Lately I have been re-reading and meditating upon the Spiritual Canticle of St. John of the Cross and originally planned this little essay to be focused on the love affair between God and us, we and Him.
While it is true we are called to be His lover, first and foremost He is our lover for by creating us He makes us His beloved.
Then, a morning routine, as I was preparing to write I checked the news and the day’s emails.
The news: filled with the threats from North Korea, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, places of immense human suffering.
The emails: filled with the anguish of a young university student struggling with depression and the weight of secularism wounding his faith, a woman friend in real danger from a violent, angry, hate filled companion, a brother priest exhausted with his treatment at the hands of his bishop as this priest becomes more impoverished and hopeless, wondering where is the vaunted compassion so powerfully called for by Pope Francis.
Snail mail from a widow who serves the poor but bears the weight of widowhood, a note from a family bearing the stress of a vulnerable newborn who is in hospital.
As one of my correspondents asked: “How come it is that God, who is all pure love, can allow this planet to spin into worse insanity and violence…..”
At that juncture I was about to continue my pre-writing notes when word came in about the bombings today in Boston and for a moment I thought perhaps NOT the time to write about love – yet it is the very absence of love and its replacement by unbridled hatred which is at the root of the deep, cold, dark evil which is modern North Korea, a country where those with power freeze and starve the ordinary people for what? More weapons? For Why? Well clearly the why is to blackmail the rest of the world.
Where is the international courage to deal with such bullies?
It is hatred when violence rips Iraq and Syria apart, hatred which enables all forms of violence be it between nations or tribes or religions or ordinary people or families; hatred and a disdain for the beloved sacredness of other.
So unless we the baptized in particular start taking our baptismal vocation seriously and chose in every aspect of its Gospel rootedness to be lovers as Christ loves, then the global insanity and violence, the global cold darkness of the absence of love, will leave us with nothing more than a decaying civilization of death.
People get a tad tense [putting it mildly] when they bemoan to me God doesn’t seem to be around or answering their prayer and my challenge is: do You love Him?
All of us have a huge struggle with the reality of love for try as we might to be lovers, that is the ones without compromise or holding anything back being the ones doing the self-gift of loving, the truth is mostly we would prefer to be the beloved.
Being a lover is fraught with danger of our love not being returned, danger of our love being outright rejected, and danger of the one we love taking advantage.
But then as we quickly learn in life being the beloved is no cakewalk either!
Reality is, within love between two human beings, love is a learning process, love and pain are inseparable, love cannot ever be 50/50 all the time, love is uncontrollable, much as we like to pretend we have some control over it – true love means I have handed over control from my brain and emotions to the selfless wisdom and direction of my heart.
St. John of the Cross notes the verse: “Where have You hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning?”
Who has not wondered where He is hiding when our newborn is in hospital with a tumor, when the women and children of Syria are being blown to bits, when our brothers and sisters in North Korea are starving, when thousands of our brothers and sisters from around the world gather for a marathon in Boston – a city familiar to me and always experienced as friendly, friendliness a type of love – yes where was He hiding when the bombs went off and people died and were wounded?
Normal questions we all ask but the foundational question I must ask, we must ask, first and foremost must be the mirror question Jesus asked of Peter and asks of us: “Do you love Me?”, hence I/we must ask: DO I LOVE JESUS, GOD, EVERYONE?
Am I light in the darkness death culture of hate, or by the coldness and self-centeredness of my heart have I become part of the darkness?
St. John of the Cross comments on the verse: “Where have You hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning?”, by teaching in part that the soul “ calls Him ‘Beloved’ to move Him more to answer…prayer. When God is loved He very readily answers the requests of His lover….If you abide in Me, ask whatever you desire and it shall be done unto you [jn.15:7]. A person can truthfully call God Beloved when he is wholly with Him, does not allow His heart attachment to anything outside of Him, and thereby ordinarily centers his mind on Him.”
I abide with Him and in Him and live and move and have my being in Him not by some isolated pseudo-mystical experience but through authentic presence and fidelity to the duty of the moment of my chosen vocation, hence if I am married the abiding in, being wholly with and attached to Him becomes reality if I am truly self-gifting present to, loving of, my spouse and seeing my spouse as a living icon of Christ, for to love and abide in Jesus is to love and abide in the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Whatever my state in life, whatever my vocation the absolute abiding with, being in love with Him, being His lover is possible, is reality because FIRST He loves, first I am His beloved, first He abides in me, His living abode by baptism.
Yes as my friend wrote in her letter asking for prayer the world is insane and violent, peopled by millions I would add of lonely and anxious human beings drowning in the darkness of the culture of death because the living light in the world, the baptized, has dimmed because we have become more concerned, in the climate of greed which poisons the human family, with being loved rather than being lover.
The extreme radicalism of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the call to love one another as He loves us: selflessly, serving, laying down our lives for other.
What happened today in Boston is what happens when love is absent.
What happened on Good Friday is what happens when love is present.
Outside the hermitage window a spring snowstorm covers the world anew in white.
The snow muffles sound so there is a particular silence, yet the sun, though hidden behind the clouds, is already high enough, strong enough as we move towards late spring, that the snow is literally dazzling white, a reminder of the brilliant light of the Risen Jesus.
In the weeks since I last posted like much of the world I have followed the actions and words of Pope Francis, especially during Holy Week and this Easter season.
Meditating on a recent word of Pope Francis, reflecting on the person of St. Mary Magdalene and her encounters with Jesus before His passion and after His resurrection, I was struck by the Holy Father’s comments on the reality of tears, of human weeping.
On the threshold of seventy it should surprise no one I am of the generation where tears of any kind for a boy or a man were simply not on.
Crying was female stuff, a sign of weakness for a male and dare any boy-child cry there was indeed hell to pay, which even as a child struck me as rather odd: to stop a boy from crying spank him, itself tear inducing!
Thankfully we have matured as people in our culture to the point where when the Pope speaks of tears and weeping it is clearly wisdom!
The key phrase from Pope Francis is: Sometimes in our life tears are the glasses to see Jesus.
The Holy Father stresses we should ask the Lord for the ‘beautiful grace of tears’, thus echoing the teachings of the early Fathers on tears as a gift of the Holy Spirit referring to such tears as a second baptism.
The Fathers of the Desert stressed continuously the importance of the Holy Spirit’s gift of penthos [tears], for with this gift we weep not only with contrition for our own sins but those of the whole world.
However, as Pope Francis reminds us, tears are not only a gift of contrition they are also a gift of goodness for such tears prepare our eyes to look at, to see the Lord.
In his book: The Heart of the Desert, Deacon Chryssavgis points out that: The silence of tears reflects out surrender to God…..It is the depth of our love that determines the intensity of our weeping. Through tears, we give up our infantile images of God and give into the living image of God.
As I was meditating on all the above about tears I was struck once more by the impact of sunlight not just on the deep snow as a mass, also what happens when the light hits a single crystal of frozen snow.
Anyone who has walked in the bush on a moonlit winter night has experienced the dazzling display of countless diamonds of light as moonlight bounces off the frozen crystals.
In sunlight, a more intense experience of light, crystals become like prisms and what appears, as with a drop of water, window glass, even the glass of my trifocals, as things through which the light pours undimmed, suddenly at the right angle each of those becomes a prism and suddenly all the colours ‘hidden’ in light become visible.
One of my elderly Aunts when I was a boy had a rosary made of crystal beads and whenever she would pray the rosary with us with light hitting the beads the display was awesome.
If we allow the Light of the Risen Jesus to touch our tears then truly we shall behold immense beauty, for Jesus is light from light, true light, come to fill the world, to fill us with His Light, His very self.
To embrace tears is to embrace the grief of not knowing, it is to embrace overpowering joy, to accept, as Pope Francis teaches the beautiful grace of tears as profound encounter with Jesus, an encounter which, as for St. Mary Magdalene, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, will change our entire lives from being bent towards self and the false gods of the world to having our hearts on fire within us, for it is within the depths of our heart that we encounter more fully Jesus who dwells within us.