Wednesday, January 18, 2006

God is friendship...

Thinking about Deus Caritas Est brings to mind one of the most challenging meditations written by Newman:
Thou, Mary, art the Virgin of Virgins. To have a virgin soul is to love nothing on earth in comparison of God, or except for His sake. That soul is virginal which is ever looking for its Beloved who is in heaven, and which sees Him in whatever is lovely upon earth, loving earthly friends very dearly, but in their proper place, as His gifts, and His representatives, but loving Jesus alone with sovereign affection, and bearing to lose all, so that she may keep Him.
This picture of the Virgin is put before us as a model for all our human loves. If we take the Gospel to heart, these loves are not set aside, but rather transformed. Of course, it does not come naturally to us to love in this manner. We are inclined to think that loving Christ means that we must now neglect our earthly friends. We think of it as an either/or proposition.
However, if we consider our most intimate friendships, I think that we can find traces of Divine Love. In our closest friendships, we are capable of seeing goodness and depth and potential in the other that outsiders overlook. In loving another, we acquire a knowledge of them that tends to the Divine. We look on our friends with sympathy and catch glimpses of their true potential, which is their real existence. God looks on all of us with infinite sympathy and in seeing as we should be (i.e. fulfilling the plan he has laid down for us) he guides us towards our true end which is Himself. By knowing and loving our friends, we value them in a way which may not be understood by the impartial observe. Being known and being loved by God, every human being is more valuable than we can imagine.
Describing true friendship, St Aelred of Rievaulx says, 'such friendship prudence directs, justice rules, fortitude guards and temperance moderates.' If we strive for such friendship lived in virtue, we have the opportunity of seeing through the eyes of Christ. Indeed, elsewhere, St Aelred says:
...what more sublime can be said of friendship, what more true, what more profitable, than that it ought to, and is proved to, begin in Christ, continue in Christ, and be perfected in Christ.
Now, as Newman notes, there does exist the risk of setting up purely human friendships in opposition to love of God. We can absolutize them to the neglect of the Creator or corrupt them by exploitation of the other (for cheap affection, or popularity, or monetary gain) or we can simply overlook the supernatural foundation of our human loves. That is why we must always be attentive to the operations of grace in all aspects of our lives, and in particular within those human relationships we hold most dear.
That is not the whole process though. Christ has some harder words for any who would seek perfection - "Love your enemies" he tells us. See the face of God in those whom we would normally despise. That is sainthood. We stand in awe of those men and women who have lived the Gospel by forgiving their enemies and by caring for those whom others neglect for love of Christ and brother. However, to reach that stage, we must first learn a Christ-like love of our friends, to see them with Christ's eyes and to recognise Christ in them.

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