Resting in the Father's Love - Part I

“The Father Himself loves you.[1]

(An Advent Meditation Inspired by St. Paul of the Cross)
By Sister Catherine Marie, CP

To begin, let’s recall the words of St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee,” These words seem especially important in this season of Advent.  Advent is the season when Jesus rested in His Mother’s womb, and yet for us His followers in 21st century America, this can be a season of restlessness and anxiety.

Perhaps you have come to the monastery today, with a nagging tension from the pressure of all that still “needs” to be done before Christmas.  We just come as we are.  Whatever the emotional climate of our souls today, Jesus welcomes us: “Come apart with Me and rest awhile.”[2] “Come to Me and I will give you rest.”[3] We learned this week in the Advent readings that the One who is to come this Christmas will bring us profound peace (Psalm 72).  All of us want to enter into the presence of God more fully today, into that fullness of peace that is already within us.  The peace of Christ in His Father’s love gives peace to our souls.

So, let’s try to put aside the thought of all that still needs to be done, and try to enter into a spirit of deeper prayerfulness.  I pray that what we reflect on together today will saturate our hearts with a profound peace in God’s presence.  God joyfully awaits us in the depths of our hearts.  His presence is a place of stillness, peace and rest  that we should often enter into by faith, especially in times of anxiety.[4]

St. Paul of the Cross wants to tell us today: “Remain like a child on the bosom of the Divine Father.”[5] These were often his greetings in his Christmas letters!  In our day and time, this would certainly not be the usual greeting on a Christmas card!  Has anyone ever wished you “Merry Christmas” and then added, “Remain like a child on the bosom of the Divine Father”?  Probably never, and that is just the point.  There is something very precious and original in the spiritual direction Paul offers us for living this season prayerfully. “Remain like a child on the bosom of the Divine Father.”  In other words, live Advent and Christmas in prayerful contact with God.[6] Be like Jesus, the Son of God, in His relationship to the Father.

The Heart of the Infant Jesus remained like a little child on the bosom of His Father.  He trusted His Father even as an Infant, and we know that the Father’s will was not easy on Him!  Jesus was not born in comfort and warmth, but in a outdoor shelter for animals.  No sooner was He born, than an earthly King tried to murder Him.  He and His mother and foster father fled like refugees, to live in a foreign land.  We know the rest of the story.  And all the while, the Heart of Jesus was resting in the bosom of His Father’s love and care.  Paul of the Cross wants us to be like that.  He wants us to cultivate a personal relationship with the Father that will saturate our lives with trust,[7] so that we may share Christ’s own rest and peace in His Father’s love and care.

When St. Paul of the Cross was writing to his friends at Christmas, he was wishing for them the greatest gift of all–the gift of intimate communion with God in the depths of their hearts.  He was wishing for them the gift of living in the Father’s love as Jesus did.  He invites us too to learn to rest prayerfully in the bosom of our Father, where Jesus Himself dwells.

Because Paul repeats this recommendation in so many different ways,[8] he must think it very important for our spiritual journey.  With his deep understanding of the New Testament message, Paul is using a creative way to teach us to live the spiritual childhood of the Gospel.[9] The gift of spiritual childhood is one of the gifts of this Christmas mystery.  The Son of God became a Son of Man to make us sons of God. 

After recommending that we “Remain like a child on the bosom of the Divine Father,” Paul says that if we are faithful to this simple practice, the true grace of Christmas will be ours.  The Birth of the Son of God will take place deep in the temple of our souls, bestowing on us a new life of holiness.  That’s what we all want.  We don’t want Christmas to be merely an empty ritual of feasting and gift-giving, leaving us spiritually empty.  We all desire it to be a season of a new birth in grace and holiness. 

In case you’re wondering where Paul gets the phrase, “the bosom of the Father,” it comes right out of St. John’s Gospel.  “No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son ever in the bosom of the Father, who has revealed him.”[10] The Son of God is ever in the bosom of His Father!  This is where He dwells!  And our call is to be there with Him, through faith, hope and love.

Throughout his letters, it is clear that Paul had experienced God as a tender Father who wishes to clasp us in His embrace!  God’s Heart is full of unfailing love for us, a love that can bring rest and peace to our souls.  A grace held out to us this Advent is to realize and experience that our God is a Father who wants us to live in His embrace, who wants us to speak freely and intimately to Him.  The desire for this eternal embrace, this communion with God is “written into the human heart because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.” Only in God will we find the truth and happiness our restless hearts never stop searching for.[11]

In Ephesians we read that “through [Christ], we...have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  How often do I take advantage of this access to my Father’s Heart?  Ephesians goes on to say that “we are strangers and aliens before God no longer.  No, we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”[12] At any moment of the day or night, we have access to our Heavenly Father’s Heart, for the Father Himself loves us, as Jesus tells us.[13] Our household, the house in which we belong and in which we can find rest for our souls, is the bosom of the Father!  “In Christ and through faith in Him, we can speak freely to God, drawing near Him with confidence.”[14] How often throughout the day do I draw near to the Father to speak freely to Him?  

On the night before His Passion, Jesus said He would come back to take us with Himself so that where He is, we also might be.[15] He is in the bosom of the Father, and that is where we also are to be. This text is often used at funerals, but it doesn’t apply only to our physical death.  It is for today, now.  Through His death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus Christ has opened for us the door to our Father’s house, our Father’s bosom.  This is where God wants us to be, even now as we journey through life. This is where our hearts can be most at rest.

Sometimes, Paul writes about an Infant resting on a cross.[16] A cross is formed by the intersection of a horizontal beam and a vertical beam.  It thus represents, as Bishop Sheen said, our desires crossed by  God’s will.  Throughout life, the cross truly marks our journey, and so if we are to find rest for our souls, we need to learn to accept it as Jesus did.  This is the whole meaning of an Infant resting on a cross.  The cross becomes an altar within our souls where we sacrifice our will to that of God.  We know that this doesn’t take away suffering, but it does give it meaning.  Eventually we will experience deep peace, the more we abandon ourselves to the care and providence of our Abba Father.

Paul’s image is not only about the interior union of Jesus with His Father’s will. We are that infant resting on the cross.  When we accept God’s will, our innermost hearts come to rest on the altar of our heart.  It’s here on this altar that we can offer to the Father our anxieties, frustrations, fears and worries.  We can ask Him to send upon us His Holy Spirit that Jesus may be reborn within us.  And the Father does send the Holy Spirit.  The Father does pour His love out into all our troubles and worries.  The Father’s love is an endless river of peace that heals us, sanctifies us, transforms us.  Part of living out our spiritual childhood involves running like a small child who has been hurt, into the embrace of our Father, with all our struggles and needs.

The door to this, as to all prayer, is faith.  Today, let’s try to enter into God’s rest.  Let’s adopt a little Advent practice of using our faith more often, of turning with trust to our Heavenly Father, and letting our prayer pierce the heavens: “Abba, Father, I believe in Your eternal love for me.”  Let’s intersperse the days of Advent and Christmas with prayer “pauses that refresh” and give peace to our souls.  In early morning, at midday and before going to rest at night, spend some time just quietly listening to the Holy Spirit in our heart, crying to the Father, “Abba!”[17] To enter God’s Heart, to rest on His bosom, takes only a moment of quiet prayer.  These moments will make a difference.  Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is praying to the Father constantly in our hearts with sighs and groans too deep for words.[18] Scripture also tells us that the Holy Spirit Himself is constantly giving testimony to our innermost spirit, that we are beloved children of God.[19]

Coming to experience ourselves as a beloved child of God is what St. Paul of the Cross wants for us this Advent and Christ.  This is part of our inheritance as beloved children of God.  In the Last Discourse in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says:  “In the way the Father has loved Me, that’s the love I have for you. Live on in my love.  I am telling you about all this so that my joy may be yours and that your joy will come to utter completion.”[20] He also wants us to share the peace He experiences in His Father: “My peace is my gift to you....Do not be distressed or fearful.”[21]  Later in the Last Discourse, Jesus says: “The Father Himself already loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”[22]

A story is told about an old man who had attained a deep immersion in God.  His relationship with God was very simple. The old man explained it this way: “The Father is very fond of me.”  Each of us can say the same: “The Father is very fond of me.”  Our hearts are going to be restless until they rest in this Father’s love.  We can go about our daily duties repeating, “The Father is very fond of me.”

At this point, let’s take time to sit quietly in prayer, to rest like a child on the bosom of our Heavenly Father.  Try to let your mind and heart come to rest in that.  And if distractions come, then you can slowly and quietly repeat this verse of scripture: “The Father Himself already loves you.” Or, “The Father is very fond of me.”

[1]  John 16:27

[2]  Mark 6:31

[3]  Matthew 11:28-30; “Our rest in a world full of unrest is Christ’s trust in His Father; our peace in a world without peace is our surrender, complete as the surrender of the sleeping child.... Rest is not idleness... Rest is a fullness of gathered peace, like the fullness and stillness of waters gathered to a flood tide.”  Caryll Houselander, The Passion of the Infant Christ, chapter 2

[4]  “Entrust yourself entirely to God.  He is a Father and a most loving Father at that, who would rather let heaven and earth collapse rather than abandon anyone who trusted in him.”

[5]  Dec. 24, 2759 to Maria Johanna Venturi Grazi.  This theme is frequent throughout Paul’s letters.

[6]  “You must go often to this dear Father by means of holy prayer.”  (April 15,1727 to Marchioness del Pozzo)

[7]   “‘To remain in the bosom of the Father’ - with this expression...Paul expresses the importance of the Fatherhood of God, of trust in the Father, of a serene clinging to his Will, and of a rest in God.  Such ideas were not to be found in popular spirituality of his time.”  (The Letters of St. Paul of the Cross, Vol. III, Introduction)

[8]  The excerpts are too numerous to list.  Here are just a few: “I would wish that you often center yourself in your interior and with a lively faith take your repose on the bosom of God like a baby.  Every time your soul recollects itself in God, in the inner temple of your soul, it is born anew to a new life of love in the Divine Word Jesus Christ. I pray the Lord to help you understand and practice what I am teaching....”  Maria Cherubina Bresciani, Dec. 15, 1761

                “If you will be faithful, as I hope, that spiritual Divine Birth will take place in the temple of your soul not only now, but always, provided you remain faithful and alone in your interior, reposing your spirit on the bosom of God in a sacred silence of faith and holy love.”  Teresa Palozzi, Dec. 19, 1764

                “I want you to be reborn every day in the Divine Word Made Man to a new life, all holy, so that you be a true portrait of Jesus Christ.  All this will happen if you are faithful and remain solitary within and rest your soul on the divine bosom of the Heavenly Father where there is celebrated every moment that Divine Birth.  In that way it will always be Christmas in the inner stable of your soul.”  Bartholomew Calderoni, Jan. 1, 1770

[9]  “I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.  Whoever makes himself lowly, becoming like this child, is of the greatest importance in that heavenly reign.”  Matthew 18:2-4

[10]  John 1:18

[11]  “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God.  This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being.  For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence.  He cannot fully live according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his Creator.”  Catholic Catechism #27; Vatican Council II, Church in the Modern World, 19:1

[12]  Eph 2:18-19

[13]  John 16:27

[14]  Eph 3:12

[15]  John 14:3

[16] “I would wish that you celebrate Christmas in the poor stable of your heart, where the gentle Jesus will be born spiritually. Present this poor stable to Mary Most Holy and to Saint Joseph so that they may adorn it with virtues so the Divine Infant will be happy there. Many years ago I had an Infant painted on German paper that had him sleeping quietly on a cross. Oh, how much that symbol pleased me!...On Christmas you will have the Infant in your heart and be transformed entirely into him with love. Sleep with him on the crib of the cross, and at the divine lullaby that Mary Most Holy will sing go to sleep with the Divine Infant, being in union with his heart. The lullaby of Mary will be: ‘May your Will be done on earth as in heaven.’   The second verse will be: ‘To work, to suffer, and to be silent,’ and the third: ‘Do not justify yourself, do not complain, do not show resentment.’  What do you think of this lullaby, Sister Maria Angela Magdalene? Learn it well, sing it well, sleeping on the cross, and practice it with fidelity, for I assure you it will make you holy.  Maria Angela Cencelli, Dec. 19, 1761 (Many  additional excerpts could be cited.) 

[17]  “The proof that you are sons is the fact that God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, crying out, ‘Abba!’ (‘Father!’).  Gal 4:6-7

[18]  Rom 8:26

[19]  Rom 8:14-17

[20]  cf John 15:9-11

[21]  John 14:27

[22]  John 16:27