Plinio’s bedroom was adjacent to the study where his late grandfather used to work. After the latter’s death no one else had used the room, which always remained closed.
One day, in search of some distraction which might alleviate his worries, Plinio decided to enter that room, and his attention was soon drawn to one of the numerous volumes which filled its old bookshelves: Histoire d’une âme,1 which recounted the life of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who had recently been canonized. Taking it, he returned to his own room, sat down and immediately began to read.
A consonance of innocent souls
Through an interior movement of grace, he felt a kind of consonance, harmony or connection between himself and the Saint of Lisieux. It was the resonance of Plinio’s innocence upon coming into contact with the story of another innocent soul. Learning of the various aspects of the action of grace upon her, he perceived with greater clarity the degree to which continued growth in the spiritual life is indispensable for the preservation of innocence, beyond mere perseverance in the state of grace.
Without a doubt, he was already on the path of great piety, but on this occasion he understood completely that sanctity was accessible to all who desire it. He then made the firm decision: “I want to be a saint!” And a commentary he made much later attests to the predominant role played by the virtue of humility in the objective he had made the resolution to attain: “For the first time, I had the idea of how necessary it is to fight in order to become a saint! A man’s goal must be sanctity! I then made a plan: if Our Lady helps me, and if I carefully guard my humility, I can also become a saint.”
Indispensable role of expiatory victims
During this reading, Plinio came to see the incalculable good that a soul can do for the Church by the offering of oneself as an expiatory victim, within the cloister of a convent for example. Indeed, soon after the death of St. Therese of the Child Jesus at the age of only twenty-four, devotion to her rapidly spread, and her fame began to do good to innumerable souls throughout the world.
He felt Providence calling him to the fulfilment of a great undertaking, which he was only able to express later: “I had the interior certainty that my mission was to restore Christian Civilization – the right Catholic order of things. And I knew that, if I responded well, I would fulfil this mission.” Thus, the prospect of one day reaching that “promised land” of an entirely Catholic world made him ardently desire the fulfilment of this interior promise. Now, however, becoming acquainted with the immolation made by St. Therese, he began to discern a spiritual way that seemed to promise him victory: a life spent in aridity and sacrifice. Years later, Dr. Plinio would affirm: “I realized that there was a true crucifixion in this holocaust. Not the heroism of the one who fights or polemicizes, but of the one who is extinguished like a candle, unknown, disregarded, but conscious of his oblation.”
He was persuaded that this offering of suffering and trials was the prayer most pleasing to God, capable of obtaining His choicest blessings, since it was that which most resembled the holocaust of Our Lord Jesus Christ in His Passion. Consequently, he conceived the firm notion that the events, actions and achievements in favour of the good would only attain their plenitude if they had their origin in souls who offered themselves as expiatory victims. He understood that no Catholic can contribute towards the victory or the expansion of the Holy Catholic Church as merely a fighter or a worker: if he does not pray and offer sacrifices to expiate his own sins and those of others, without even the expectation of being rewarded with happiness in this world, he will accomplish nothing effectively, and his actions will be no more than an illusion, for he will not be paying the tribute expected of him.
Path of immolation and annihilation?
Accordingly, Plinio began to ask himself about the path to which Providence was calling him. Eloquent in this regard are words spoken in the final years of his life: “Reading the life of St. Therese, it appeared to me to be much more useful to the Catholic Cause to offer myself as an expiatory victim. To die suddenly, offering an immediate sacrifice, and, as such, one of immediate efficacy. Because of this sacrifice, in a few years the Counter-Revolution would be the dominating power. I would have been long buried, more or less unknown, completely ignored by the later generations. But upon my tomb the magnificent tree of the Reign of Mary and of Christian Civilization would have flourished. Would this offering not be worth more than all the efforts that I had been making?”
It must be acknowledged that this holocaust was exactly the opposite of what Plinio’s natural temperament demanded, along with all the aspirations that made his soul thrill with enthusiasm: the battle, with visor raised, against the adversaries of the Holy Catholic Church, with valiant defiance, feats of oratory and heroic exploits in the light of day. Everything in him seemed to oppose that offering, which, as he explained, would mean renouncing those “interior voices” which had brought him so much joy, consolation and hope.
His integrity moved him to formulate the fundamental question, a testimony to his unconditional oblation: “What do God and Our Lady desire of me?”
“Do with me according to your will”
Above whatever determination his generosity might suggest to him, Plinio was fully conscious of a great truth: “If my offering were made in discord with the virtue of wisdom, I might be punished for having almost imposed upon myself a resolution different from the one desired by God. He is not pleased with terrible sacrifices as such, but wishes to maintain His sovereignty in every way. So it is the holocaust He requested that pleases Him, not a holocaust that I invented.”
Consequently, he did not say: “I offer myself as a victim and I want to be reaped, to die like St. Therese.” But he made a concrete surrender, the value of which was greater still than that of a formal and categorical offering: he resolved to assume, in relation to Our Lady, the attitude of one who had offered himself, asking Her to accept from him all the sacrifices of his entire life, and he placed his resignation in Her hands.
On the other hand, analysing his situation in face of the contemporary world, he arrived at an even bolder conclusion:
“God can call a person to be a sacrifice of pleasing odour by means of an illness or a sudden death, but these are not the only ways in which someone can offer himself. To praise all that ought to be praised and to criticize all that ought to be criticized are obligations that bring suffering to the apostle of truth and make a sacrifice of his existence. To carry this cross also has the value inherent to expiatory victims, for the suffering of a life spent amidst difficulties makes reparation, before God and Our Lady, for the injustice signified by the absence of deserved praise and of necessary criticisms, and in this way, breaks the power of the Revolution.” ◊
Taken, with minor adaptations, from:
O dom de sabedoria na mente, vida e obra de
[The Gift of Wisdom in the Mind, Life and Work of]
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Città del Vaticano-São Paulo: LEV;
Lumen Sapientiæ, 2016, v.II, p.120-126
1 The well-known autobiography entitled The Story of a Soul in English.