You could write me off as an incurable romantic if I told you that I believe in love at first sight? I have not only come across it in fiction but in real life too. In fact, so have you if you have read the Gospels, because I believe that they begin with the best example of love at first sight that I have ever come across. True love, I mean the true deep love that can last more than a lifetime, takes time to take root and ripen because of the many human imperfections that stands in its way.
Love at first Sight
When St Joseph first set eyes on the woman he was to marry, there were no imperfections standing in the way of loving her instantly with his whole mind and heart. His love for her not only reached out to be enthralled by her physical beauty, but by her inner spiritual beauty too, that had its origins deep down within her. Like all other human beings Joseph and Mary were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), but there was a difference. Mary’s pure and perfect love that put no obstacles in the way of Joseph’s love, enabled his love to reach down within her to touch this likeness that mirrored the divine in the very ground of her being, and her love for him did likewise. The mutual loving that bonded them together and overflowed onto their son was then, not only inspired by human love, but by divine love too.
Their son’s love for them added a further supernatural dimension to their love for each other because the human love that Christ returned in kind was suffused and surcharged with the love of his heavenly Father flowing into him. In the new world order that he came to set up Jesus wanted all families to be animated with the same love that he had infused into the family in which he grew up. That is why he poured out the same love that his Father poured out on him whilst he was on earth, onto and into all who were open to receive it, beginning at the first Pentecost.
The life blood of the Church
Thanks to the promise made to Abraham in the Old Testament, family love was the only way that his descendants would generate the new people who would bring salvation not just to the Jewish race but to all races. But thanks to Christ and to the love that he and his Father poured out on the first Pentecost day, the unmarried who chose to follow his own example and his call to virginity, could also help generate the supernatural loving that would help build his Kingdom on earth.
The call to Virginity
These people who left all to follow the example of Christ came to be called the virgines et continentes, those who chose a life of virginity from the beginning and those who chose it after their married partner had died. Although it was the family spirituality that was practised and predominated in the early Church, their spiritual influence did become ever more influential and foreshadowed the later religious orders. This was especially true when they began to live, not just in their own homes but in communities under the guidance of the local Bishop. The Fathers of the Church wrote special spiritual treatises to help support and inspire them. In these works they were continually reminded that their virginity would lead to spiritual barrenness unless it was joined to the deep prayer and purification that would lead them into mystical contemplation and the fruits of contemplation.
Contemplating the Three in One
For the married and the unmarried who had vowed themselves to a celibate life, the ultimate aim of their spiritual lives was to come to know and love their Risen Lord. Taken up into his mystical body they mutually support one another in being sufficiently purified for the next step in their spiritual advancement. This next step would be to be united with Christ in his loving of his Father in his mystical contemplation of the Three in One. Then sharing the fruits received in this mystical contemplation with others, they would gradually be drawn into doing what God created us for, namely to love, adore, and glorify him and love others as Christ himself loved others whilst he was on earth. With the otherworldly quality of love that Christ himself came to give us, all the commandments, precepts and moral standards that you find in the Gospels become possible because with him and his love all things are possible that are quite impossible without it.
A False Proposition
The proposition that has been accepted by all too many in recent years, although it has never been officially taught by the Church, namely that mystical contemplation is not for all, but an extraordinary way for a few ‘pious souls’, would have been meaningless to our first Christian forebears. If all are called to union with God how else could this union be realised except in, with, and through Christ. He came, not just to tell us this, but to show us how to be united with him in his mystical body, and in his mystical loving of his Father. This is the essence of the God-given spirituality for which Christ lived and died, that leads us into the fullness of life and love and the happiness for which we yearn with all our hearts, as Christ himself put it, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
We end so many of our prayers as we end the greatest of all prayers, the Eucharistic Prayer in the Mass, with the words, “In Christ, with him, and through him”, as it is only because we are one with him that our prayers, our offerings, and our sacrifices can be accepted by God. This alone enables us to share in the glory for which he originally created us. That we can participate in the sublime and divine mutual loving of the Father and the Son without the sort of prolonged mystical purification that was commonplace for all in the early Church is literally non-sense. It is the most pernicious heresy that cripples contemporary spirituality.
In order to develop the prayer that can continually help us to raise our hearts and minds to God as we practise the asceticism of the heart please follow the Podcast on prayer on this web-site entitled The Hermit – Wisdom from the Western Isles