(continuation of "Spirituality 94")
b) The greatest love
Our growing responsibility
The more we advance in lectio, the more we are transformed into God and the more we realize that lectio’s aim is not to tell us what to do nor to answer precise questions. In a certain way, it has the function of revealing divine love to us and telling us how much Jesus loves us and thirsts for us. The question then arises: What should we do? And the answer is simple: Offer ourselves to him each day, by doing what we do with love and in search of the absolute. The most important thing is to love Jesus.
We all go through the process of discerning God’s will and trying to understand what we are to make of our lives. But, once again, we do not do lectio in the same way as someone would consult an oracle to find hopeful indicators for the future. We need to understand that our heart has its home in heaven whilst we are still dealing with human instruments. And it is right for us to seek His will; he loves us for doing so. However, he wants us to act and to make decisions freely. The Almighty draws on all men to spread his love, but he leaves each person free to act according to his/her capacity and decisions. He is calling us to Glory! We are responsible for our actions. If we want to serve him, let us do so by taking stock of our capacities and using them wisely.
How much energy are we prepared to spend in fighting for what we want? Would we go to the ends of the earth to obtain it? Does the Lord not inspire us with thoughts, dreams and desires? And what do we do with them? We have been baptized in Him and this new life gives us the right to believe that our thoughts and desires are immersed in Him. We often blame ourselves for our desires. But the more we desire, the more we will receive1.
Childhood is past. We must now act like adults, by doing what we can and by doing it well. This means having self-confidence, using our capacities and will, giving assent and love. May our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” truly “no”. God will not make our decisions for us!
Let us see how the saints lived this kind of relationship with God; they will help us to understand what we may henceforth expect from lectio.
In a well-known passage from the Way of Perfection St. Teresa of Jesus reveals a surprising aspect of God to us: “He begins to make such a friend of the soul that not only does He restore its will to it but He gives it His own also. For, now that He is making a friend of it, He is glad to allow it to rule with Him, as we say, turn and turn about. So He does what the soul asks of Him, just as the soul does what He commands” (The Way of Perfection 32, 12).
In the writings of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus we read these words: “‘whatsoever you shall ask of my Father in my name, he will give it to you!’ I am therefore certain that you will fulfil my desires, I am certain of this, O my God! The more you want to give, the more you stimulate desire” (Prayers 6:2). Elsewhere she says: “He has always given me what I have desired, or rather he made me desire what he wanted to give me” (Manuscript C 31b). We find this same kind of dynamic in the writings of St. John of the Cross: “The more a soul hopes for, the more it obtains” (Ascent II 7:2) and “the more He wants to give, the more he makes us desire” (Letter 15, 8 July 1589).
We are justified in asking whether, having reached an advanced stage in communion with God, we might not well find ourselves in a blind alley. That is to say: at the beginning we have the impression that lectio will give us precise indications for our lives; yet, the more we advance, the more we come to realize that we are left with the responsibility of making our own choices! So we seem to be in the dark, or at least this is what we think. And our thinking is both right and wrong. Our sense of responsibility grows, as we have said, and our experience is that God has made us his friends. Now, He says everything to His friends, who are henceforth the extension of his Body on earth, and who, as such, must chose and make the necessary decisions. He is no longer next to them to tell them what to do; but he is living and working in them, in such an imperceptible way that leaves one with the impression of being abandoned without any outside help coming from the Word of God in the form of indications as to what should be done. The Lord’s friend knows this, and he or she must henceforth act in his own name without being afraid to do so. He knows his friend, he was formed in his school; now the disciple is like his Master, and it is time for him to set out and walk on the water.
What is lectio’s contribution at this stage? Above all, it reminds us that Salvation depends on us. The Salvation obtained and accomplished on the cross is waiting for our collaboration so that it may be transmitted to others. Lectio always shows the piercing manner in which we were saved by Jesus’ human will and that this was decisive: “You gave me a body, and I said: Here I am, Lord, I am coming to do your will”. In the same way the disciple who receives the Word each day perceives that he is integrated into Christ’s humanity and has the duty of continuing his action for Salvation. Then lectio, without being an oracle of what should be done, continues to instruct the disciple, to enlighten him, confirming him along the way and above all reveals what is essential: the flame of Love and the Gift of self. Lectio is not a barrier that keeps the disciple from making mistakes, but it encourages him to make an offering of his life and to live in humility. The Gift of self and total offering: this is the fundamental aim. Lectio calls us to do this each and every day. It does not however promise infallibility; it always leads us back to humility and the recognition of the relativity of the human condition. It constantly refers to trust and abandonment. Total love then integrates itself in this flow of trust and abandonment, which permit the disciple to continually advance by way of new beginnings.
“No greater Love”
“No greater Love”
Love unequivocally leads the disciple to the summit of sharing in the Passion. The Word awakens him every morning, just as it does all the saints, serving to remind him of the heights of charity.
Toward the end of her life, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said that the Lord had revealed to her a totally new way of living in charity. Does this mean that she never practised it? No, of course not; but there are degrees and she tells us about her personal experience while always putting it in the light of the Word of God.
The science of charity, or of mankind’s salvation, is of a profound order into which the disciple is introduced. Since from this point on, he is oriented by Christ’s humanity, he is called to do what Christ did. Of, course, he remains a creature, and still differs greatly from the incarnate Word, however there is nevertheless a mystery into which the disciple is introduced. In the footsteps of his Master, and like him, and like St. Paul, he apportions the things lacking in the Passion of Christ in his flesh.
Lectio opens up new and unexpected depths in the Word of God. Let us take an example from the Gospel of John. This gospel draws us into a much deeper reading, in that of the first person, the Son of Man. Now, the reader, instead of meditating on the signs accomplished by Jesus to manifest his divinity, enters into the role of one to whom the mission is entrusted and who is called to follow his example. The depth is extraordinary, as is the responsibility in the face of the salvation of others.
Lectio, like the Holy Spirit, sends the one who listens to others, just as Jesus was sent for their salvation. “No man has greater love than this, to lay down his soul for those he loves2” (Jn 15:13).
1 This is an idea dear to St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus; we will develop this further later on.
2 Here “lay down” implies total gift, a mysterious receptiveness of the soul under the influence of the Holy Spirit in view of a saving action. There is another very similar expression: “to be given over into the hands of sinners” (Mk 14:41). One may gloss: “into the hands of sin”, since it is “his soul” that is being layed down and because sin primarily affects the soul! Likewise, the Spirit gives the Apostle to others like bread: “someone else will gird you, and take you where you do not want to go” (Jn 21:18).