Circular Letter: Summer 2023
God is Father: The Way of Spiritual Childhood and the Angels
The Opus Sanctorum Angelorum is a spiritual movement given for our times, to promote the collaboration between Angels and men to the glorification of God and in the great battle for the Kingdom of God on earth, the Holy Church. The Angels lead us in the following and imitation of Christ, that we learn not to follow our own will, but God’s will for our lives. That it is to say, rather than working for our own goals and plans, comfort or pleasure, they teach us to become transparent for God, to allow God to live and work in and through us according to His will and wise providence, for the good of the Church.
In this path, the Lord places before us three ideals: the child – the priest – and the Angel. “The child walks on the path of simplicity. Here all the power of the infernal powers is in vain against the childlike trust, the childlike openness, and his cheerfulness. The priest walks on the path of discipline of will, of mortification and penance, of zeal for the salvation of souls. The Angel carries the light in the lead; he is the mediator of knowledge and grace, help and strength” (Mother Gabriele Bitterlich, Readings I, 10). In this meditation, we want to concentrate on the ideal of the child, the little way of spiritual childhood, which St. Therese of Lisieux taught so compellingly in our times.
God is Father
This is certainly one of the most consoling truths of our faith. It is true, God is love, God is mercy, God is good, but precisely as ‘Father’ there is implied a covenant bond, a relationship with all His children, which includes the mercy, love, patience, forbearance and solicitous care of a father, to a degree infinitely greater than that of the best of all possible fathers. In the Catechism we read,
The personal relation of the Son [of God] to the Father is something that man cannot conceive of, nor the angelic powers even dimly see: and yet, the Spirit of the Son grants a participation in that very relation to us who believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that we are born of God (cf. Jn 1:1). (CCC 2780)
This truth, that God is our Father in and through Christ, has two main corollaries: “First, that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that He is at the same time goodness and loving care for all His children” (CCC 239). Thus, since He is our Father and origin, we owe God both obedience, and also the love, trust and gratitude of very dear children for all His tender mercies and care.
That God is Father is also a call, which demands a response: First, the call to become like God. “Though created in His image, we are restored to His likeness by grace; and we must respond to this grace” (CCC 2784). “We must remember…and know that when we call God ‘our Father’ we ought to behave as sons of God” (St. Cyprian, On the Lord’s prayer 11). “You cannot call the God of all kindness your Father, if you preserve a cruel and inhuman heart; for in this case you no longer have in you the marks of the heavenly Father’s kindness” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Lord’s prayer 3). Jesus Himself tells us to imitate the unconditional love of the Father, “who makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust”, that is, by love to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Thus, “following Christ and united with Him, Christians can strive to be ‘imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love’ (Eph 5:1-2), by conforming their thoughts, words and actions to the ‘mind which is yours in Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5) and by following His example” (CCC 1694).
Secondly, that we may call God our Father bids us to have a humble and trusting heart, the heart of a child or “little one” towards its father. “‘Our Father’: at this name love is aroused in us…and the confidence of obtaining what we are about to ask…. What would He not give to His children who ask, since He has already granted them the gift of being His children?” (St. Augustine, On the Serm. on the Mount 2, 4, 16). The providence of our wise and loving Father takes care of His children’s least needs: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ …Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:31-33).
Freedom in Following the Will of God
The first corollary that follows from the fact that God is Father and Creator is His supreme authority over His creatures. This truth is widely rejected in today’s society. The denial of the sense of sin, the rejection of the moral authority and teaching of the Church in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘love’ has extended even into the hierarchy of the Church in certain countries. Many are no longer children, open for the will and guidance of God and His grace, but have become stubborn, ‘spoiled children’ in their self-will and the desire for autonomy. Yet the Church lovingly seeks to teach the freedom of the children of God. The moral law stems from our nature as men, from our dignity as those redeemed by Christ’s Blood, whereby we are empowered to pursue and attain to our supernatural calling to union with God. Christ’s grace alone leads us to this union, our ultimate goal for which we were created, eternal happiness in God.
The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of grace, the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in His work in the Church and in the world. (CCC 1742)
Mother Gabriele helps us to understand this interior spiritual freedom more clearly:
“The freedom of the children of God is often denied today because it is confused – consciously or unconsciously – with the earthly, creaturely freedom. Usually, a person strives for that freedom which has himself as purpose and goal. He wants to be completely independent and do what he likes. He wants to be free from laws and commandments, dogma and precepts, from every “Thou shalt!” and “Thou shalt not!” For this reason, he also denies sin or seeks to absolve himself from it. In this perverse view, God becomes the despot and tyrant Whom one best denies in order “to keep one’s own free (self-)will intact”. We know the lures of the adversary from the beginning: “By no means will you die, if you disobey God! On the contrary, precisely by this your eyes will be opened and you will be more and more like God” (cf. Gen 3:4-5). The evil one encourages us urgently in this turning away from God and turning to self: “I will give you all this, all power and all pleasure, if you prostrate yourselves and adore me, me, the prince of this world” (cf. Mt 4:8-9, Lk 4:5-7). This lure of false freedom lies from the beginning at the root of all disobedience, of all infidelity, of all revolutions and of all heresies.
“At this place, where the evil one celebrated his first victory, when he stole from man the freedom of the children of God and handed him over to the bondage of sin, he still stands today. He poisons far and wide the concept of freedom, estranges man from God and makes him an egoist, who over time develops very crooked glasses with which he sees the world. [Just consider the ‘crooked’ perversity of the ‘gender ideology’ today!] …At the end of his life, the Angel of the Divine Will finds him everywhere and will call him to an account. Blessed the man who sought and found already during his lifetime the true freedom of his will in the Divine filiation and in the freely determined union with the loving will of God.
“For how completely different is this free will of the man united to God, who derives his freedom from God and not from a creature, who strives for the supernatural, holy freedom coming down from God. In his love for God, he wills nothing else but what God wills and therein finds his peace, indeed, his “food”. Let us remember the word of Jesus, “I have food to eat of which you do not know”, and “My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me” (Jn 4:32, 34). Herein lies the first imitation of Christ and the foundation of our free will. We must be convinced, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17), and only this freedom makes us happy, because it unites us with God. The freedom of the children of God is desireless union with God through the love which overcomes all things. For the faithful man, the highest freedom is to be able to think and will like his ideal: the Glorious, Strong, Holy God.
“The free will of God is the will, which cannot be forced by anything, to the holiness and sanctification of His creatures. And what should be the free will of the image of God, of man? To be perfectly assimilated to exactly the same will to holiness and sanctification, to the love and mercy which overcomes all things, in everything: the reflection of God.
“Now many will say this is a conformist will, an obedient will, and not a free will. We must have the right order. We are and remain creatures as long as we exist. Therefore, obedience to the Creator is not only self-evident, but also freely willed out of love. God does not want us as slaves, but as beloved and loving children. Even the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, was obedient to His Father with His human will unto death on the Cross, in order to fulfill the will of the Triune God for the Redemption and freeing of man. As soon as God removes the fetters of our will which lies in bondage to the evil one (and also the fetters of our own ego), our will rushes toward the will of God and becomes free. Everyone senses this after a deep-reaching, good Holy Confession. In his gratitude, the soul wills nothing other than to remain one with the will of God and in His love. He wills this of his own free will; he wills nothing else. His free will is a single striving for the object of his love, a free seeking to please this love and to prove to Him his own love and fidelity. No reasonable person would say that such a will springs from compulsion, calculation or obedience. The more we love God, the freer our will becomes. It is the constant, free response to the loving will of God, by which everything that we carry out in prayer and in looking to God, works to our good. Even if we do not do or decide the best – our will offers itself to God. Thus, our whole life will become consciously and freely a praise and a glorification of God.” (Mother Gabriele, Fastenrundbrief 1969)
Our happiness, therefore, does not lie in self-will, but in following God’s will for us. Just as we will not be “well” physically, if we drink a tall glass of gasoline, so also in the spiritual realm, our soul does not flourish and find happiness in self-will and moral permissiveness, but in seeking and fulfilling God’s loving plan for our lives – in other words, in living the moral law as defined by the Church. The Church is Mother, and she leads her children on the way of true happiness. Everything finds its happiness and fulfillment when it reaches the goal for which it was created. Flowers in blooming; animals in eating, sleeping and a good hunt; and men in freely loving God and neighbor as Jesus taught us to love – to the end! The Saints may have had much to suffer physically or even emotionally, but they found ‘perfect joy’ deep within, by following the call of God for their lives.
Joyful Obedience to the End
One radiant example of this spiritual freedom was Blessed Franz Jägerstätter of Austria, who in following his conscience and Church teaching regarding a just war refused the oath to Hitler and was consequently beheaded in 1943. In the days before his execution, he wrote:
I write here a few words, as they come from my heart. If I write them with fettered hands, it is still better than if my will were fettered. God sometimes reveals openly the strength He is able to give men who love Him and do not prefer the earthly to the eternal [goods]. Neither prison, nor fetters, nor even death are capable of separating him from the love of God, or of robbing him of his Faith and free will. The power of God is invincible…. If someone were to make such efforts to save every man from mortal sin, and thus from eternal death, as they are making to free me from an earthly death, then heaven would surely already have come to this earth! (Testament)
The prison chaplain later wrote a letter to his widow testifying to the strength and fortitude of purpose of Blessed Franz, that he had never seen anyone go to the guillotine with such calm, luminous joy as Franz. It was the joy of the child returning to his Father’s house in the fullness of faith and in the conscious, loving, total surrender of self to the loving will of the Father. Of course, Franz had to struggle through to this freedom and joy of surrender by unremitting prayer and meditation on Sacred Scripture, as his American cellmates related after the war. (It was they who initiated the beatification process.) But even with his own personal struggles, Jesus so strengthened him that he was always ready to help the others through a consoling word or a gift of his meager portion of bread. He bore faithfully to the end his dignity as a disciple of Jesus Christ and the royal freedom of a child of God.
Childlike Trust in the Solicitous Love of the Father
Besides loving obedience and surrender, the love and care of God our merciful Father also elicits the trusting confidence and love of His children in Christ. Citing St. Peter Chysologus, the Catechism states,
“When would a mortal dare call God ‘Father,’ if man’s innermost being were not animated by Power from on high?” (Sermo 71, 3) This power of the Spirit who introduces us to the Lord’s Prayer is expressed in the liturgies of East and West by the beautiful, characteristically Christian expression, “parrhesia”: straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness, the certainty of being loved. (CCC 2777-78)
St. Therese of Lisieux is the doctor of spiritual childhood, of remaining a small, humble and trusting child before God, of allowing Him to love and do all for us.
To remain little means recognizing one’s nothingness, expecting everything from the good God, as a little child expects everything from his father. It means to be disquieted about nothing, nor to worry about amassing spiritual riches…. I have always remained little, having no other ambition but to collect flowers of love and sacrifice and offer them to the good God for His pleasure. Again, to stay little means not attributing the virtues we practice to ourselves, under the impression that we are capable of such things, but to recognize that the good God places this treasure of virtue in the hand of His little child for him to use as he needs it; and that it remains God’s treasure. (Last Conversations)
To remain a child and expect all from the hand of God is not, however, to do nothing. With theological precision, St. Therese clarifies:
We must do everything that is within us: give without counting the cost, practice the virtues at every opportunity, conquer ourselves all the time and prove our love by every sort of tenderness and loving attention. In a word, we must carry out all the good works that lie within our powers – out of love for God. But it is truly essential to put our whole trust in Him who alone can sanctify our work, who can indeed sanctify us without works, since He may even bring forth children of Abraham from the very stones. It is necessary for us, when we have done all we can, to confess that we are unprofitable servants, whilst hoping that God in His grace will give us all that we need. That is the way of childhood.
Even in the sight of her own failing in patience shortly before her death, the Saint does not lose her confidence.
Oh, how it does me good to have behaved badly; I prefer to have failed rather than to have appeared, by God’s grace, a model of gentleness. It helps me beyond measure to find that Jesus is just as gentle and loving towards me as ever…. It is better to feel humbled through remembering one’s faults than to be self-satisfied at the thought of one’s conquests. …The remembrance of my faults humbles me and prevents me from ever relying upon my own strength, which is only weakness; it just tells me more and more of God’s mercy and love. (Last conversations)
Indeed, she exhorted her sisters to tell everyone after her death, that even if she had all the sins of the world on her soul, she would still trust in the mercy of God.
Childlike docility to the Holy Angels
Those who wish to profit from the powerful help and guidance of the holy Angels must also have the disposition of a child. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their Angels in heaven always look upon the face of My heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10). These “little ones” of whom Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks here are not only the children (see Mt 18:2-5), but also His disciples who are already adults. Jesus chooses the image of the child because He wants to say how a Christian must be. He must be like a child. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Especially in our relationship with our Guardian Angel, we are to be like children, because he is our ‘elder brother’, our guide. Our basic attitude toward the Angel must be the docility and willingness to learn of a child. Thus, Pope Francis explains, “Docility toward this companion makes us like children: not haughty, but humble; it makes us small, not self-sufficient like the proud and haughty. No, like a child!” It is precisely “this docility that makes us great and leads us to heaven” (Homily, October 2, 2015).
Based on this text from St. Matthew, the Church teaches that each one of us has his personal Guardian Angel, because they are ‘their’ Angels: “…their Angels in heaven always see the face of My heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10). This is an important detail: “Our Angel,” stresses Pope Francis, “is not only with us, but he sees God the Father. He is in relationship with Him. He is the daily bridge [to God] from the hour we get up to the moment we go to bed. He accompanies us and is a bond between us and God, the Father. The Angel is the daily door to transcendence, to the encounter with the Father” (Homily, Oct 2, 2018). The task of the Guardian Angel is to share with us his intimate relationship with God and to teach us to keep our gaze constantly fixed on God, not only in prayer, but also at work, as well as in all situations of life.
Mother Gabriel writes in answer to an objection, that the Angels’ help is only for children:
“Certainly, the Angel can help a child more, for through its sinlessness it does not place any obstacles to the Angel’s help. In its innocence the child is, so to speak, transparent for the Angel, who can hold the child in front of himself up towards the Father in Heaven and can look up to the Father through the child – “Their Angels in heaven always see the face of My Father Who is in heaven” (Mt 18: 10). The more, however, an adolescent sins, the less the Angel can look through him, for sin darkens the soul and makes it impenetrable. The Angel, then, places himself in front of man, so that he can look up to God through the Angel. The Angel is for man – if only he would look up – like a telescope through which man can see God much more closely and clearly. However, the more conceited man is about himself, and thinks that he can manage everything with his own power, the less he will experience the assistance of the Angel, and the more the evil enemy, the master of deceit, will beguile him into following false ways. The Angel does not barge in upon the soul, but he is always there. The lack of contact between man and Angel is not due to the fact that the Angel does not want it, but that man does not want it.” (Our Guardian Angel)
The Living Example of Mary
To be a child is thus also to be pure. Mary, the Immaculata, is for us a model of purity and childlike love and docility toward God. She bore Jesus in her heart at every moment, not just during the nine months of her pregnancy.
To be pure means to be whole, clear, clean, ordered, without spots or stains, in the state of sanctifying grace. Among men, the nearest [natural] approximation to this is the child. Therefore, Our Lord says, “If you do not become like children, you cannot enter into heaven.” Mary was not only a child, she was at the same time handmaid and mother, she bore God within herself by grace throughout her life. That is our calling. We should be as unpretentious and simple and uncomplicated as children, but at the same time as humble, obedient and silent as a handmaid, as strong in sacrifice, wide-hearted, loving and understanding as a mother. Our soul should always envelop the Lord like a pure, white mantle woven out of love. (Mother Gabriele, Childrens’ Letters, 32)
As often as possible we want to receive and bear Our Lord in Holy Communion like children, like Mary, from one Holy Communion to the next, that He alone may live and love and sacrifice and conquer in and through us.
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