Self-love (selfish acts, self-centeredness) is like a cancer whose roots extend to the most delicate fibers of our mental and moral nature. Divine grace can remove them but slowly and painfully; the more subtle the selfishness the more painful the cure.
How can the intellect be brought under the direction of divine grace except by reducing it and how can this be done without placing it in utter darkness? How can the heart be filled with divine love if it is already filled? How can it be purified except by dryness and bitterness? God wishes to fill our minds and our hearts with divine light and love to deify our nature, to make us one with God whom we represent. How can God do this except by removing from our souls all that is contrary to God?
All your difficulties are favors from God but you see them from the wrong side. You speak of them like a block of marble that is being chiseled would speak, not realizing that you are being transformed into a sculpture. When God purifies the soul, it cries out like a small child that is having his face washed. The soul’s attention must be turned away from what is happening around us and turned inward towards God in order to come into union with Him. This transformation is a great, painful and wonderful work. And it is all the more painful and all the more difficult in proportion to the soul’s attraction to transitory things.
A reflection on the Incarnation found in the preaching of the early fathers of the Church, especially Saints Athanasius and Augustine states that God has become man in Jesus Christ so that we in turn may become like God. Jesus has come to make us children of the Father filled with divine light and love. In our reflection today from Servant of God, Isaac Hecker, he tells us that the process of our transformation in Christ is a painful experience. The more our minds and hearts are filled and are focused in the wrong direction, the more difficult and the more painful is the process of transformation by grace. Father Hecker says that God seeks union with us through grace. God seeks to dwell within our very being and in that process we are transformed. But if our minds and hearts are full, there is no place for God just as there was no place for the holy family when they arrived at Bethlehem.
Oftentimes in our lives we go through periods of emptiness, frustration and aloneness. These difficult moments seem to happen to us as a part of our humanity. We see them as loss. Father Hecker suggests they just might be cathartic – an emptying experience which God uses to transform us. He reminds us that oftentimes at our core of our being is self-centeredness and self-importance. But we have to get over ourselves if we are to make room within for God. We see the difficult moments of our lives as pain and loss, where Father Hecker sees them as gain. He says, “all your difficulties are favors from God.” Like a chisel on a block of marble, what is being cut away is making us new and empowered. We feel the sharpness of the chisel, God sees the beauty of what He is creating.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.