Moments of Love with Mary
– The Spiritual Letter Box –
We often hear humility spoken of, the basic virtue that is needed to grow in the spiritual life. Self-effacement is also mentioned often.
- What exactly is self-effacement?
- How are we to understand self-effacement in two very different missions such as those, for example, of Catherine Labouré and Catherine of Siena?
- Is self-effacement necessary for everyone?
- How far can it go?
- Can someone live “effaced” while still leading an active life?
- How can we reach the point of living self-effacement?
- Can someone be open, radiant, with one’s qualities developed, and self-effaced at the same time?
Thank you in advance for your replies which will shed light on the subject.
Claude and his friends
There you have, in fact, a series of questions that could be the subject matter for long conversations. Let us immediately delve into the question.
What Is Self-Effacement?
It is the quality of that which diminishes or disappears. Thus, it is the preparation for and the act leading to humility which in turn is the foundation stone of the spiritual life. If one acquires humility, then one prepares the way of the Lord. The Gospel shows us that John the Baptist is one of the best examples of self-effacement. “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight,” he said. “Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill laid low.” (Lk 3:4-5)
John simply attributed to himself the role of a voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” And John added, in reference to the One who was to come: “I am not fit to loosen his sandal strap.” (Lk 3:16) And again: “He must increase, while I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30) There you have sentiments of deep humility which we must make our own at all times. That is the work of our interior reform which, once again, comes to the fore.
Thus, the valleys are our deficiencies, our weaknesses, our errors, etc. Now, all of that must be filled in by love. For example, if we have the bad habit of lacking charity, of being filled with pride, of getting angry over the least little thing, of lacking generosity, etc.,we can take resolutions to try and limit the number of our faults, our errors. It is necessary to have resolutions, of course, but if our will is focussed entirely on that means, we risk falling into an attitude of undue worrying or disillusionment, for we will always have weaknesses and the devil will not miss an unforeseen opportunity to make us forget our good resolutions and make us fall again into our bad habits.
On the other hand, if we place the emphasis on love, that is, loving God and our neighbor, and on all that this comprises in giving, forgiving and self-abandonment, then our ascent will be much more rapid, for the mountains and the hills, that is to say, the empty preenings of our pride, our impatience, egoism, etc. will be suppressed by love, that genuine love whereby we forget ourselves, we give and we give of ourselves for God and for others, doing so, first of all, in the fulfilling of the duties of our state of life and then in the apostolate.
Means to Be Taken
- To be self-effaced is to forget oneself; to forego one’s tastes in favor of someone else’s.
- To be self-effaced is to sacrifice one’s own point of view in order to consider someone else’s.
- To be self-effaced is to love even when one is disparaged, contemned, calumniated.
- To be self-effaced is to prepare the way of the Lord, as Saint John the Baptist did, and, at the same time, to prepare our own happiness, for the more we give, the happier we are. What a difference from the one who is egotistical who seeks only to receive!
How to Achieve Self-Effacement,
Self-effacement, the quality of that which disappears, does not oblige us to always take the last place, never to be in the forefront, etc. Once again, John the Baptist set an example for us. He prepared the way of the Lord; he did not cede his place. He accomplished his role as was required by his mission.
But he accomplished his mission in perfect awareness of his unworthiness. Why was this so? Because, as a result of the purity of his soul, the divine light revealed to him the grandeur of Him who was coming and whom he announced.
When the soul is pure, not sullied by faults constantly being committed, it pleases God. Now, we know that the purest soul that pleased God in all the beauty of its grace, its virginal purity, was the Immaculate. How important purity is! It was through Mary, the All-Pure, that God passed to give us His Son Jesus.
Mary likewise prepared the way of the Lord because she was humble. Mary was self-effaced: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Savior; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.”
In His turn, Christ effaced Himself in order to make known His Father. He gave His life for all by teaching us to love.
An Invitation to the Apostolate
“Prepare a way for the Lord.” John the Baptist’s words are also an invitation to the apostolate. This invitation is addressed to us, not only by John but also by Jesus who wished to make of every Christian a collaborator in His redemptive work. We must be proud of this, but we must not forget that it also carries with it a heavy responsibility, for the salvation of our brethren also depends on the generosity with which we collaborate with Christ’s work.
Our interests must be God’s interests. Let us look after God’s interests, He will look after ours. Do we not have sufficient proof that Jesus and Mary look after us?
It suffices that we observe the commandments, that we live according to God’s laws in order to enjoy all the kindnesses God reserves to those who love Him. This love is manifested in a special way through giving, forgiving and self-abandonment.
Prepare a way for the Lord
- is to be self-effacing or to disappear so that Christ may radiate;
- is to work in the service of the Church;
- is to commit oneself to follow the path leading to the Kingdom.
We have explained the nature of self-effacement, the means of achieving it; we have launched an appeal to every soul of good will. Everything can be summarized in a few words: decrease so that Christ may grow in us, that our “self” may disappear so that Christ may radiate through us. That is the way it was with Mary.
Imbued with such sentiments, it is of little importance whether our activity takes places in the forefront or in the background. All that counts is to let Jesus and Mary living in us go ahead of us, to live for them and through them. Thus, the silent life of a Catherine Labouré, imbued with love of God, will be just as meritorious as the more demanding life, exteriorly, of a Catherine of Siena or of a warrior Joan of Arc.
Love transforms the souls that reach the point of being able to live in conformity with God’s will, in a great fidelity, thus bearing within themselves supernatural riches and the power to communicate them to others.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, from her sickbed, enlightens us on this matter: “I have found my vocation; my vocation is love!”
Whether this vocation to love is silent and hidden or external and exposed to all kinds of difficulties, it is a source of joy, of a calm and consoling enthusiasm. Prior to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Saint Paul had also firmly declared his quality of apostle and the scope of his special mission. Certainties with regard to one’s mission, certainties of love that overwhelms, both mutually beget each other.
Whether the mission be one of silent prayer and hidden immolation, or one of teaching or the activity of this or that apostolate, all the divine missions whereby the Holy Spirit builds up the Church in every era of its growth, demand that souls be truly possessed by God. God’s mysterious presence in souls is revealed by their fruitfulness: “You will know them by their fruit.” That is the sign He gives in order to recognize His genuine envoys.
And these envoys are more than just an instrument or a servant; more than an apostle, they become friends who fulfill God’s plans. “I no longer speak of you as slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is about. Instead, I call you friends, since I have made known to you all that I heard from my Father,” Jesus said at the Last Supper. (Jn 15:15)
Self-effacement can lead to the most beautiful friendship, the purest, most consoling and most fulfilling, that of the soul with Him who is Love itself. Let us recall this invigorating thought: “There is no greater happiness than that of loving to the very end, of loving others in God and for God.”
The soul that advances in life this way, totally penetrated by God, now has only one concern: the glory of God and the welfare of souls. Motivated by this sole desire to serve, it totally disappears in the abyss of its littleness so that it may be taken over by the Holy Spirit who, for the good of the Church, guides it in accordance with divine wisdom which confounds the mighty because it is folly for men.
This collaboration between God and the soul, all these splendors of humility and power, are but a pale reflection of the beauty of the Work being constructed by the Holy Spirit; the masterpiece of divine mercy, for Jesus who shed His blood for the Church continues to immolate His victims after having endowed them with the marvelous gifts of His grace. As long as there will be souls to save, we must collaborate with the Father’s loving designs if we really desire to be worthy sons and daughters of the Church.
(“Le Royaume”, no. 7, December 1982-January 1983)