April 21, 2012

Opening our Hearts to the Word

How does the mystery of the Risen Lord, the Word of the Father, become part of one's own life? This question reveals the beautiful paradox that lives in God's work in our humanity and in our humanity's grace filled effort in God. Such questions point us to the great mystery - the Word made flesh.

John of the Cross points to this answer in his work Ascent to Mt. Carmel, Book I, Chapter 13.  He teaches that if we  really want to encounter the Lord, if we really want to find Him, we must resolve first of all to imitate Him in all things.  Then, he explains, if we are to be successful in our imitation, we must also carefully study the life of Christ out of devotion to Him.

This is where his doctrine gets tough.  He observes that when we study the life of Christ we discover that the Lord renounced every satisfaction that was not purely for the honor and glory of God. Saint John of the Cross believes we can enter into deep intimacy with the Lord if we will resolve to do only that which gives God glory and honor - which means renunciation of any delight or comfort which does not give glory to God.  

Most everyone questions this logic. Many are frightened by it to some degree. Few understand it. Even fewer live it.  

To really understand what St. John of the Cross is saying, we must go beyond a pre-critical guess.  The deeper mystery in this teaching is only unveiled if we consider who Jesus is to him and what he means when he invites us to study Christ's life.  What does it mean to study the life of Christ Jesus for St. John of the Cross?

St. John of the Cross believed that study of the Scriptures and contemplation, sacred reading and meditation, silent attentiveness to the Word and wonder filled exploration of sacred doctrine; that all of this must be an integrated effort of the heart.  He believed in a theology carried out on his knees and in constantly rendering himself vulnerable to the demands of the Gospel of Christ.  Such is the power of the Gospel: the more we encounter Christ, the more He animates our innermost being and transforms us in his love.  

Any study that did not lead to the interior peace that God produces in the soul, to his mind, would be a waste of time.   This is because study for St. John of the Cross was ultimately a kind of "gazing" at the Lord with eyes of faith - a search for the eyes of the Lord who looks at us in love.  It is with this living hope that he himself searched for Christ in prayer and study, contemplation and constant conversion.

Christ for him is the Word of the Father who has come as the Bridegroom of creation.   This Eternal Word communicates everlasting life - whoever is touched by Him is always wounded by love.  They want to live by love and to die by love, to make an offering of themselves in love - because they realize how loved they are and how wonderful the One who loves them.

The Bridegroom gives such souls his own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity to sustain them in these noble desires.  Anyone who has met the Bridegroom yearns for the wedding feast and for the wonderful things that God has in store for those who believe.  For those who ache for love of the Lord, the work of renunciation, of dying to oneself--this is as nothing.   What is love if there is no sacrifice and how do we love but at our own expense?