“…Rejoice that your names are written in Heaven”
The following is a meditation on the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. The Gospel of the day was: Luke 10:17-24
Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is packed with Catholic characters of all sorts and tells the tale of salvation in each of their lives. Cordelia, a person of childlike faith and devotion, is always approaching life with a little more insight than the others. In one scene, after delivering a very emotional and moving recollection of how their family chapel was closed, she notes that it was like, “what the Jews felt about their temple. Quomodo sedet sola civitas” and then she adds “it’s a beautiful chant.” This line, from the beginning of the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, is the traditional chant used on Good Friday. Certainly, it could be considered a beautiful chant, but a more accurate description would be closer to mournful or even chilling. This becomes a reoccurring theme through the book. Just as the Chapel is emptied of the Sacred Species and returns towards the end of the book, so too do various members of the family leave God and the faith only to return later. The lamenting, though, is only temporary. As during Holy Week our mourning for the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ lasts only from Good Friday through Holy Saturday, so too the lamenting in Brideshead only lasts as long as we await the return of the various characters to the bosom of God.
Jesus tells His disciples in today’s Gospel not to be excited that they have been given extraordinary power over Satan and his forces. They have done marvelous feats and worked wonders, but Jesus seems to take that away from them; He appears to be taking the wind from their sails. Is Christ calling into question the actions they have done or telling them that they have been worthless? I do not believe Jesus is in any way suggesting that their evangelization and exorcisms have been worthless or for nothing. He is, in fact, simply making an emphasis on something else, for his next line is, “… but rejoice for your names are written in Heaven.” Our Lord is not saying that the good works His disciples have done are not worth rejoicing over, but rather that it is a shame to rejoice over something lesser when something greater is worth our praise. Rather than focus on their own works and powers that have been given them, they should be jubilant that God has chosen them for eternal life.
This fact of their salvation, our salvation, though, is missed in the immediate reaction of the excited clamor of their own actions. Jesus, though, says, in effect, “Rejoice in what is proper to rejoicing.” Not our actions but those of God. When we see ourselves through the lens of our salvation and God’s eternal victory, then life’s actions are put into perspective. Our primary aim in life is for Heaven and not dwelling in Earthly things. When we point at Heaven everything else comes naturally.
This is what Jesus demands of us in the Gospel. He tells us to realize our salvation, to take it, receive it, embrace it, and to live for and by it. When we seize our salvation, everything falls into its proper place. We recognize our vocation; that desire of God for us to live our life in His own, in seeking to align our will with His. This is not necessarily through mystical experiences in prayer, visions of Our Lord, levitation, or stigmata. These signs of faith are beautiful, but for the majority of us who strive for saintliness, it is in the course of our daily tasks and trials that we are brought closer to God.
This is the Little Way of Saint Therese. We seek God not in trying to achieve holiness as an award or goal of our good works, but rather in striving for holiness in imitation of Jesus. It may seem like a small distinction, but it is rather large. She quotes Psalm 49, “Offer to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” and then says, “Jesus claims no more from us; He does not need our works, only our LOVE.” We offer God praise and thanksgiving, and nothing else is necessary, we must recognize our weakness, our inability to save ourselves in order to have faith.
This is not a purely austere mode of living, but an organic willfulness to do the good even amidst evils done by us or towards us. It is a simple resigning of selfishness and an openness towards the plan of God. At the conclusion of Brideshead Revisited, we see our narrator grasping this bold resignation toward the will of God. He sees that no matter the evil, no matter the sin, no matter the intention of man, the Almighty Power of God prevails. His mourning of loss is overcome, his “lamentation,” is overtaken for love of the plans of God.
This reflection was written by Walter Pugh, a seminarian in his last year of formation at Conception Seminary College studying for the Diocese of Sioux City.