Resting in the Father's Love - Part II

“The Father Himself loves you.[1]

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

Acquiring any habit takes work.  Acquiring the habit of resting in the bosom of our Father costs us something.  We have to make some decisions.  St. Paul of the Cross would say we have to undergo some mystical deaths.  The embrace of the Father awaits us but we must undergo some soul work:

• daily conversion and purification of our hearts

• choosing to pay attention to the presence and love of the Father

• strive to become more like God, allowing Him to work in our lives.

1) There is the work of daily conversion–literally turning back to the God of our hearts.  The work of not letting anything in the world come between us and God.  The work of faith, of detachment, of the little virtues needed to live in harmony with those around us.  Paul of the Cross calls this “living a godlike life.”  Paul of the Cross often mentions these little virtues in his Christmas letters, calling us to live a godlike life.

Another aspect of conversion is to ask Our Lord to cleanse and heal our hearts of false images of God the Father.  We may still be carrying some hurts from our relationship with our biological father.  These wounds may paralyze us and prevent us from really trusting the Heavenly Father’s unchanging love for us.  So we ask Jesus to reveal the Father to us, for “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”[23] “The purification of our hearts has to do with paternal or maternal images stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God.”[24] With the help of the healing grace of God, we can enter the mystery of our Heavenly Father as He truly is, and as His Son has revealed Him to us.

2) Then we have to make a decision.  We have to choose to pay attention to the presence and love of the Father:

• Faith is needed: we can make acts of faith in the Father’s embracing love for us.

• Detachment is needed: it takes detachment to turn away for a while from the immediate distractions that fill our lives.

• Love is needed: it takes love to choose to love God above all things, to love Him so much that we spend time close to His Heart.

St. Paul of the Cross says: “Remain like a child on the bosom of the Divine Father”. That is, be like Jesus.  Even as an infant, Jesus Christ rested in His Father’s care and love.  So we have to choose to cling to God in an act of faith that gives us access to His bosom, His Heart.  As we’ve said so many times before, the Trinity dwells within us.  But this divine presence within us will remain a hidden treasure store unless we learn to turn away from distractions for a while, that we may seek Him and rest in an act of love.  We can fill even the busiest day with brief moments of gazing toward God in the depths of our souls, where we may quietly love the Father and be loved by Him.

St. Paul of the Cross was always concerned that we live an interior life of communion with God.  He wanted souls to keep their inner temples as a place of rest, of silence, peace and prayer.  By faith we know that our Heavenly Father’s hug and kiss is always awaiting one who goes to his or her private room of the soul to pray.  Though everything in our world changes constantly, God never changes.  In the world of constant upheaval, rush and noise, God is ever and always “a God, not of confusion, but of peace”[25] who loves us and invites us into his rest.[26]

Paul of the Cross tells us to stay in the bosom of God, for that is the place of prayer, and the great school where holiness is learned.[27] Jesus Himself told us in the Gospel,  “When you pray, go to your private room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father who sees what no man sees, will repay you.  This Father of yours knows what you need even before you ask him.”[28]

3) And lastly we have to strive to become more like God.  St. John tells us that “God is [Agape] love”[29] - that is, a self-outpouring, self-emptying love.  There is no selfishness in God.  To be like God is to allow God to teach us to love with His kind of love, a self-giving, self-emptying love.  A love that costs something.

Paul of the Cross’s Christmas letters are filled with practical guidance how to be unselfish, how to show love through the practice of the daily virtues. To give only a few examples:   To one married woman Paul wrote: “Above all, be meek.  Do not answer back...always have a cheerful countenance for your husband.  Keep him happy so that your married love never grows cold.  Do not lose time.  Profit by the opportunities to exercise virtues, especially humility, gentleness, peace of heart, trying to keep your heart at peace at all times [by means of] holy affections toward God.”[30]  He wrote to Anna Maria Calcagnini, another married woman of very great holiness: “In all events, in all the suffering, internal and external, desolations, aridities, abandonment of spirit, pains of body, etc., in all these encounters feed yourself on the Divine Will.  In that Divine Good Pleasure, digest every mouthful, the hardest and the most bitter, and in that fashion continue to repose on the bosom of the Heavenly Father....”[31]

It is good for us to remember that although these persons were ordinary people, Paul did not hesitate to call them to a deep life of prayer.  The Father Himself loves us and wants to fill our lives with His love.  He is a Father like no other.  He desires to heal and transform us completely.  One of the graces of Christmas is truly to become like a little child of our Heavenly Father.[32]  St. Paul of the Cross’ Christmas greetings to us then are calling us to live as Jesus did, in a trustful relationship to our Heavenly Father.

Deep within our being, the love of God is being poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the Father’s tender, embracing love for His Son and for us.  This gift of outpouring love is being offered to us constantly.  If we are in the state of grace, this unending love never stops being poured into our hearts.[33]  To experience this love, we have to be willing to step aside and withdraw into prayer.  We have to want it enough that we are willing to withdraw our attention from worldly things long enough to be with our Abba Father, and to drink in His love.  The River of Life is continually day and night flowing deep within us.  The more prayerful we are, the more the living waters of prayer can fill us with the joy of God, and bring our souls to rest within the life, light and love of the Trinity, even as we carry our cross here below.

Jesus was born to make us sons and daughters of God.  The Church wants His birth to be renewed in our hearts and lives.  With all these spiritual blessings placed before us, we can’t afford to squander them by mindlessly moving through this season.

Just as St. Ignatius of Antioch on his way to martyrdom, wrote that he experienced the constant flow of the Holy Spirit beckoning to him, “Come to the Father,” I think we can hear the words of St. Paul of the Cross beckoning us to come to the Father and find our rest in His rock-like love.  The question remains: when will we decide to take time to be silent, to withdraw from creatures and set our hearts on our Creator–our beginning and our end–and drink in His love?  When will we decide that we truly want to “Remain like a child on the bosom of the Divine Father”?

[23]  Luke 10:21-22

[24]  Catholic Catechism #2779

[25]  I Corinthians 14:33

[26]  “A Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God.  And he who enters into God’s rest, rests from his own work as God did from his.  Let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall, in imitation of the example of Israel’s unbelief.”  Hebrews 4:9-11

[27]  Letter to John Baptist Gorresio, Dec. 26, 1764

[28]  Matthew 6:6-13

[29] “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.”  (I John 4:16b)

[30]  To a Married Lady, Dec. 28, 1769

[31]  Anna Maria Calcagnini, Dec. 1770 (Let 1926)

[32]  “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 greatest importance in that heavenly reign.”  Matthew 18:2-4

[33]  Romans 5:5