Greetings my brothers and sisters in Christ,
The month of October begins with a liturgical memorial for St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Little Flower. Clearly, something about being childlike and little is a part of her spirituality. In fact, the path of spirituality she lived is known as “the little way”.
I had the opportunity to learn about St. Therese and her little way when I was working on my master thesis for my degree in Theology, many years ago. I was encouraged by my formator at the time to look at St. Therese’s little way and compare it to the spirituality of our Founder, St. Joseph Marello. One of the sayings which he liked to use to describe our spiritual path was “to be extraordinary in ordinary things” or as it is sometimes expressed “to do the ordinary in an extraordinary way”. After having researched the life and spirituality of St. Therese, I was able to conclude in my thesis that indeed her little way and the extraordinary ordinary way of life promoted by St. Joseph Marello, are very similar. They both hinge on finding God and meaning in the present moment.
In fact, it is in the present moment that we can experience the presence and grace of God. The past, well is in the past. The future has not happened. Only in the here and now can we experience the presence of God. Certainly, by recalling the past, we can experience God’s grace and yet that is still happening in the present moment and in our present circumstances. God wants me to know and love him right here, right now. This is especially true when speaking of vocation discernment. Past events have an impact for sure and that impact is felt in the here and now, where God is calling me.
Some of you might be saying that this is pretty obvious and it is, at least in theory. However, in practice it is not always cherished and accepted. After all, sometimes the right here and right now is downright unpleasant. How am I to experience the presence of God, when I am in a situation of frustration, shame, anger, violence, in short, any stressful situation. Indeed, the temptation in such situations is to think that God is not present and I must get out of the situation if I hope to experience his grace and presence. If I feel stressed, anxious or afraid, then God is not here.
Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane is cause for reflection here. In the most anguished and stress filled moment of his life, Jesus prays. He prays and knows that his Father is listening and is present. He prays asking to be freed of that which is causing his stress and anguish, that is true. And yet, he is open to whatever his Father’s will might be. In the end, he is able to accept the moment and what is being asked of him…and at all times is aware of the presence of his Father, never doubting that presence or feeling that he had to get out of his difficult experience to encounter his Father.
Therese by her little way and St. Joseph Marello by his extraordinary-ordinary life, sought to do the same as Jesus. In the day to day events of ordinary life, they were able to encounter the presence of God and grow in that presence by accepting and living through those events, not seeking to avoid or deny them. We are often tempted to “escape” and not to “embrace” the present moment and yet if we fall into that temptation then we are really escaping God and not entering into his embrace. If we are seeking to know God’s call, escaping what is happening is particularly detrimental as we are running from the very call we are seeking!
St. Joseph, husband of Mary and father to Jesus, had some such events in his life: what to do faced with the unexpected pregnancy of his spouse, the threat of King Herod, the flight into a foreign land, just to name a couple. He was able to embrace those events, not run from them, and so was able to know the presence and grace of God and be supported by them in his response. May we have the same experience in our daily lives as we strive to live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way.
St. Joseph, our protector, pray for us. St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us. St. Joseph Marello, pray for us.
Fr. Brian, OSJ