Few days ago (9th of June 2012), I did post the 'Act of Oblation of saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus'. See here 'text 1'. In the 'comment', Lee posted 3 questions. Thank you very much Lee. Since your questions are very important and the 'act of oblation' is of utmost importance, I choose to address them here in a separate post and not as a reply to a comment.
Question 1: What is the full significance of the word 'oblation'? What is it trying to capture? What is its full meaning? Is it “offering up your heart”? I would love for you to expand on this!
Reply: 'oblation' here is the translation of the French 'offrande'. Thérèse could have used the french word 'oblation'. She preferred 'offrande'. 'Offrande' is 'to offer', 'offering', which is: giving. She'll rightly define the act of love this way: 'to love is to give everything and to give oneself to God'. You see, she very easily switched from 'offering' to 'giving'.
Since God created us and created us free, this means that:
1- We are free
2- We possess ourselves
God chooses not to possess us. This is why and how we can love: we have something we can give...
Remember, the definition of the Sacrament of Marriage: the mutual gift of each of the parties (the Groom and the Bride). 'Mutual git of': this is love: each one gives himself (as a gift) to the other one.
God possesses everything, except us, human beings, created 'at His Image and Likeness'. He doesn't need us to offer Him what He already possesses. The dearest being on earth for God is the Human being, but He doesn't possess him. He left him free, free to love or not, to give himself or not. He can't force the human being to love Him.
We do own the dearest thing in the eyes of God, the thing that pleases Him the most: ourselves. Offering Him the only 'thing' He doesn't have pleases Him enormously!
The very act of offering ourselves is an act of Love.
Now, another question might rise: what is to 'offer ourselves'?
Reply: Let me give you a first example to open the way: sometimes we can worry a lot about an issue, ok? We feel, and know that we are 'carrying that problem in us'. It can be very heavy indeed, even though it is in the soul. And then, while we are praying, God comes and asks us to 'entrust' Him that problem. We feel that it requires from us an act of detachment. It might cost us a lot to do this inner act, because we do possess a lot our problems. Then, we reach the point where we end up by offering, entrusting, putting in His Hands the Problem.
Well in this case it was a problem that we were offering. Now imagine all ourselves, our past, present, future, our body, soul, spirit, all what we possess, all what we are, all our richness, talents, the graces received. They are not 'problems' but they are elements to which we could be attached to. And God knows how it might cost sometimes to offer ourselves to Him. Sure, one can very easily admit that in order to do so, we need to things:
1- to know Him a little bit more than just a superficial knowledge of God, it requires a bit of experience of Him.
2- a big trust in Him, and trust comes from experiencing His overwhelming love.
Question 2: Well, it made me think of two things:
a. In the Mass, when we are invited to “Lift up our hearts to the Lord” (you have mentioned this part of the Mass before). I understand that the Mass is an oblation, an offering, but would this part of the Mass be reminding us of/ and our opportunity to practice our oblation to God?
b. It made me think of “prayer of the heart” - could this be seen a kind of oblation/offering up our hearts?
Reply: Definitely the Mass in an oblation/offering. During the Mass, we offer ourselves to God, as God offers/gives Himself to us. Definitely 'lift up your heart' is a reminder for us to offer ourselves. Without hesitation, I would consider all these acts being exactly the same: to love - to offer ourselves - to lift our heart to Jesus (seated at the right Hand of the Father) – the Prayer of the heart.
The base of all is in fact the 'power' we receive in Baptism to offer ourselves to God: the priesthood of the faithful. We are united to Him, this is why He gives us a share in His Priesthood. We can then, as priests in Christ, offer ourselves to God, and offer Christ to the Father. We can offer our brothers and sisters, the entire world to God.
All the faithful are invited to participate [spiritually] to the Mass. In order to do so, they have to exercise their priesthood (not to be mixed with the Priesthood of Ordained Ministers).
An offering presupposes:
1- A Priest (that offers, elevates),
2- An Altar (the leaning point),
3- A Victim (to offer)
4- A Fire (to burn, elevate, transform).
In Christ-Priest we are priests. The Altar is Christ himself as well. His capacity, in the Trinity (He is at the Right hand of the Father), to offer, direct the offering to the Father. He is the rock, the fulcrum. The Victim here to offer is ourselves. The Fire is the Holy Spirit, the Merciful Love of God.
You find here all our way to enter in the Mass, especially its second part ('lift up your heart'), the Offertory where, with the bread and wine, we offer all our life to God, and later as well, in Jesus, the Host, we offer ourselves to the Father in the Fire of the Holy Spirit. Remember in the Third Eucharistic prayer we have: 'May He [the Holy Spirit] make of us an eternal offering to you”.
The prayer of the heart, is that same exercise of lifting up our heart (as saint Paul invites us to do, or Jesus by saying: 'dwell in me'), but repeated gently, extended in a period of time. But it should become our final destination. This is when we are united to Jesus in 'spiritual marriage'.
Question 3: Also, St Therese refers to the oblation as “one single act of perfect love”: "In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I offer myself as a victim of holocaust to your merciful Love, asking you to consume me incessantly…"
What do you think she means by “one single act” and this act being an act of “perfect love”? Do we too need to offer ourselves up as “victims of the holocaust of love” in order to enter into this single act of perfect love?
Reply: This is an obvious double question that one asks when he/she reads Thérèse's Act: what is “one single act” and what is “perfect love”.
I was just saying, above, that we should extend the time of dwelling in Christ. Remember the offering means that He comes and takes us and immerses us in Him. So as a result, we dwell in Him. And dwelling in Him (one, two, three minutes, or sometimes, an hour or more, it depends on Him and on our degree of transformation in Him).... means that He outpours the Holy Spirit in us. This is why it is of the utmost importance to practice the prayer of the heart: we allow God to give himself to us, transforming us in Him.
“one single act”, one single active act... she wants to remain in Him, active, as much as possible. Yes, 'Love attracts our love'. I would rather say: a heart beating style of “single act”. In the sense that it is not a simple passive position, it is a burning position, and, even if it is long lasting, it has a form of a heart beating. Remember saint Paul speaks about the “movements” of the Holy Spirit deep in us saying: “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groaning” (Romans 8:26). The "groaning" is repetitive. So it is not static but dynamic.
I would then say that we start by not having it 'one continuous active immersion in Jesus' (one single act). We come out of the immersion, so we do repeat the act of offering. Day after day, we grow spiritually, we are transformed in Him, then we are invited to reach that hight of a "continuous act" or "one act".
The act of 'pure love': I would be here more prudent. I would consider the “pure act of love” as the act that fulfils the conditions mentioned above (Priest, Victim, Fire, Altar..), and the most important one is to lean on Jesus himself only, on His merits as Thérèse takes time to explain in the long long introduction to the Act of Oblation (all what precedes the last paragraph of the specific act of offering). This means that we need to have the “Altar” (and not to lean on ourselves), and the Power of the Holy Spirit (not our capacity of lifting in the air (not in the water)).
Let me here show you another passage where she explains it:
“A scholar has said: “Give me a lever and a, fulcrum and I will lift the world.”. What Archimedes was not able to obtain, for his request was not directed by God and was only made from a material viewpoint, the saints have obtained [36 v] in all its fullness. The Almighty has given them as fulcrum: HIMSELF ALONE; as lever: PRAYER which bums with a fire of love. And it is in this way that they have lifted the world; it is in this way that the saints still militant lift it, and that, until the end of time, the saints to come will lift it.” (End of Manuscript C)
Of course you might argue: - she is not speaking of the Prayer of the Heart, but the prayer of intercession. - Well, no, it is absolutely the same. And they are both about lifting. “a soul that is burning with love cannot remain inactive” reminds us Thérèse. Therefore, the more Charity grows in us, the more God entrusts us automatically more brothers and sisters. Therefore, the Prayer of the heart becomes a power apostolic weapon of conquest. (we might come back to this apostolic aspect of the Prayer of the heart)
Now your last question: “Do we too need to offer ourselves up as “victims of the holocaust of love” in order to enter into this single act of perfect love?”
Reply: It is like asking me: is it necessary to practice the “Prayer of the heart” in order to reach that “single act of perfect love”? Well yes, it helps, because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that happens during that time of immersion in God. But it is not the only means. It is one leg, the other is Lectio divina, the proof of love: 'if one loves Me, he will put into practices my commandments' (John 14:23).
From Thérèse to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart
September 17, 1896Dear Sister, I am not embarrassed in answering you… How can you ask me if it is possible for you to love God as I love Him?...If you had understood the story of my little bird, you would not have asked me this question. My desires of martyrdom are nothing; they are not what give me the unlimited confidence that I feel in my heart. They are, to tell the truth, the spiritual riches that render one unjust, when one rests in them with complacence and when one believes they are something great. ... These desires are a consolation that Jesus grants at times to weak souls like mine (and these souls are numerous), but when He does not give this consolation, it is a grace of privilege. Recall those words of Father: "The martyrs suffered with joy, and the King of Martyrs suffered with sadness." Yes, Jesus said: "Father, let this chalice pass away from me." Dear Sister, how can you say after this that my desires are the sign of my love?... Ah! I really feel that it is not this at all that pleases God in my little soul; what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy.... That is my only treasure, dear Godmother, why would this treasure not be yours?...Are you not ready to suffer all that God will desire? I really know that you are ready; therefore, if you want to feel joy, to have an attraction for suffering, it is your consolation that you are seeking, since when we love a thing the pain disappears. I assure you, if we were to go to martyrdom together in the dispositions we are in now, you would have great merit, and I would have none at all, unless Jesus was pleased to change my dispositions.Oh, dear Sister, I beg you, understand your little girl, understand that to love Jesus, to be His victim of love, the weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more suited one is for the workings of this consuming and transforming Love. ... The desire alone to be a victim suffices, but we must consent to remain always poor and without strength, and this is the difficulty, for: "The truly poor in spirit, where do we find him? You must look for him from afar," said the psalmist. ... He does not say that you must look for him among great souls, but "from afar," that is to say in lowliness, in nothingness.... Ah! let us remain then very far from all that sparkles, let us love our littleness, let us love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to look for us, and however far we may be, He will transform us in flames of love....Oh! how I would like to be able to make you understand what I feel!... It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love.... Does not fear lead to Justice (1)?... Since we see the way, let us run together. Yes, I feel it, Jesus wills to give us the same graces, He wills to give us His heaven gratuitously. "Oh, dear little Sister, if you do not understand me, it is because you are too great a soul.. .or rather it is because I am explaining myself poorly, for I am sure that God would not give you the desire to be POSSESSED by Him, by His Merciful Love if He were not reserving this favor for you.. .or rather He has already given it to you, since you have given yourself to Him, since you desire to be consumed by Him, and since God never gives desires that He cannot realize. ...Nine o'clock is ringing, and I am obliged to leave you.' Ah, how I would like to tell you things, but Jesus is going to make you feel all that I cannot write....I love you with all the tenderness of my GRATEFUL little childlike heart.Thérèse of the Child Jesus rel. carm. ind.(1) To strict justice such as it is portrayed for sinners, but no this Justice that Jesus will have toward those who love Him.
I hope this helps.