“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”
“For the property of love is to make the lover equal to the object loved.” This is the heart of the teaching of St. John the Cross concerning the way to supernatural transformation and union with God. To be a human person is to have a capacity to be a child of God, as Jesus is. The obstacle to this equality with Jesus in love is our settling for lesser loves, the displacement of the deepest desire of our hearts with a lesser desire.
The Fundamental Principles begin with the words: “You have freely chosen to respond to the call of God, your Father, to live a life of love in faith and trust, as a disciple of His Son, Jesus Christ . . . .” It is by our own free choice that we respond to being chosen by God in Jesus. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, it is he who has chosen us. Yet, being chosen, for all of us are, requires our free and total response.
Lately I find myself reflecting a good bit, perhaps a sign of old age, on friendships, real and potential, throughout my life. As it is very difficult to be aware of offers of friendship I have been offered and refused to respond to, I think much more of those persons with whom I longed to be friends and who did not respond, or those who were friends and through time and space whose relationship was lost to me. Even decades later, I remember these persons with degrees of longing and sadness. I wonder about them, and I wonder how my and our life would have been different if we had become and remained friends.
To ponder past experiences of friendships joined as well as lost or rejected is to experience my life history out of the heart. It is to experience my own life history at its true depth. It is to truly understand that the great formative influences in life are relationships of love and friendship. Of course, at different stages and moments of life, what we desire and long for in friendship is highly dependent on the longings and urgings, the pulsations and ambitions, of our current level of development. In our earliest years, love for us is the need to be taken care of. Later, it becomes the need to be accepted. Eventually, it becomes the desire for interdependence and collaboration in the deeper work of living. If we continue to grow, to allow ourselves to be formed, reformed and transformed by God, we begin to see love as the calling and purpose of our existence. We begin to enter into and know a love in which we recognize and respond to our equality with Jesus and a communion with the Mystery of God that makes every act an act of love. As with any deep friendship of equals in which we begin to see the world through the eyes of our friend, in our love of God in Jesus we begin to see the world through God’s eyes.
When I reflect on my experience of close and intimate friendship, I become aware of how I do not desire to possess anything that I will keep from my friend. Everything I possess, including my very life, I long to hold in common with my friend. In today’s gospel Jesus tells his friends that he has withheld nothing from them. “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” To have told us everything he has heard from his Father is to give us everything he has to give, for to show us the Father is who he is. What makes us close friends with another is our desire and attempt to withhold nothing of ourselves from him or her. It is to be willing to tell them everything we have heard from the Father, and to receive, in turn, the same from them. In this sense, we always feel as if we have more to say to them, and more to hear from them, and that when the something more in us emerges in our consciousness, we are very eager to share it with them.
Perhaps this sense of withholding is key to our understanding the call to transformation, to friendship with God. Because the property of love is to make the lover equal to the beloved, God cannot befriend us as God wills as long as we are withholding ourselves from God. This withholding from God takes the form in us of preferring anything or anyone to God. We do not yet see with God’s eyes because we are blinded by a desire for something less than God. As Stanza 28 from the Spiritual Canticle teaches, our eros, or “energy” is diffused. So, our motives in service are mixed. I may be trying to serve an other, but that service, that true love of them, is limited by my desire for their appreciation, or respect, or reciprocity, or mutual gratification. Even as I try to serve them, I do not see them as they are but rather through the filter of what I want from them.
In The Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John writes: “As regards this road to union, entering on the road means leaving one’s own road; or better, moving on to the goal. And turning from one’s own mode implies entry into what has no mode, that is, God. Individuals who reach this state no longer have any modes or methods, still less are thy attached to them, nor can they be. I am referring to modes of understanding, tasting, and feeling” (II, iv, 5). There is something about the deepest desire of our heart, which is the desire for God, that is different from all other desires that we know. It is that this desire can only be lived out in faith. With every other desire that we know, we develop “modes or methods” to pursue it. If we desire friendship with another, we employ our ways to attract the other to ourselves. With God we must abandon all our modes and methods. This is why Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” We can only wait for God’s love out of our own poverty and lack. We must dare to wait on God from that deepest part of us that is beyond our capacity to manage or control, that is simply a hunger and thirst for God.
There can be no friendship and so no equality with Jesus except on God’s terms. As the Fundamental Principles say: “Gradually, you will realize that the cost of your discipleship is your very life . . . .” When we stop trying to “be as gods,” we shall be given equality in what St. John calls “the exaltation of the soul.” The way in which we live out friendship’s desire to withhold nothing in our friendship with God is to “leave one’s own road” and to live only in the nakedness of faith. What this means concretely for us I find best expressed by John S. Dunne when he says that faith is living “step by step out of the heart.” It is to give up our projects, our work, for God’s works of love in us. As John of the Cross writes: “. . . nor have I any other work/now that my every act is love.”
Because we said that God makes use of nothing other than love, it may prove beneficial to explain the reason for this before commenting on the stanza. The reason is that all our works and all our trials, even though they be the greatest possible, are nothing in the sight of God. For through them we cannot give him anything or fulfill his only desire, which is the exaltation of the soul. Of these other things he desires nothing for himself since he has no need of them. If anything pleases him, it is the exaltation of the soul. Since there is no way by which he can exalt her more than by making her equal to himself, he is pleased only with her love. For the property of love is to make the lover equal to the object loved. Since the soul in this state possesses perfect love, she is called the bride of the Son of God, which signifies equality with him. In this equality of friendship the possessions of both are held in common, as the Bridegroom himself said to his disciples: “I have now called you my friends, because all that I have heard from my Father I have manifested to you” [Jn. 15:15]. She then recites the stanza:
Now I occupy my soul
and all my energy in his service;
I no longer tend the herd,
nor have I any other work
now that my every act is love.
St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 28, 1