I was asked to give the meditations for a retreat for the renewal of vows of the consecrated lay women of the Apostles of the Interior Life from May 28 to June 1, 2018. The theme was “the mystery of evangelical love” or the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In my reflections, I tried to gaze upon the foundational realities of our existence–especially the truth of our belovedness in the arms of our heavenly Father–within which alone all the other elements of our life find their meaning and their place. It is my hope that what I have said may prove helpful to persons in every state of life, opening the way to a deeper restfulness in God and a greater freedom and playfulness within his tender care.
I have now also published a book transcribing the retreat meditations into text. You can find it available here:
Evangelical Love: Retreat Meditations — On the Mystery of Poverty, Obedience, and Chastity
Below are the recordings of the retreat meditations which I gave. The first meditation is partial, as the first ten or fifteen minutes were not recorded–and I apologize that the audio quality of the first two meditations is not as good as the others that follow. Below the playlist you will find a summary of what I said in the beginning of the first meditation, so you can understand more fully what follows. (You can download mp3’s of the audio by clicking the downward-arrow button at the top right of the playlist, and whichever meditation is selected will download to your computer.)
What was omitted in the first meditation is something like the following:
In his Theology of the Body, Saint John Paul II talks about our “original experiences.” These are experiences on which the rest of our lives, and all of our other experiences, are founded. We can say that they are original for two reasons: they are the first experiences of our life, and the are also foundational for all the rest of our experiences within this world. John Paul II talks about three different experiences—original solitude, original nakedness, and original unity—which we will look at in later meditations. But for now I want to look at the single, unified experience in which these are inseparable.
The whole of our life unfolds on the basis of a foundational or original experience that is common to all of us. This experience is that of being a little child held in the arms of our mother. It is the experience of being loved and held by another. We awaken to consciousness through a loving gaze, a free gift, that comes to us from the outside. In such a moment, when our mother looks upon us and smiles, we spontaneously smile back. But who has told the child to smile, who has taught her? No one—it is a deep intuition, in which she knows, without the need for words:
“And the love between us.”
There is a sense of being loved, of being accepted, sheltered, and cared for absolutely by another. The little child has the experience of being totally cradled in the arms of Love, which is manifest to her through the face, the eyes, the expression of her mother. Indeed, even before this the little child experiences this “shelter” in her mother’s womb. Therefore we can say that, at the very first moment when we awaken to self-consciousness, to the awareness of our “I,” we are aware of the “You” of another. Indeed, it is precisely through being known and loved by another that we come to the awareness of being a person. Through another’s love, we experience what it means to be an individual who is always in relationship, who is loved and sustained by love at every moment.
This awareness of being totally enveloped by love allows the little child to be playful and carefree. We see this beautifully in little children, don’t we? Children see each moment as a gift, flowing freely within the primary gift of all-enveloping Love. And so they abide in relaxation of heart in every moment. It is because she abides in belovedness that the child abides in playfulness and joy, in the confident security of being known and loved. Even further, only in letting myself be known and loved by another, by God who alone can see me as I truly am, can I experience the truth of my identity.
I come to know myself as one who exists in ceaseless relationship to Another. And this is a beautiful reflection of the Trinity. For the Son exists unceasingly in relationship with the Father; his very identity is to be the One who is in relationship with the Father, the One who is a Gift from the Father, the Father’s Beloved. We have been created from this same mystery, and for the sake of this same intimacy.
Though in a child this “intuition” may not yet mature to a full and conscious recognition of God, there is still the awareness of enveloping Love. It is a promise and a call, and a deep source of hope. It can lead the child ever deeper into a relationship with the Father who loves us. However, when this primal experience of love is called into question through the experience of neglect, abuse, or betrayal—or through the movements of original sin in the heart—we begin to distance ourselves from this original awareness of Love. Then we begin to feel vulnerable and insecure, and recoil from the vulnerability of being dependent before another. We instead feel the need to protect ourselves, to put up walls and barriers around our hearts.
In our innate solitude in the depths of our heart, we remain in a pure and loving relationship. But now we close in upon ourselves in fear. Every sin, in the last analysis, is a compensation for a fundamental insecurity—the insecurity of being unlovable, of being unsheltered by Love. Because I don’t trust that Love is enough for me, that Love shelters me and takes care of me, I feel the need to seek this security elsewhere. We are each invited, therefore, to courageously confront this insecurity and to open it before the God who loves us, to let him gaze into it with his tender look. In this way he will reveal to us how he really sees us—in the unique and awesome beauty that is our own.
Thus, to enter back into the place where I know myself to be unconditionally and totally loved—to transcend broken human relationships into the place where I am alone before the Father—this is to discover the truth of my identity as his beloved child. This is to discover the security in which I am free to play in freedom and lightness of heart once again.
One of my friends from the University shared with me a story that beautifully illustrates this “all-enveloping playfulness” within the arms of Love. Visiting the house of his girlfriend one Easter, he noted that her little brother (who was about three years old) would always ask, “I want to help,” whenever the grown-ups were doing something, like preparing a meal.
But what does he do? He just gets in the way, right? Because he doesn’t know what to do, he ends up being the one who is helped, rather than helping. Yet the essential thing, if the parents are wise, is that he is incorporated into their life, and shares in whatever they are doing—because the relationship is ultimately what endures.
Finally, I refer in some of the meditations to a “diagram.” The handout which we are using can be accessed here: Priorities