Chapter III - The Gift of Self
As we are at Laetare Sunday, this is a beautiful chapter to read. It is what all humans are called to. As Jesus gave Himself up for us at Calvary in union with the Father's Will, so we too are called to surrender to the Will of the Father. This is a beautiful chapter and I hope it will shed light and give confidence to this path which we are all called to! Blessed Laetare Sunday to all of you!
According to St. Teresa, all the asceticism that she proposes in the Way of Perfection can be summed up in the perfect realization of the GIFT OF SELF! Without this – intimacy with God is impossible --- St. Teresa states in her autobiography ---
“The aim of all my advice to you in this book is that we should surrender ourselves wholly to the Creator, place our will in His hands and detach ourselves from the creatures…
We are preparing ourselves for the time, which will come very soon when we shall find ourselves at the end of our journey and shall be drinking of living water from the fountain I have described. Unless we make a total surrender of our will to the Lord, and put ourselves into His hands so that He may do in all things what is best for us in accordance with His will, He will never allow us to drink of it.” (Life, p. 63)
The close relation between contemplation and the gift of self is many times over affirmed by the Saint.
Necessity and Excellence
The first motive in the giving of self – she says:
“As He refuses to force our will, He takes what we give Him but does not give Himself wholly until He sees that we are giving ourselves wholly to Him. This is certain, and as it is of such importance, I often remind you of it. Nor does He work within the soul as He does when it is wholly His and keep nothing back. I do not see how He can do so, since He likes everything to be done in order.” (Life, p. 64)
God does not force our will says St. Teresa of Jesus. The free cooperation of man is truly a necessary condition for the fulfillment of the eternal decrees of the divine mercy. Heaven thrills with joy at the ‘Fiat’ of Mary which may also be call the ‘Fiat’ of human nature to its assumption by the Divinity in the hypostatic union. It makes of Mary a cooperator with God. Thereafter, she is to be effectually and actively Mother, wherever God will be Father in His relations with men.
“God takes only what we give: but He does not give Himself completely as long as we have not given ourselves to Him absolutely. God takes possession of us only in the measure that we give ourselves up to Him. Perfect union requires as its first condition the complete gift of self.
The gift of self is a deep need of love, and its most perfect act. Every complete giving of self, made with the same fervor of love, purifies the soul in the same way. We are sometimes tempted to seek in poetry or sublime language the expression of perfect love; but this love is best expressed in the complete and earnest gift of self. The gift of ourselves is the most perfect sacrifice we can offer to God. The oblation surrenders the victim to God, makes it His and permits Him to dispose of it as He desires, either to immolate it or to use it for other ends.
On coming into this world, the sacred humanity of Christ saw at once, because of His intuitive vision of God, all the divine riches that were His. He discovered God’s plan for Him: by the sacrifice of Calvary, He was called to unite all that sin had divided, and He was to be an inexhaustible source of grace for regenerated humanity. Christ in this first act of His humanity, offers Himself as an oblation to His Father. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 4 verses 31-4: “I have food to eat of which you do not know….My food is to do the will of Him Who sent me, to accomplish His work.”
The offering is sincere and complete; the realization of the will of God is perfect. Jesus lets Himself be directed by the Divine Will. The gift of self, which makes perfect the obedience of Jesus Christ, also achieves our redemption and becomes the principle of His glory. The apostle stresses this:
“He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Therefore, God also has exalted Him and has bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth.”(Phil. 2:8-10)
We must place our gift of self in the light of the oblation of Christ to understand its necessity and fecundity. An essential disposition of Christ, the complete gift of self is an essential disposition of every Christian. It identifies one profoundly with Christ; without it, any imitation of Him could not but be superficial, and perhaps empty external formalism. In order to belong to Christ, one must surrender to Him as He surrender to God Our Father, for we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.
The gift we make of ourselves surrenders us to the grace of Christ which is in us; it is a call to be more completely possessed by Christ.
In the “Way of Perfection” by St. Teresa we find:
“The more resolute we are in soul and the more we show Him by our actions that the words we use to Him are not words of mere politeness, the more and more does Our Lord draw us to Himself and raise us above all petty earthly things, and above ourselves, in order to prepare us to receive great favors from Him, for His rewards for our service will not end with this life! So much does He value this service of ours that we do not know for what more we can ask, while His Majesty never wearies of giving…
He begins to make such a friend of the soul that not only does He restore its will to it but He gives it His own also. For, now that He is making a friend of it, He is glad to allow it to rule with Him, as we say, turn and turn about.” (Way of Perfection, p. 138-9)
But she also sadly states:
“So niggardly and so slow are we in giving ourselves wholly to God that we do not prepare ourselves as we should to receive that precious thing… (Life p. 63)
“So being unable to make a full surrender of ourselves, we are never given a full supply of this treasure.” (Life, p. 64)
Qualities of the Gift of Self - Absolute
That our gift of self may obtain such high favors, St. Teresa requires only that it be absolutely COMPLETE. The renunciation will be felt very painfully on one or another point, according to the attachments of the soul, but it must be complete.
In reality, the aspect of indetermination is not a new quality of the gift of self; its purpose is uniquely to protect the plenitude of the gift against all reservations more or less conscious. He attracts us to Him and to self-surrender by enticing perspectives, or by particular lights that harmonize well with our natural tastes or our graces.
Notions and tastes as to what sanctity is are as varied as individuals. Generous souls will attach great importance to sufferings, often undertaking penances of their own choice with the approval of a spiritual director. Or a soul will want to make a daily itinerary detailing all its sacrifices which the imagination plays a part.
Meanwhile, God’s real designs in our regard declare themselves, upsetting our own preconceived ones. The result, at least momentarily, is discouragement and disillusionment, unless we begin to reconstruct one in our own fashion.
The summary of this is that our generosity is sometimes spent for ourself and our own projects; it missed the plan of God because it did not make an undetermined gift. One must make a renunciation of all personal projects, and thus reserve all the energies of the soul for the accomplishment of those duties and tasks which Providence each day assigns us. It surrenders the soul to the action of the Holy Spirit.
Thus the soul becomes attentive to God’s voice and docile; and these dispositions make the best instruments of the Holy Spirit.
For the gift of self to produce all the effects we have indicated, it must be not just a transitory act, but a constant disposition of soul. It is critical to frequently renew our gift of self. By such renewals, the soul creates within itself what we might call a psychological disposition of self-giving, a disposition which acts like a reflex. No matter what disturbs or excites the soul – it immediately turns to God to offer this.
“The chalice is full to the brim”, says St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, “but I am in an astonishing peace…I would not want to suffer less…..I do not regret having been a victim soul.”
Father Marie Eugene ends this chapter with the reflection that if we but glance and meditate on the ‘Fiat’ of Our Blessed Mother on the day of the Annunciation that this will help us more effectively in discovering the supernatural and profound truths in the gift of self. The Virgin Mary, filled with grace as She was by the Holy Spirit and consumed in the light of God, had all Her energies peacefully intent on the realization of the Divine Will. Facing the perspectives that were facing Her, She had only one question – she was concerned about Her virginity (which She already solemnly offered to God). When it was reassured to Her that this would not be lost, that the Holy Spirit would come down upon Her, She gave Her immediate YES – Her Fiat! She gave consent to the most sublime and terrifying of contracts; to the union of Her virginal womb of humanity and divinity, to Calvary, and to the mystery of the Church.
He ends with the fact that we too should have complete confidence in the Divine Providence of God and quotes St. Teresa of Jesus with this:
“ O, my sisters, what power this gift has! If it be made with due resolutions, it cannot fail to draw the Almighty to become one with our lowliness and to transform us into Himself and to effect a union between the Creator and the creature.” (Way of Perfection, p. 138)
We are born for only one thing --- to live to imitate Our Dear Lord, Our Blessed Mother and all the saints. May we surrender ourselves and get rid of all that keeps us from this surrender. It must enter into our whole life, take possession of our soul, creating in it an abiding disposition, keeping us ever in an attitude of profound humility because this is ALL THE WORK OF GOD – we only give our YES!
The next chapter is on this Humility – until then – God bless and have a self-giving Lent!
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Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene