see all things in the light of faith, which ultimately sheds new brilliance – and perspective – on everything.