Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is also my birthday... and I'm doing the most incredible thing: sitting in my window, listening to Marian hymns, sipping green tea, writing, and watching the snow. I could not have ordered a more perfect birthday morning.
I wanted to share with you something that seems very fitting on this day... a passage I read yesterday while waiting for the Immaculate Conception Vigil Mass to begin, from I Believe in Love by Father Jean C. J. D'Elbee (a personal retreat based on the teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux, emphasis my own):
What I cannot do myself Jesus will do. He will take me and lift me up to the summit of the mountain of perfection, to the summit of the mountain of love.
It is true that instinctively we seek to climb the rough stairway of perfection instead of taking the gentle elevator of the arms of Jesus. This is because we have been told so often of our miseries. We have been told, and rightly, that we are miserable; and then, we have been told about Jesus that He is good, yes, but not enough that He is wondrously good, infinitely good, infinite charity. No one has told us at the same time that He is Savior before He is Judge and that, in the Heart of God, "justice and peace have embraced."
We have been trained in the habit of looking at our dark side, our ugliness, and not at the purifying Sun, Light of Light, which He is, who changes the dust that we are into pure gold. We think about examining ourselves, yet we do not think, before the examination, during the examination, and after the examination, to plunge ourselves, with all our miseries, into the consuming and transforming furnace of His Heart, which is open to us through a single humble act of confidence.
I am not telling you, "You believe too much in your own wretchedness." We are a much more wretched than we ever realize. But I am telling you, "You do not believe enough in merciful love."
We must have confidence, not in spite of our miseries, but because of them, since it is misery which attracts mercy.
Oh, this word, mercy--misericordia--"miseris cor dare (St. Augustine's Etymology)," a Heart which gives itself to the miserable, a Heart which nourishes itself on miseries by consuming them. Meditate on this word.
Wow. That is a lot to unpack... or to unwrap--since it's my birthday. The gospel today is about Mary's YES! Her perfect example of Confidence in God. The YES that unties Eve's NO from long ago. Often we see the perfection of that YES as unattainable... because today is not the feast of our immaculate conception--it's Mary that is conceived without sin. And Mary alone. But if we believe the words of Father D'Elbee, perfection is not required for Confidence in God. In fact... it is our weakness, our misery, our sin that can be the driving force behind that confidence (if we let it).
D'Elbee writes "we have been trained in the habit of looking at our dark side, our ugliness, and not..." at Jesus. Our navel-gazing, our sorrow for our sin, our shame, our embarrassment, our inability to quit doing the same dumb things over and over again, our misery is not where we need to be looking. Yes, we need to assess our weaknesses and avoid the near occasion of sin. Yes, we need to do examens. Yes, we should be going to confession regularly. Yes, we should set goals to do better next year or next time or in the next hour--but we can't do these perfection-seeking habits without looking to the PERFECTOR! We cannot overcome these things on our own (and we shouldn't want to.) But we do. We want to fix it ourselves before we present ourselves to the Lord. (Spoiler alert--He already knows. He sees you when you're sleeping, He knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good so TALK TO HIM FOR GOODNESS SAKE!) He already knows. And He knows how to fix it, how to heal us, how to bring peace. Why do we hide these things?? We are just like our first parents hiding once they have screwed up. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
We show Confidence in God when we can say... I made a mistake. Fix it, Jesus. D'Elbee goes on to explain that the Lord's heart "is open to us through a single act of humble confidence." Why do we think that we are so special that the Lord can't forgive our particular sin? Why do we think we are so wretched we do not belong in His loving arms? He created us for those loving arms. Like St. Therese of Lisieux speaks of so often--we have to throw ourselves into those arms.
Mary's Confidence in God doesn't come from her knowing her own wretchedness--for she is not wretched. She is Immaculate. However, she knows that He is God and that she is not. She asks "How can this be?" because she knows she is not capable of a miraculous conception on her own... She knows that if the Lord is asking this incredible, death-defying act of her that He will be the very one to defy-death. He will handle the details. He will carry the burden. He will make it possible.
We are more confident in God than we allow ourselves to believe.
We go to Confession.
We go to Mass.
We make little acts of confidence--but often without thinking.
Let's be intentional with our confidence in God today and from now on.
Do you really believe God can heal you?
Can forgive you?
Can give you a clean slate--fresh like the falling snow?
I want my misery to attract your mercy.
Wash me in your love.
May I never doubt your love for me.
May Your Mercy be the light that shines forth from my soul.
May all those I come in contact with know your love and mercy by my witness.
Never let me forget your mercy.
Open your arms and I will come running... diving headlong into your love and peace.
I give up on trying to fix it myself. I can't.
Make this year the year I have the confidence to let you lead me.
Make this year the year I quit doubting your love for me.
Make this year the year I get out of my own way.
Make this year the year I know my worth.
Make this year the year I know the vastness of your love.
Overwhelm me with your goodness.
Mary, Mother, model, immaculate, pray for us!
Readers--thank you for all of your kind prayers and support today and every day!
You have made the last year so much fun!