Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross
I once learned in a Human Embryology class all about the heart! It is amazing that the job of the heart is to pump blood and distribute oxygen throughout the whole body! To me that is so amazing, that one organ the size of a fist has such an important job! When we think of hearts we think of love. How many songs talk about broken hearts, mending hearts, or capturing hearts. Even the Scriptures speak about the heart in the context of love: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36: 26) To St. Margaret Mary, Jesus revealed His heart and said, “Behold this heart which has so loved men and is so unloved in return.”
So at this stage of our spiritual journey we are hoping and praying that God will expand our hearts to a greater love. Of course Jesus challenges us in the Gospels: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13-15). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 43). Jesus produces for us a challenge: to have a love that goes beyond the natural human love. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical entitled: “Deus Caritas Est” says “Love looks to the eternal…[it] is an ongoing exodus out of the closed, inward-looking self toward its liberation through self-giving, and thus toward authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.” (Deus Caritas Est par.6)
Pope Benedict XVI is basically saying that if love is to be real and true, it must look beyond the natural, then we will really come to know ourselves and are able to give ourselves. We have a tendency to only love others if we get something from them, or if they love us in return. However, Jesus challenges us to a new type of love…a love that can only deepen with the help of grace.
In his book entitled: “The Fulfillment of all Desire,” Ralph Martin indicates the three stages of growth in love spoken about by St. Catharine of Sienna. Using imagery of Jesus on the Cross, St. Catherine is able to draw out some observations. The first stage, which is the purgative stage, we can picture ourselves hanging onto the feet of Jesus. This is where our love may still be quite self-centered. Our love may be based on a fear of not going to hell, and of trying to avoid the pain in this life of committing sin (Martin, 253). This is a good place to start…of course we want to be brought to eternal life! Yet there is still room for growth!
The second stage that St. Catharine speaks about can be identified with the wound of Christ. This is where we grasp more of Christ’s love and are more open to hearing the truths about Christ. At this stage, we are like servants for we love Christ, and are willing to serve Him, but we expect something in return. St. Bernard says, “Fear is the lot of a slave, unless he is freed by love” (Martin, 254). We are trying to reach the third stage of union, symbolized by a “kiss of the mouth” as St. Bernard puts it. This is the stage where abiding union with Christ occurs just like when two spouses kiss as an expression of their union. Love has grown, been purified and no longer looks at what we are receiving in the relationship, but on what we can give, by way of love.
Do you ever become distressed when it seems as though those you really love are not returning love to you? Do you love them anyways? Do you pray for them?
Does it distress you never to hear the words I love you? Do you realize how much God loves you?
Do you pray to have a greater love for others, even if they do not return love to you?
Indeed, we must not let ourselves be overwhelmed if someone does not express love in the way that we wish them too. Sometimes people really do love…deeply…but they do not know how to express it. Many times they want to say “I love you” and they want to show it, but they are not sure how. This is a wonderful thing to bring to prayer: “Lord, I am glad that you have brought this person in my life. Thank you! They are a wonderful gift to me! Even though I may never hear the words, I am so happy that they are in my life. May they learn to love you Lord, that is what matters the most to me. Help them to grow in love for you Lord…that is what matters the most to me!” Making a prayer like this is bringing your relationship with this person to a different level then just the natural. You are beginning to want the good for the other person, without needing anything in return. This is a special love!
I am learning more as time goes on that love knows how to suffer and maintain peace in the Cross. The more attuned we are to the gaze of the face of Christ, the more aware we are that we are loved beyond imagining. Then the Fruits of the Spirit are more active in us: we have more joy which proceeds from love, peace where we rest in our Beloved, patient endurance especially at the end of our lives, generosity where we give more without measuring, kindness which allows us to image Christ and His Blessed Mother, faith where our love grows until the end, self-control and chastity where we can love appropriately with our bodies seeing ourselves as true Temples of the Holy Spirit.
Overall, to learn how to love takes conversion on our part. We need to pray that God will break our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. True Love became man…He gave everything for us. I once heard a wise priest say, “We mean everything to God, even the Blood of His own Son.”
When I made final vows, not too long ago, I chose to put on the back of my Final Vows card the passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and 13. It is to remind me of what love is, and the type of love that I desire to have as a Bride of Christ. I will leave it with you now:
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…So faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”