By Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
Writing from a counter-cultural viewpoint, I’d like to emphasize in this article, that the Advent/Christmas season is first of all about “receiving.” God comes to us in the form of a tiny babe and begs us to receive the most precious gift that anyone can offer - God’s own presence in our lives. In order for us to receive this gift, it simply does not matter whether we are rich or poor, young or old, educated or uneducated, from one country or another, healthy or struggling with a terminal illness. Further, commercials and decorations can help us recall the story of the first Christmas but they are not always necessary and, sometimes, not even helpful. We may encounter God’s coming without them and oftentimes even in spite of them. What needs to be first and foremost on our part to receive anew the grace of Christmas in our lives is a willing spirit. St. Therese provides us with a wonderful example of a spirit that was radically open to the will of God entering into the everyday events of her life.
For example, in her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love , Therese expressed this radical openness to receiving God’s mercy and love:
In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved! 1
This degree of trust and confidence in God’s Mercy and Love enabled Therese to accept both suffering and joy as coming from the hands of God. In fact she courageously compared herself to a little ball.
I had offered myself , for some time now, to the Child Jesus as His little plaything. I told Him not to use me as a valuable toy children are content to look at but dare not touch, but to use me like a little ball of no value which He could throw on the ground, push with His foot, pierce, leave in a corner, or press to His heart if it pleased Him: in a word, I wanted to give myself up to His childish whims. He heard my prayer. 2
Therese freely chose to abandon herself to Jesus. Although her words may at times seem dated and childlike to us today, they describe her rock solid determination towards accepting and loving God in all the circumstances of her life. Indeed, she took Christ for her spiritual director and studied and lived the message of the Gospel.
Her Complete Conversion
In the Story of a Soul she tells about the grace she received at Christmas to overcome her extreme touchiness and to become an adult or as she called it her “complete conversion.” 3
Just to review this incident briefly, it was on Christmas night after Midnight Mass when she was about to get her presents that she overheard her father downstairs, who was tired and annoyed, make the remark: “Well, fortunately, this will be the last year!”4 There would be no more magic shoes for Therese near the fireplace. (A Christmas custom for the French children where their shoes are filled with little presents just as American children have their stockings filled) This remark really hurt Therese, but she was able to overcome her tears and go downstairs and give her father pleasure by receiving her presents and giving him joy.
Therese was no longer the same; Jesus had changed her heart! Forcing back my tears, I descended the stairs rapidly; controlling the poundings of my heart, I took my slippers and placed them in front of Papa, and withdrew all the objects joyfully. I had the happy appearance of a Queen. Having regained his own cheerfulness, Papa was laughing; 5
It is interesting to note that Therese doesn’t tell us about the presents but only about her being present first to God and then to her father. It is no accident that in the same chapter she quotes St. John of the Cross:
On that glad night,
In secret, for no one saw me,
Nor did I look at anything,
With no other light or guide
Than the one that burned in my heart;
This guided me
More surely than the light of noon
To where He waited for me
-Him I knew so well-
In a place where no one else appeared 6
Now, in our culture, as people seek to buy presents for themselves and for one another to celebrate the birth of Christ, our prayer is that they are first of all mindful of the presence of Christ. In a very simple way this presence may be acknowledged in an instant by responding in prayer as our sister and Saint Therese explained:
For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. 7
1 St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “Act of Offering” in Story of a Soul , tr. John Clarke (Washington DC; ICS, 1976) p. 277
2 Ibid., p. 136
3,4&5 Ibid., p. 98
6 Ibid., p.105 From Dark Night, st. 3 and 4 , Collected Works , p. 295ff.
7 St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Manuscrits autobiographiques , C 25r as quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori Publications, 1994, Liberia Editrice Vaticana) p. 613 “Prayer in the Christian Life”
Christmas Articles | J&J Main Page