Question: When one goes to one’s prayer time aware of, not just feeling, but utterly aware of one’s complete spiritual bankruptcy let alone poverty, when one senses that one does not even have ‘the widow’s mite’ of love; how can one say to Jesus “I love you” when that seems like sheer hypocrisy?
It is not just a feeling of hypocrisy, it is more a sense of being dishonest before the Lord. My life (and the whole question could be and maybe should be in the first person?) outside of the prayer time just does not really fit with what is the prayer time; and I am not talking about specific and definite acts! It is more an awareness of a deep sense of inauthenticity.
It is not very easy to put something like this into words!
I just found something from St Faustina’s Diary that helps to describe how I was feeling – but compared with the real dark night of the saints my ‘twilight greyness’ was a mere 2/3% compared to their 90+%!
“Going deeper into myself, I could find nothing but great misery. I could also clearly see the great holiness of God.” (Especially during Mass – my words). “I did not dare to raise my eyes to Him, but reduced myself to dust under his feet and begged for mercy.”
Which brings me to another question: Instead of my usual prayer word of Jesus/Mary or ‘Lord, that I may love you’, I feel at such times the need to simply cry out: ‘mercy, mercy’. My question is: am I putting too much emphasis on myself here all be it in a hidden, subtle way? And is this spiritually and psychologically healthy?
Answer: Thank you for your question and for your trust. To answer it there are many points involved that should be clarified.
The more we draw closer to God, the more we give ourselves to Him and commit to Him, the more He feels free to give Himself to us. After some time, He starts to act in us in a new and deeper way; purifying and preparing us to be united with Him. Why am I saying this? Because I would like to show where we are aiming towards. The effects of God’s new action in us are twofold: an increase in the discovery of our utter nothingness and an increase of the experience of His Mercy. Sometimes we resist the new discovery (and it continues every day to be “new”) of His Mercy because we can’t believe this overwhelming mercy. Almost in a way “too good to be true”. But it is important to have some flexibility of the mind and the way we believe, in order to accept that the image we have of God can be modified by Him, improved, in a direction we didn’t know or expect.
It is important then to allow this overwhelming experience of His Mercy. Mercy means we have no merit at all, we can’t please him, we can’t produce one single act that would please him. Then, our only recourse is his Mercy. There is no other way, no other solution to our state. It is important to accept the? change and make space for this new discovery of the very nature of God. (Please see the following articles that present God’s love for us.)
All the above show us that growth in spiritual life is an increase of this twofold experience: our utter poverty/nothingness and God’s overwhelming love and mercy. Are we expecting something else? I am very tempted to say that what we should expect is a constant increase and deepening of the twofold revelation. We won’t come out of it, we won’t feel that we are strong. We will learn to lean increasingly on God’s Mercy and to accept our poverty and to love it even more.
St. Therese is probably the greatest human master here. She talks about loving our poverty (see her letter, LT 197, to her sister here, below the Act of Oblation, scrolling down.). We struggle with our poverty, we want to get rid of it and we are in horror when we have glimpses of it. This is not what Therese teaches. She invites us to go to the opposite direction: to accept, love and cherish our lowliness and nothingness.
“even if I had on my conscience all the sins of the world, I will continue to go to God with trust and abandonment” (end of Ms C).
A new Threshold in Spiritual Life
In the beginning of Christian Life and Spiritual Life, we say that we need to avoid sin and act in virtuous ways. We “train” ourselves for a very long time to be good and to do good in order to be good Christians or good Catholics. This is fine. But when God starts to work deeply in us, reaching out to the roots of our being, He purifies them.
What does the experience of God’s work in us offer us? As stated above, we start to see in a new and clearer way our nothingness. But is this all? We mentioned the needed change in our understanding of who God is (the new revelation of his utterly overwhelming Mercy).
Is that all? There is a new aspect, never heard of before that needs to be acknowledged: with the ever growing inner perception of our nothingness, the Holy Spirit makes us see, inside of us that no act we make is pure, or totally pleasing to God. The acts that we thought were “good”, start to show something in them that doesn’t make them totally agreeable to God. Therese describes this discovery this way: “all our righteous-acts (French “justices”) have stains in Your eyes” (“All our justice is stained in Your eyes.”).
What is the solution? One needs to study her Act of Oblation and all the theology that lies behind it. She discovers as all the saints did that all our acts, good or bad can be offered to God; to the Fire of the Holy Spirit. It is the act of offering that is agreeable to God. It is then the Holy Spirit who takes them, purifies them, elevates them, gives them His Virtue and introduces them into God.
So all our acts (that we consider good or bad) are combustible to the Fire of the Love of God.
So, any opportunity that presents itself to us, during the day, whenever we feel our inadequacy or unworthiness, should be used to generate acts of offering to the Fire of the Lord. An even better way would be to offer them to Our Lady, as she puts us directly inside of Jesus’ Fire.
To love says Therese is to give everything and give ourselves.
The feeling of my overwhelming nothingness should be offered up to the Fire of the Love of God. This feeling, this perception, should be offered. One can object: but I am offering something negative! – everything has a stain in the eyes of God. What makes things acceptable to God is the intervention of the Holy Spirit. For it to happen we need to offer it to the Lord (through the hands of Our Lady) and offer ourselves.
Is this hypocrisy? It is normal to grow in this feeling of nothingness, our poverty. It is not meant to disappear. Still, is this hypocrisy? On the contrary, it is about understanding correctly that all our acts have stains and that it is the Holy Spirit that makes them agreeable to God. (Please study this long text that explains how this offering can occur. How to be transported by the Fire of the Love of God in Mary. It is a book also.)
So, again, is it hypocrisy to say to Jesus that we love Him when we are in this horrible state? On the contrary, it is what we should do: add our nothingness to the “ALL” of the Holy Spirit. It is the only thing we are invited to do. We trust, we believe. Remember Therese’ s story of the two children who broke the vase! (we all break it). One escaped and hid from his mom, fearful of being told off severely. The other one went directly to his mom (knowing the heart of his mom), telling her that he didn’t do it on purpose. He told her that he promises to be more careful next time, and asked her to punish him with a kiss!
Punish him with a kiss?!! This is a deep knowledge and trust in God. Absolute. This is what we are supposed to do, in order to allow our experience of the overwhelming mercy of God grow.
Is this hypocrisy? It is just another phase in Spiritual Life. We need to cross this threshold and dive into God, the true God – not the God we imagined.
We need to accept Him as He is; not as we imagine Him.
Answering your last question: it is certainly better to focus on God’s love and not on ourselves. We all have the cat’s tendency of spending our day licking ourselves trying to clean ourselves. While in fact it is only the Holy Spirit, here and now, who can clean us, make us agreeable to God and present us to God Himself.
If it is done through Our Lady’s Hands it is more secure and guaranteed. Why? Because Mary directs us the right way to God, not our way.
I hope this helps.