Thérèse had a vivid sense of how human love is not diminished in heaven but intensified, and she looked forward to being able to love her sisters even more in the glorified life of heaven.
I was like an idiot… No one ever cause you as much trouble as I, and no one ever received as much love as you bestowed on me. Happily, I shall have heaven to avenge myself, for my Spouse in very rich and I shall draw from His treasures of love to repay you a hundredfold for all you suffered on my account.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Genuine fear of the Lord, and the repentant and careful life that it produces, leads to a growing confidence in God’s love. Fear of the Lord and love of the Lord are not enemies, but friends. The gift of fear of the Lord prepares the way of the gift of love.
The soul… has grown aware of her obligations and observed that life is short (Job 14:5), the path leading to eternal life constricted (Mt. 7:14), the just one scarcely saved (1 Pet. 4:18), the things of the world vain and deceitful (Eccles. 1:2), that all comes to an end and fails like falling water (2 Sam. 14:14), and that the time is uncertain, the accounting strict, perdition very easy, and salvation very difficult. She knows on the other hand of her immense indebtedness to God for having created her solely for Himself, and that for this she owes Him the service of her whole life; and because He redeemed her solely for Himself she owes Him every response of love. She knows, too, of the thousand other benefits by which she has been obligated to God from before the time of her birth, and that a good part of her life has vanished, that she must render an account of everything – of the beginning of her life as well as the later part – unto the last penny (Mt. 5:25) when God will search Jerusalem with lighted candles (Zeph. 1:12), and that it is already late – and the day far spent (Lk. 24:29) – to remedy so much evil and harm. She feels on the other hand that God is angry and hidden because she desired to forget Him so in the midst of creatures, Touched with dread and interior sorrow of heart over so much loss and danger, renouncing all things, leaving aside all business, and not delaying a day or an hour, with desires and sighs pouring from her heart, wounded now with the love for God, she begins to call her Beloved and say:
Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me moaning?
You fled like the stag
After wounding me;
I went out calling you, but you were gone.
St. John of the Cross from “The Spiritual Canticle”
It was in prison that St. John of the Cross composed in his head and on scraps of paper the great poem “The Spiritual Canticle”, to which he later wrote a commentary.
Do not let what is happening to me, daughter, cause you any grief, for it does not cause me any. What greatly grieves me is that one who is not at fault is blamed. Men do not do these things, but God, who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our own good. Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.
In these remarkable few sentences John communicates his strong faith in the overriding providence of God in all the events of life – even those that seem to be a personal setback or a setback for the kingdom. He also gives practical advice on how to deal with situations that seem “imperfect,” motivated by something other than love: When God the Father didn’t find love in the human race, in the Incarnation of His Son. Then, He found love, in His Son Jesus and in all who had become a part of His Body. John counsels us to do the same. When we don’t find love in a situation, we can put love in the situation, and then we will find it!
Because there has been so much silence, or outright skepticism, in the Church in recent decades concerning heaven and hell, the horror of sin and the glory of heaven, it may be that confronting the vision of St. Catherine of Siena – which is absolutely scripturally based and firmly embedded in the Tradition of the Catholic Church – may cause us to struggle with issues of “fairness” or to ask the famous question “how could a good God send someone to hell?” It’s interesting to note how the Father shows Catherine that as each person dies he or she actually rushes to where they want to be. In a very real way each person chooses their own destiny over the course of their own lifetime and, at the moment of death, embraces what has truly become their choice.
How great is the stupidity of those who make themselves weak in spite of my strengthening, and put themselves into the devil’s hands! I want you to know, then, that at the moment of death, because they have put themselves during life under the devil’s rule (not by force, because they cannot be forced, as I told you; but hey put themselves voluntarily into his hands), and because they come to the point of death under this perverse rule, they can expect no other judgment but that of their own conscience. They come without hope to eternal damnation. In hate they grasp at hell in the moment of their death, and even before they possess it, they take hell as their prize along with their lords the demons.
St. Catherine of Siena
Today, there is a great aversion to an appropriate fear of the Lord. And consequently, there is a trivialization of love and a great foolishness as regards relationship with God. Fear of the Lord is a gift of God; it is not opposed to love, but prepares for it. Fear of the Lord and love of the Lord go together. One of the reasons why there has been so much foolishness in the Church and in the world is because there has been so much lack of fear of the Lord.
Bernard tells us that we don’t learn wisdom in a lecture hall, but in an encounter with the Lord which produces appropriate fear.
For there we listen to Wisdom as a teacher in a lecture hall, delivering an all embracing discourse, here we receive it within us; here our wills are moved to decision. Instruction makes us learned, experience make us wise… Though Wisdom gives light to many to see what they should do, it does not immediately spur them on to action… And so with God: to know Him is one thing, to fear Him is another, not does knowledge make a man wise, but the fear that motivates him… How truly is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom, because the soul begins to experience God for the first time when fear of Him takes hold of it, not when knowledge enlightens it… Fear of Him is itself an experience… From the beginning it is a barrier to foolishness.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
The story of St. Augustine’s conversion is quite striking to see the powerful means through which God can work – through books, providential encounters, disillusionment with the things of the world, intercessory prayer, the power of other people’s decisions and example, and, especially, the power of the Word, in verbal testimony and in the written Scriptures. And through it all we see the merciful, wise, patient, and powerful hand of of the Lord, as He guides us, to the freedom and peace that can only be found in Him.