Fr. Brendan is the Chaplain to the Shrine of Saint Jude in Faversham. He offers a simple reflection.
Growing up as a young boy in my native Bristol, I always looked forward to days when, as a family, we would take a trip to the sea or a holiday in Devon or Cornwall. I have always loved the sea and have found it calming, engaging and liberating. Now as an adult, I continue to find the sea, hills and mountains places of great stillness where I discover myself easily and gently becoming more conscious of the presence of God.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “I was six or seven years old when Papa brought us to Trouville. Never will I forget the impression the sea made upon me; I couldn’t take my eyes off it since its majesty, the roaring of its waves, everything spoke to my soul of God’s grandeur and power.” Later she likens God’s love to an ocean in which she became completely immersed, knowing herself and knowing God. She writes that it was as if she “had vanished as a drop of water is lost in the immensity of the ocean”. With such a “transport of delight”, as John of the Cross would earlier call it, her very spirit seems to have become completely liberated by the experience.
Despite living in an enclosed Carmelite convent in Normandy, France, the spiritual experience of Thérèse did not make her aloof or disengaged from the ordinary challenges of people’s lives. Her sense of God enabled her to have an even more acute awareness of the needs of those around her, as well as the incredible difficulties that faced the world of her time. It was as if she moved beyond her self-concern to an incredible empathy with struggling humanity. An essential dimension of Thérèse’s spirituality was to return love for love, which involved reaching out to others with the same love that she had received.
As we move closer to Holy Week, we recognize that this Lent has been different to any Lent we as a global Christian community have witnessed. During these limiting times, when most need to stay at home, it feels as if we have been drawn into a real desert. Moses led the Hebrews from Egypt to a forty-year desert; Jesus was driven by the Spirit of God into the desert of forty days and forty nights. After a while, unsurprisingly, the Hebrews began to grumble, complain and even rebel. In his time in the desert, Jesus was tested to the core of his being. What sustained Jesus was his absolute trust and confidence in the God whose love is like a limitless ocean.
With social distancing and self-isolation, it seems that we need to drill down deep into previously unknown reserves. As we face into our deepest centre, it is possible that not only can we come to know ourselves as we truly are, but also that we can grow in our experience of God. Sometimes when I am alone at home and I cannot get out to a physical sea or mountain, I use my memory to take me to those moments when I simply knew that God is God… in the ocean, in the mountains, in the beauty…. I internalise the experiences, so that I continue to carry them with me wherever I am. Perhaps we can use this time of spending more time at home to reach into our positive memories of when we felt loved, when we loved, when others made a positive difference in our lives, when we made a difference to theirs.
Perhaps too we can explore the images and symbols that help us to think about our relationship with God. Where do we find it easiest to be aware of God? Maybe we can go to those spaces in our mind’s eye or our spiritual centre and allow them to sustain us and reveal new depths to us. Those spaces can help us to know, with Thérèse of Lisieux that “Love attracts love”.
God of majesty and tranquillity, strength and gentleness,
We thank you for so many people who have helped us to become the people we are today.
As your chosen apostle, Saint Jude, was drawn to the fascinating and liberating experience of your love in the person of Jesus, attract us to your transcendent yet ever-with-us presence.
Through your Spirit, lead us to that deepest centre where we find peace in you.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Saint Jude, pray for us.
Saint Thérèse, pray for us.
- Reflection by Fr Brendan Grady, O.Carm