In yesterday’s reflection we began meditating on the innermost dispositions of the heart of Mary—and of the Heart of her Son. While we will not be able to speak about all the depth and richness of these dispositions (even if we had more space to do so), we will try to focus on the central ones, those which “unite” all the others in a profound harmony and simplicity. This, indeed, is a primary trait of Mary’s heart, as of her whole existence: simplicity and unity. She allowed her whole life to unfold in a deep spontaneity, a deep and unquestioning assent to the mysterious workings of God’s Love within her and around her. She did not, in other words, create unnecessary and unrealistic “problems” for herself, which would cloud and confuse the pristine purity of her relationship with God. Rather, she welcomed in radical openness the joys and challenges which her real, concrete life brought, and, above all, the One who came to her unceasingly in, through, and beyond all things.
What was the cause of Mary’s interior simplicity and unity? It is precisely what we spoke of last time. She is united within herself precisely because she is always open beyond herself…in complete loving dependence upon Another, who sustains her at every instant. This is because her unity, as intimate and interior as it may be, could not possibly be the result of her own efforts or the autonomy of her being “closed in on itself.” Rather, her heart—just like the heart of every human person—is inherently relational, meaning that it comes from, depends upon, and is ordered toward relationship with another. When we live in such relationship, then we are spontaneously unified, not only with the other, but also within ourselves. In a word, to go within ourselves truly is simultaneously to go beyond ourselves toward the God who loves us and sustains us.
Saint Augustine had this experience of discovering God in his inmost being—and of discovering himself only by transcending himself toward God. He spoke about how, as a result of sin, he experienced the profound “fragmentation” of his being, in which he lived in a kind of exile on the surface of himself, immersed in created things, but far from both God and from his own authentic truth:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you, yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me, I drew in breath, and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
These words of Saint Augustine vividly paint a picture of our own experience, don’t they? We yearn to be with God, to live within and from our own authentic identity as his beloved child, and yet we find ourselves “far away,” immersed in created things. These things themselves speak of God, but only as an echo. They reveal him, but they also conceal him—like a veil through which a light dimly filters through, and which will be seen in its full brightness only when the veil is removed.
And indeed, our struggle is not only that our desire for God encounters resistance through our fragmentation among created things, our exile from the sanctuary of our heart. Our struggle perhaps also consists in the fact that our heart itself is afraid and filled with shame, that we are not in touch with our desire for God, that we do not know his immense love for us and therefore cannot unconditionally entrust ourselves to this Love. Yes, even in the sanctuary of the heart we encounter the wounds of our sins and the brokenness that we carry within us. The external expressions of our flight from the face of God bubble up from this deep place of insecurity—a compensation for our fear, a feverish seeking for comfort or consolation in a place where it cannot truly be found.
This is the inheritance that we have received because of original sin. For we see that Adam and Eve, before their sin, were unified in childlike simplicity before the face of their heavenly Father. They were united within themselves because they were totally open to God, abiding in complete trusting dependence upon him. They were able, as we saw in the first week, to rejoice in a childlike playfulness and in a peaceful repose—for they allowed God’s Love to cradle and shelter them within itself. This openness to God, this love and trust that lived in their hearts as his gift, was like the “cord” that bound together all the elements of their existence in a beautiful harmony. They were united to God, and therefore they were unified within themselves, they were in communion with each other, and, finally, in communion with the whole of creation.
In a sense we can say that their childlike openness before the Father was like the chain of a rosary, which holds all the beads together. But when the chain is broken, the beads are no longer bound together and go all over the place. When Adam and Eve rested in the Father’s Love, when they consented to receive their existence from him at every moment as a pure gift, all was as it should be, radiant in beauty and harmony. Their childlike union with him allowed them to be “naked” before each other “without shame,” and allowed their very cultivating of the Garden to be, not a burdensome task, but a form of playful responsibility, or responsible play (in other words, play that is a fitting response to the gift and invitation of God every given). Further, their childlikeness was able to flower freely in a spousal union (both with God and with each other) and in the transparent fruitfulness of parenthood.
This openness, this harmony, is precisely what we indicated in the last reflection as the “inner form of love” which is one and yet threefold: obedience, poverty, and chastity. Adam and Eve were obedient because they trustingly welcomed all as a gift of the Father’s Love, and lived in the concreteness of their life according to the inner meaning of this gift. They were poor, not with a poverty of lack but of abundance, because they did not grasp anything as “mine,” but shared all in the “We” of loving communion; thus, while possessing nothing, they had all things. They were chaste because their hearts were completely open to God and to another another, in which each lived from the inner truth of the heart and looked upon this inner truth in the other; in a word, their every glance was a glance of love, a heart-to-heart communication in which “I” and “You” met within the Love of God that bound them together.
This is the “knot” of loving intimacy for which God made us, the radiant communion that alone can satisfy the longings of our hearts. But as we know, Adam and Eve were asked to freely consent to this state, to the gift God gave to them—to set their seal upon it by choosing God alone, freely and completely. In other words, they were asked to “bind” themselves to God through an act of total surrender, choosing to be forevermore his beloved children (and spouses!), united to him in an enduring union of love and belonging. The “test” of this consent came in the form of the “fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” which represents the opposite of childlike belonging to God: it represents “adult” autonomy, the will to “go one’s own way” without relying upon another. It represents the desire to create from within oneself what can only come as a gift from without, and to safeguard in isolation what can only be sheltered within the loving arms of God.
Adam and Eve—tempted by the serpent’s lies that God was not a loving Father, but an arbitrary and demanding Taskmaster—turned away from obedience to God, from the openness of love that was poor and chaste, and severed the bond of intimacy with God. They were still, it is true, cradled unceasingly within the Love of God, still sustained by him at every moment, but now their hearts had collapsed in upon themselves. They covered over their nakedness in fear and shame, and “hid from the face of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” The “knot” of intimacy was broken, and yet their hearts still yearned, still reached out for something to satisfy their innate thirst, which no sin or infidelity could destroy. The frays of this broken bond were therefore tied together in the knot of sin, which knitted their life to the world in a disordered movement of pride, possessiveness, and lust1—which are the direct contrary of the loving movement of obedience, poverty, and chastity.
– When in my life have I experienced the way that going beyond myself to another also unifies me within myself? For example, encountering beauty in nature, art, or music, or loving another person or experiencing their love?
– Do I see how obedience, poverty, and chastity are simply expressions of trusting openness in love? Can I reflect more deeply on each of these and try to apply them in my own life?
– To do this, I can ask: What obstacles are there within me to obedience…to poverty…to chastity? On the other hand, what opportunities or gifts is God offering to me in each of these areas?
1 To see the “threefold concupiscence,” as the Church calls it, see Gen 3:6, and 1 Jn 2:15-17. These are the three modes in which the human heart, turning away from God, is tempted to grasp for created things in an unhealthy way. We can summarize such a movement with three “p” words: pride, possessiveness, and pleasure-seeking. Jesus and Mary, by living sinless lives of obedience, poverty, and chastity within this world, healed in themselves the wounds of our hearts and opened the path for us to rediscover pure love once again. We see this, for example in the threefold temptation of Jesus in the desert (cf. Mt 4:1-11), in which he overcomes the devil precisely in the place where he tempted Adam and Eve, and thus shows himself to be the “new Adam” who begins a new creation where the first creation was corrupted.