Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me. If you have come to know me you shall know my Father also. Henceforth you know him and have seen him.”
In western culture a key moment in the experience of friendship, and with a focal intensity in the experience of courting prior to a marriage commitment, is the initial meeting of the parents and family of the beloved other. Since seldom are parents involved in the selection of a friend or potential spouse, this encounter is often filled with an intense mixture of fear and hope. On the one hand, one fears the unknown sense of the beloved’s family. How different will they be from one’s own family, from all that one knows about family life and relationships? This gives rise to the fear that one will not be acceptable to the family of the one he or she loves. This fear of rejection may, in large part, be evoked by the fear that the family will be “unacceptable” to the person him or herself. Yet, it is also a moment of deep hope. Such is the love of the friend or potential spouse that we long to know his or her roots, the persons and world from which he or she springs. Our desire for communion with the beloved is a desire for knowledge of all of who she or he is and of all from which he or she has come. There is a hope that what was two (two persons, two families, two histories, two traditions and cultures) will now become one.
At some level or other, this is an experience that every one of us knows “by heart.” For all of its fears and uncertainties, it is a moment that begins the life-long experience of growing recognition, appreciation, and love of all the persons, histories, and traditions that have made our beloved who she or he is. As we come to know his or her parents, family, and roots, we come to know the one we love every more fully. As we come to deepen in our love of our friend or spouse, we come, in turn, to know, in ways far beyond the cognitive, the entire tree from which she or he springs.
To reflect deeply on the power of this “meeting of the family” is to begin to understand what Jesus teaches in John’s gospel. As we come to know and to love Jesus ever more deeply, we come to know the God who is the source of his and of our lives. We come to know the truth that he and we are created in and by love. We discover not only whence his origin but also our own. We learn day by day that although our experience of love is always conditional, we are created in a love that is not. As Ruusbroec writes, “See, here all sins are forgiven, every debt is repaid, every virtue is brought to perfection, and the beloved is possessed by the lover in love.”
In our human experience of love, love is always both peace and potential conflict. We are always experiencing the tentativeness of love, always fearing to some degree the revelation or behavior that will break the relationship. For us, we are always, at once, living in and out of love. Yet, the Divine reality is otherwise. We were not created conditionally, but rather in a love that is suffused with mercy. As Jesus taught us, God is the Father of the Prodigal Son who, whatever our circumstances, daily looks toward the horizon for our return. As Simone Weil says, “God waits as a beggar for our love.” In the heart of Jesus and in God, we know a love that is not complex but simple and total. We experience a life that is never separate from love. As Ruusbroec puts it, “In this possession you will find and feel yourself to be living in love and love in you.”
After the offering of the gifts in the Eucharist, we pray the following: “Lord God, we ask you to receive this offering and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.” Our offering is at once ourselves and Jesus. Our humble and contrite offering becomes Jesus himself; it is Jesus himself. This is love in its deepest sense, a love which is never conditional but always absolute. Even as we distance from ourselves, God never distances from us. In Jesus we discover that we are one family with one origin. The basis of our love of each other is that we are rooted in the same love. That is the discovery that emerges as we come to know and love Jesus. “If you have come to know me you shall know my Father also. Henceforth you know him and have seen him.”
In the ritual of “meeting the family,” we always experience the tension of hopeful expectation and fear of difference and rejection. This universal experience is a reminder of our basic human illusion that we are separate. The truth of the matter is, however, that we are one family of one Parent. Although we are filled with a sense of alienation and differences, from God and from each other, coming to know Jesus is to recognize that these differences are a figment of our imagination and of our pride form. We need not fear meeting Jesus’ parents, because God is our parent as well. Whatever human experience to the contrary, we are all, as Russbroec says, “living in love and love in . . . [us].”
In the inmost depths of our Lord Jesus Christ flow streams of honey surpassing every conceivable taste and sweetness. If you can enter there and experience and savor him you will easily overcome the world, yourself, and everything else, for he will show you the way of love which leads to his Father, the way which he walked himself and which he himself is. He will there reveal to you how his humanity is a worthy offering to his Father. He has given you this humanity together with everything he suffered, so that with it you might boldly appear at the court of his heavenly Father, for he has brought about peace and set us free. You should therefore present and offer Christ, your sacrifice, with a humble and generous heart as the treasure through which you have been delivered and redeemed. He in turn will offer you, with himself, to his heavenly Father as the beloved fruit for whose sake he underwent death, and the Father will receive you, with his Son, in a loving embrace. See, here all sins are forgiven, every debt is repaid, every virtue is brought to perfection, and the beloved is possessed by the lover in love. In this possession you will find and feel yourself to be living in love and love in you. This is the source of all true holiness, for no one comes to the Father except through the Son (cf. Jn 14:6) and through his passion and death, which he endured in love.
Jan van Ruusbroec, A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, Introduction