Father, you are gradually teaching me,
this child of yours, so deeply loved,
yet so broken by sin and pride,
the meaning of true humility—
yes, fashioning this humility within me…
through the ever-renewed encounter
between the abyss of your Mercy
and the abyss of my poverty and misery.
Miseri-cordia. This is the word for mercy.
To have a ‘heart for misery.’
Yes, this is who you are, my Father.
And this, too, you form in me.
Sanctity is not self-sufficiency,
not, indeed, ‘perfect virtue’ as we tend to think,
but the ever-deepening dependency
of a child who knows, ever more spontaneously,
that he can do nothing, nothing on his own.
This, indeed, is the only way to remain constant,
day by day, in the path of fidelity and love:
if the heart is ever constant in reposing,
in trust, dependency, and love,
against your sheltering and sustaining breast.
Only thus, poor and dependent,
reliant unceasingly on your love,
can the heart remain vigilant,
with eyes open and heart wide,
to your grace and presence at all times,
and to the beauty, need, and longing of others,
brothers and sisters, who are entrusted to me by you,
and who I am to bear, in integrity,
at every moment, lovingly, for you.
Therefore sanctity is the opposite of pride
—this deepest wound in the human heart,
response to our fear of inadequacy,
yet also the bitterness of self-inflation,
fruit of the tempter’s wicked wiles.
For pride is complacency,
the will to go it alone,
or self-hatred, disgust with one’s brokenness,
which is really the same thing at the root.
For to love myself is simply, in truth,
to let myself be loved by you.
And to be loved is to learn to love.
And only thus, sheltered by your love,
can I let go of all ‘my own,’
to be nothing but what you see in me,
to have nothing but your love enfolding me,
to do nothing but what you entrust to me.
Yes, to be poor, chaste, obedient,
a little child, a spouse of Christ,
loving, thus, as he loves, to the very end
—in the ‘greatest love’ that lays down my life
as a ‘eucharist’ poured out for others, willingly.
The encounter of Abyss with abyss,
this is the ever-renewed heartbeat of this life,
the life of love between you and I,
or, better, the life of your Love
penetrating my nothingness,
touching, healing, awakening love,
that the two, Infinite Love,
and the poor, responding love of my heart
–yet your own Love alive in me!–
may ever meet and be united.
Sorrow springs up, Father,
when, after hearing your word so powerfully
inviting me to integrity in love and life,
I yet find myself continually, again and again,
‘failing to do what I desire,
but doing the very things I hate.’
Thus, indeed, ‘I find it to be a law,
that, whenever I desire to do good,
evil lies close at hand.
Therefore, another law lies in my members,
at war with the law of my mind,
making me captive to the law of sin.
In my inmost heart I desire what is right,
but I cannot do it.’
And yet this precisely, Father,
is the place of grace and redemption,
flowing through the Heart of Christ your Son.
For it is better to fail in dependency
than to succeed in self-sufficiency.
And here, indeed, the sorrow of contrition
is the birth-pangs of humility…
humility, in enduring peace and joy.
And this is the only way, indeed,
that the constancy of love and true integrity
will at last be born—as pure gift,
born anew every day from you,
within my very poverty and inadequacy–
when it springs at every moment
from the unending wellspring of your Mercy.
‘My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
Yes, my God, these words of Christ resound,
and thus I can say with Saint Paul:
‘Therefore, I will all the more gladly
boast of my weaknesses,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’
I think of the little Therese,
who found the secret of childhood,
not by being ‘adequate,’ but by struggling,
each day, to love again and again,
in the face of all the poverty of life:
We must number ourselves humbly with the imperfect,
see ourselves as little souls which God must uphold
from instant to instant.
Yes, it is enough if we humble ourselves
and bear our imperfections patiently:
that is true sanctity.
Thus is true courage born:
from the encounter between your Mercy
and our poverty and need.
And born in the heart is love, desire, and hope,
the awareness that every moment
of this life is a moment of encounter
between the thirst of God
and the thirst of every human heart.
Indeed, it is like being a shield-bearer
in the front line of an army.
The enemy ranks line up
–on their side, ravenous numbers
chanting to cause us fright–
and between us is a thin bridge
across a ravine,
which they must cross to us,
and us to them.
And the call is heard:
‘Who is willing to take the front?’
A reverberating silence follows,
then a handful of men step forward.
My heart jumps into my throat,
almost choking me,
but I step forward too.
Is this not our life?
To stand at the meeting place
where the torrent of evil
seeks to rush in, to ravish,
to hurt, and to destroy
the hearts of our brothers and sisters?
To stand here, small and frail,
yet giving oneself completely
to stem the tide.
And yet this courage
lies not in something extraordinary
so much as it does
in the heroism of the everyday.
For is not every moment, every choice,
filled with such immense meaning,
that the integrity of my life
is unceasingly this meeting-place?
In every little thing, flowing from your love,
my own life can become, in you, love too,
a gift for all, and a gift back to you…
The few of us volunteers descend the slope,
the eyes of all our comrades upon us,
and the eyes of the enemy too,
and we step upon the bridge.
Only a few yards now separate us
from the enemy before us,
only a shadow of a person,
a demonic-army raving violently,
yet waiting until the battle begins
in this terrifying ceremony of patience.
And yet we are side by side,
knowing that the presence
of each of us supports the others,
and we give each other courage.
And the cries of encouragement behind us,
too, give us strength,
though our whole being trembles.
And we know, too, that our courage
gives strength to those in fear behind us.
What can give strength in a place like this?
Ah…only awareness, awareness of the other,
of their need, their hope, their desire,
and, more, awareness of the love that sustains.
Thus, as being shakes with fear
of battle, pain, and death,
I find a source of life welling up within:
No greater love has anyone than this,
to lay down his life for his friends.
And I can lay down my life
only because I have been loved,
have received life from those,
so beautiful, for whom I give myself.
There is a deeper meeting-place,
here, than good and evil;
yes, a deeper meeting even
that the heart of one human with another,
or of the community bound together.
Yes, eyes turn heavenward,
and the heart cries out in trust.
Sword and shield in hand,
I am simply a little child!
And here alone is my strength.
Here, indeed, is a deeper hope and joy,
carrying me—carrying us—
sheltered always, if unseen,
Life has come from you, Father,
and at every moment
it is sustained by your love.
And thus it is poured out freely,
until at last it returns to you,
given as a eucharist
in the likeness of your beloved Son,
and united, in him,
to all of those for whom I have lived.