Jesus is hidden. This week begins the Lenten season of Passiontide. Crosses and images are traditionally covered, and the readings point to the rising conspiracy against Jesus by his opponents. In our own time, things are difficult. For many of us, Jesus seems to be very hidden. Some of us have not received the Eucharist in two weeks or more. By now, most of us know someone or are ourselves affected by the current pandemic—either medically or economically, perhaps both. There is a parallel of rising anxieties between our own situation and the liturgical season, perhaps captured best by the psalmist in today’s readings: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps 130:1–2)

Last week, during his striking Urbi et Orbi blessing, our Holy Father Pope Francis likened our present situation to the experience of the disciples in the storm. Where is Jesus? Is he asleep? Does he not hear our cries? But when Jesus awakens, he reveals that he has had the storm under control the entire time: “Why are you afraid?” This is as if to say, ‘you thought you were steering the ship and tending its sails, but it is I who control the winds and fill its sails.’ Whether we are bailing water on a sinking ship or stockpiling months’ worth of supplies that we do not need—either way, we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are in control.

J.M.W. Turner, Stormy Sea Breaking on a Shore, c. 1840–45.

In July 1893, a storm had come upon Céline Martin. She had been caring for her father, Louis, who was suffering from dementia. We do not know the full circumstances of Céline’s storm, because the letter she wrote describing it to her sister Thérèse has been lost. It is perhaps possible to piece together aspects of her situation. Three of Céline’s sisters were all cloistered in the Carmel of Lisieux. Her fourth sister was away at another monastery. Her father’s mind is failing and would die twelve months later. We know from other letters that she was very busy and, at times, had difficulty finding time to pray. She relates in another letter a feeling of deep aridity in her soul.

[1] Thérèse writes to Céline:

Dear little Céline, I am not surprised that you understand nothing that is taking place in your soul. A LITTLE child all alone on the sea, in a boat lost in the midst of the stormy waves, could she know whether she is close or far from port? While her eyes still contemplate the shore which she left, she knows how far she has gone, and, seeing the land getting farther away, she cannot contain her childish joy. Oh! she says, here I am soon at the end of my journey. But the more the shore recedes, the vaster the ocean also appears. Then the little child’s KNOWLEDGE is reduced to nothing, she no longer knows where her boat is going. She does not know how to control the rudder, and the only thing she can do is abandon herself and allow her sail to flutter in the wind. . . .

My Céline, the little child of Jesus, is all alone in a little boat; the land has disappeared from her eyes, she does not know where she is going, whether she is advancing or if she is going backward. . . . Little Thérèse knows, and she is sure her Céline is on the open sea; the boat carrying her is advancing with full sails toward the port, and the rudder which Céline cannot even see is not without a pilot. Jesus is there, sleeping as in days gone by, in the boat of the fishermen of Galilee. He is sleeping . . . and Céline does not see Him, for night has fallen on the boat. . . .Céline does not hear the voice of Jesus. The wind is blowing . . . she hears it; she sees the darkness . . . and Jesus is always sleeping. However, if He were to awaken only for an instant, He would have only to command the wind and the sea, and there would be a great calm. The night would become brighter than the day, Céline would see the divine glance of Jesus, and her soul would be consoled. . . . But Jesus, too, would no longer be sleeping, and He is so FATIGUED! . . . His divine feet are tired from going after sinners, and in Céline’s boat Jesus is sleeping so peacefully. The apostles had given Him a pillow. The Gospel gives us this detail. But in His dear spouse’s little boat Our Lord finds another pillow much softer, Céline’s heart. There He forgets all, He is at home. . . . It is not a stone which supports His divine head (that stone for which He longed during His mortal life), it is the heart of a child, the heart of a spouse.

Oh, how happy Jesus is! But how can He be happy while His spouse is suffering, while she watches during the time He is sleeping so peacefully? Does He not know that Céline sees only the night, that His divine face remains hidden from her, and even at times the weight she feels on her heart seems heavy to her? . . . What a mystery! Jesus, the little child of Bethlehem whom Mary used to carry as a light burden, becomes heavy, so heavy that St. Christopher is astonished by it. . . . The spouse of the Canticles also says her Beloved is a bundle of myrrh and that He rests on her heart. Myrrh is suffering, and it is in this way that Jesus rests on Céline’s heart. . . . And nevertheless Jesus is happy to see her in suffering. He is happy to receive all from her during the night. . . . He is awaiting the dawn and then, oh, then, what an awakening will be the awakening of Jesus!!! . . . [2]

As Thérèse directs Céline, so she directs us. Offer to him your heart on which he may rest during these turbulent waters—this is what he asks of us. He is in control; he is working miracles every day. What he asks of us is a pillow in our heart on which he can rest. Even though he rests, he loves us so much that he even continues to propel our ship forward—in complete control. Will we remain with him then, offering what we can, what he asks? Or will we let fear get the best of us? Either way, he is still in control.

[1] Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, vol. 2, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D., (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988), LC 154.

[2] Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, vol. 2, LT 144.