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How can our actions and sufferings make God loved even across the seas?

July 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Carmelite Spirituality, Faith, Fr. Bartunek, Love

Dear Father John, in St. Thérèse’s poem to Venerable Theophane Venard (stanza 6) she expresses her desire to save souls as a missionary . . . 

I love it, that unbelieving shore

That was the object of your ardent love;

With happiness I would fly toward it, 

If my Jesus were to require it one day…

But in His sight distances are wiped away;

It is but a single point, this entire vast universe!

My actions, my little sufferings

Are making God loved even across the seas.

I sense that this is evidence of her confidence and utter trust in God. I admit that it is a stretch for me to have this kind of conviction when my little sufferings come along. Can you shed light on the statement she makes about distances being wiped away in God’s sight and that our actions/sufferings can make God loved even across the seas?

We can only understand this through faith. Just as only through faith can we understand that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. You may receive some insights into your question by reading our earlier post on “Offering It Up: Redemptive Suffering” Parts I and II. But I would like to offer a few other thoughts as well.

Making God Loved

The core of your question is found in your phrase “make God loved.” In a sense, building the Kingdom of Christ (as in, “Thy Kingdom come!”) consists in nothing more than increasing our love for God, and the love that others have for God. When we love God, we obey him and glorify him and delight in him – and that’s what Christ’s Kingdom is all about. So the true missionary spirit will always revolve around loving God more and more, and making him loved more and more.

But how does someone increase in their love for God? St. John explains that our love for God actually begins in God’s love for us. We experience God’s love for us, and our love for him is a response. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). This is how we are structured as human beings: our love flows from contact with things that are loveable. Our desire to be fully united with God (this is the essence of love) flows from our experience of God’s incomparable goodness, beauty, glory, magnificence, mercy – in short, from our experience of his love for us.

Blocks to God’s Love

Now, in this fallen world, burdened as we are with our fallen human nature, our experience of God’s love is inhibited. It is blocked by the lies of the devil, by our ignorance, pride, and sensuality, by the blind self-centeredness that constitutes the default setting of our fallen minds and hearts. What can penetrate those barriers? What can reach through them to give our starving souls an experience of God’s love that can jump-start our relationship with him and set us on the path out of darkness and into the light? God’s grace. He must reach into our darkness and touch us; he must call out to our minds and invite us; he must blow the trumpets of eternal love to topple the walls that cut our hearts off from communion with him: “You did not choose me but I chose you… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 15:16; John 6:44).

How is it, then, that we can help that process happen? How can we help pave the way for God’s grace to penetrate hearts that have not yet experienced God’s grace, or that are in need of a boost of grace?

Grace Invaders

God has chosen to make us partners in this work. Just as Jesus’ Father sent him into the world to give the world an experience of the Father’s love, so Jesus has sent us: “… as the Father has sent Me, I also send you… Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (John 20:21, Matthew 28:29). We are actually members of the mystical Body of Christ, and so our prayers, our obedience to God’s will, our loving acceptance of crosses – anything we do in union with Christ becomes a kind of extension of his incarnation into the world around us, an expansion of his redemptive self-offering into new nooks and crannies of human history and experience. Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection were an invasion of saving grace into the world; every Christian’s faithfulness to Christ is a continuation of that invasion.

And just as the different parts of a physical body are all connected (the tips of our toes are constantly being nourished by blood that flows out from the heart, and the vitamin D absorbed by the skin of our arms benefits the entire organism), so your prayers, sacrifices, and sufferings (united to Our Lord’s through your living in a state of grace and through your intentional offering of them to the Father in Christ) benefit the whole Mystical Body of Christ, wherever in the world the members of that Body may find themselves. This is why St. Paul is able to write: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).

St. Thérèse’s Experience of the Mystical Body of Christ

This was St. Thérèse’s experience, and the experience of so many other saints – canonized and not canonized – through the century. By following and imitating Christ, Christians become other Christs, and through them the transforming power of God’s grace that Christ unleashed in the world is spread to new hearts and minds. Thus, the Kingdom of Christ is built up and expanded by every Christian, no matter how small or insignificant or untalented they may appear.

I would like to finish this reflection by giving another quotation from St. Thérèse. In this passage from her autobiography, The Story of a Soul (quoted here) she expounds on the concept of the Mystical Body of Christ, which so effectively helps us understand our spiritual connectedness to the whole world:

Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church has a body composed of different members, the noblest and most necessary of all the members would not be lacking to her. I understood that the Church has a heart, and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood… I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!… Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!…. Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • LizEst

    Excellent. Thank you for this Father John.

    Nothing is impossible for God. Time and space, which are barriers for us, are not barriers for Him. Our good prayers, thoughts and actions have infinite value when united to
    Christ and offered to the Father through Him whose merits are infinite (this means our morning offering is
    very, very important).

    We know that God is everywhere. And, specifically, as the Body of Christ, wherever the Church is, we are there as part of His mystical Body, united to Christ through our intentions and through the Eucharist.

    So, wherever and whenever Eucharistic grace radiates into the world, the value of our good works also extends to others because we have intentionally joined them to Jesus. Thus, when we unite ourselves to Christ, our actions and sufferings CAN make God loved even across the seas.

    • abandon56

      Thank you for this, Liz. It is such an encouragement! Especially regarding His mystical body and the Eucharist.

  • judeen

    Jesus saw the little man zecaha ? sp. in the tree, come down and I will eat with you…. Paul live as they do .. … Paul said.. you have an alter that you worship, with no name.. and Paul claimed it to be His God.(. He took part of them and guided it to the truth..). see the good and build on it… see confusion and make it understand able with God.. kindness where there is meanness or lonelyness… never better than them.. just guiding.. careing loving…
    like 2 enemys in a fox hole in war .. jumped in to be safe… then find out they are not so different… they both hate war, they both have a family… and people they love..both have to have faith to get through it all… so too, we live our faith .. not as the right religion, or smarter people who have all the answers.. but part of life in Gods plan..

  • LizEst

    What are you trying to say by “we live our faith..not as the right religion…”? I think some people might be a little confused by this statement. And, I don’t want to speak for you. So, would you please clarify this? Thank you.

    • judeen

      I have ran into to many people that say catholic religion is the only religon…. for me , it is.. it has everything to unite a person to God.. it is our Faith in God that is importatnt . Jesus is in the Holy Euchrist.. and present… I know …. but it is our faith from the heart that is important.. and this will unite us.. together we will pray to God . and as they seek God and His will.. so too God will guide them to the deepest of Faith…. do you understand what I am saying with out saying it? we consintrate on God.. like st Paul did.. speak to any one that will listen like peter…… about Jesus , about Gods love , what is Gods ways.. so we can grow closer to Him…
      but if we start saying our religion is what is important . we start dividing.. people turn you off… it is a fight of the wills instead of seeking God and His deepest love…
      scripture talks about seeking God 1st and everything will fall into place .. there are many who go to catholic faith that do not have faith… they leave early.. watch how long church takes…sit in their cares till the last sec.. to go into church .. they missed the point of Going to church.. it is to Love God.. to seek Him in our hearts… there is a difference in a kiss… it is very different if 1 really means it..

    • judeen

      hji Lizest.. I answered but it answer did not come through… easyer way to say it… Jesus is the way the truth and the life….
      we must trust in Jesus to show us this.. it is our Job to love, to pray , to share and care…
      we beleive the catholic faith is the way .. then we must trust Jesus when we share our love of God that He will show them the way…. Gods will not ours… we put God 1st all things will fall into place…. this is scriputure… so we pray with each other..
      also what came to mind is the Queen of England shaking hands with her arch enemy whos faith is different… even if they still hate each other.. no one cared… they saw the handshake.. it took their breath away .. it surely was of God

      • LizEst

        Thanks for clearing this up. God bless you!

  • Becky313

    I really like how this poem speaks to St. Therese’s ability to be a missionary even as she was secluded in the convent.
    Prayer gives us wings….we can pray for people around the world, and God, who inspires us to do so, can certainly answer them.
    Prayer is more powerful than most of us realize!!

    • judeen

      prayer can move mts… we pray for the gift of beleif… for others/ healings, renewal.. peace so on…. as scripture talks about people coming to Him … and He would say go , they are healed…
      an excersiste talked about someone who needed prayer in states away.. He said He just turns to that direction and prays… it is so powerfull… we do not need to be in the persons presents to have them be healed. it is God who heals them
      in our beleif.. in God and trust.. so trust.. Pray and beleive

      • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        Approves

      • abandon56

        Yes, this is so encouraging Judeen. Thank you!

  • abandon56

    Thank you, Father John. This gives me great peace. Especially that you responded in the beginning with the love of God and ended with St. Therese’s writing about her vocation of love. She has the ability to break my little heart open and expand it…

  • abandon56

    Father John, when speaking of the mission of saving souls through suffering . . . can this be done even through the suffering that is the just reward of our sins?

  • Pingback: How can our actions and sufferings make God loved even across … | Nail It To The Cross

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Yes, saving souls through suffering. I never knew what it meant until I read the Diary of Saint Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul. She lived a life of horrendous sufferings – especially during her last 13 years – and saved so many souls in her short 33 Years on this earth.