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A good starting point for understanding the virtue of abandonment is to reflect on the following passage from the prophet Isaiah: “Thus says the LORD: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9). Abandonment to God’s providence happens when we realize that His ways are not our ways — when we surrender our desires, anxieties, and very well laid out plans in order to cooperate with God’s will. Yet the more difficult question remains: How do I know what is God’s will in my life? St. Thérèse of Lisieux has an answer for us: you’ll know by the task that is right in front of you. The present moment is your key to holiness.
For this reflection, let us consider two Jesuit priests. The first one is Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a French Jesuit priest from the 18th century, best known for his spiritual masterpiece, Abandonment to Divine Providence. In this short yet powerful book, de Caussade firmly insists that God’s will is revealed to us every single moment of our lives no matter how small or insignificant these moments may appear to us, because there is nothing that happens in this world unless it is willed by God Himself. He goes on to say, “God speaks to every individual through what happens to them moment by moment.” The problem, however, is that we’re often too busy with our own plans to recognize God’s voice while folding laundry, mowing the lawn, calming a child during a temper tantrum, or replying to a work email. Or, we expect God to manifest Himself in grand and magnificent ways, yet we forget that He chose to reveal Himself in the littlest and humblest of ways. This is why to live this abandonment to God’s will in each moment of our lives is no easy task, for it requires us to see the world with the eyes of faith. For de Caussade, “to discover God just as clearly in very minor or ordinary things as in the big things of life, is to have far from normal faith. It is one that is great and extraordinary.”
Does this sound familiar? Small, insignificant, trivial opportunities to grow in holiness? We have no way of confirming whether St. Thérèse, who lived a century or so after Fr. De Caussade, had known his work or not. But her Little Way to heaven follows this very idea of abandonment to God’s will by attending to the present moment, which is perfect for those of us who struggle with the virtue of patience. She writes, “If I did not simply live from one moment to the next, it would be impossible for me to keep my patience. I can see only the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to think about the future. We get discouraged and feel despair because we brood about the past and the future. It is such folly to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus.”
St. Thérèse prayed frequently for missionary priests and she herself had considered the idea of joining the other Carmelite sisters in Vietnam were it not for her poor health. So, it is quite appropriate that we end our reflection with a missionary priest whose life was changed by the Little Way of abandonment. Our second Jesuit priest is Venerable Walter Ciszek from our home state of Pennsylvania. Fr. Ciszek dreamed of being a missionary priest in communist Russia. His excitement to spread the good news of the Gospel and serving the people of Russia was cut short when WWII broke and he was convicted as a “Vatican spy.” From labor camps in Siberia to solitary confinement, how can a man survive through some of the most isolating, torturous, and dehumanizing conditions for 20 years and still have faith?
In his memoir, He Leadeth Me, Fr. Ciszek recounts how after a near physical, mental, and spiritual collapse during solitary confinement and endless interrogations, he made a choice to radically surrender himself to God’s will, because everything else he had tried up until that point had failed. There was nothing else to give but himself:
“I realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong. God’s will was not hidden somewhere ‘out there’ in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were his will for me. What he wanted was for me to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at his disposal.” (81)
Fr. de Caussade and Fr. Ciszek show us how the Little Way of abandonment is both extraordinary and revolutionary in its simplicity. Those small, routine, and perhaps dull tasks and moments that govern the majority of our lives are God’s will for us. The present moment is a gift, an opportunity presented to us, and we must choose to either resist or surrender to God’s love.
Katerina Deem is the founder and owner of Little Way Design Co.: a small design studio she runs with her husband and five children from their home located outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Her mission is to contribute to the New Evangelization efforts of the Church by providing clean, powerful, and awe-inspiring design that are rooted in tradition and inspired by the living faith. Katerina has a Masters of Pastoral Studies from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. She has been serving in parish ministry for over 20 years in different roles, more notably as a catechist, youth minister, and Little Flowers Girls’ Club Leader.