As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
As a being who is both spiritual and material, consisting of both body and soul (CCC 362-368), one is bound to experience the paradox of having angelic and animalistic parts to himself. Part of this is in experienced, to some degree in our struggle with temptation, but most profoundly in suffering, and especially in suffering involving love – we are able to donate (give) ourselves to the other in ways that are truly human and spiritual, yet this opens us up to hurts that would not have come otherwise, when a genuine form of love is spurned, not understood, or, worse still, abused. When this happens – especially in childhood – one can recoil into oneself, and stop loving, for the fear of being hurt.
Yet this is not conducive to one’s flourishing and fulfilment, especially in one’s destiny and ultimate purpose of living – to give oneself for the sake of the other. In Scriptural terms, the same is outlined in the two greatest commandments, the fulfilment of all law: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”, and, “[y]ou shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). These are the greatest and guiding principles for our lives.
What, then, can one do to fulfil the aim of our lives in such a sorrowful state, of recoiling in on oneself? One in this state is afraid to love and so, in compensating, one is also prone to resorting to lower loves, which, divorced from the order of the higher love, is sinful and damaging to authentic love. In such an instance, it is often not enough to simply be told that one must do this and that – in fact, it can be downright unhelpful and unproductive. In fact, the point of reference must be changed. It is not primarily what we must do – since it is in relation to others that we operate, often in fear of further hurt, it is in reference to the ultimate Other that we must perceive all others and, yes, ourselves also. What we must do is secondary – it comes out of what is first, which is the contemplative gaze on the the One, our reference point.
As Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity testifies, “[w]e shall not be purified by looking at our miseries, but by gazing on Him who is all purity and holiness.” And He makes Himself available to our sensible dimension in the person of Jesus Christ. By gazing at the crucifix, and realising the call on all the Baptized to imitate Him in the cross, (Romans 6:4-8), denying oneself so as to live with Him in His resurrection, we come to face sufferings and self-denials not in a passive state, as a victim, but with our assent and will, to accept it for the sake of Him who calls us to imitate Him, in His love for us, and so as also to remain in His love (John 15:9-11).
However, this dimension is but one side. We must also accept not as divine vengence, but as a mark of filial love, for in this, we are made adopted children of the Father who loved us with an everlasting love (Romans 8:11-17). Accepting the cross is to accept one’s lovableness in Christ (since this is earned not by us, but by Christ), and love itself. This is necessary to accept first, since one cannot give what one does not have – if one does not realised or cannot accept that he is eternally loved, one cannot love neither the infinite God nor persons made in His image and likeness.
And so, the crux is as follows. If God is the author of reality, and thus the ultimate measure of all created realities, we do not regard merely human standards as the final word, nor any immediate reality in front of us, since it is limited in every way by space, time, and dimension. The purpose of our lives can be realised in, firstly: a) accepting the cross God gives us; b) and yet in joy, since we must also accept that, in the cross, we are worthy to be loved (since God is the judge of that – not us nor any other created persons). Out of this, firstly, we can deny ourselves the temptations of sin, in order to remain in the love of Christ and so, in Him, as beloved children of the Father who loved us into creation. In the same movement – and most importantly, as the primary aim and purpose of our lives – we can begin to love God, and our neighbour for the love of Him, with the totality of our being, to give ourselves with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength to God.
It is in this paradox – to accept the cross is to accept love – that one can find true rest, willing (actively with one’s whole being, and not in passivity) both the suffering of the cross and, at once, the consolations from being worthy of love in Christ’s sonship (which we likewise accept with equal strength and totality – naturally giving us spiritual joy), one can uphold harmony in one’s own being, in the spiritual and material reality of one’s existence as human being.