The abiding attitude of affirmation about which I spoke in the previous reflection is not some “method” applied to life and relationships, some technique to enter into a particular mode of consciousness, or even a particular virtuous disposition among many. Rather, in a real way the attitude of authentic affirmation lies at the heart of the constellation of all of the virtues, at the very core of human life. This is because it is, in truth, the font of love itself, the inner heartbeat of true love. For love is not first of all a matter of applying principles to life from the outside, nor a matter of engaging the will in doing things for others, in acting and serving and striving for the good of one’s fellow man. Rather, love is first of all, and in all, a contemplative openness, a tender receptivity, to be touched and moved by the beauty and dignity of the other person, such that they are allowed to find a home in my heart, and my heart is harnessed, by this very contact, as a gift to them and for them.
As we saw, this disposition of love applies not only to the personal sphere, but to the whole of existence: I can abide in this same receptivity and wonder before every thing that God has made, both personal and impersonal, both spiritual and material, and before God himself who comes to me, in all things and beyond all things, in the sacred inner virginal core of my heart. To simply be present, with the full attention of my being, to what is real, and to let myself be moved by it. This is the primal attitude of human existence, the receptivity that corresponds with—and unseals—the true gift of myself in response. Being a creature as I am, I cannot “initiate” the gift without it first being awakened within me. Indeed, this is not only necessary because I am a creature, and thus must rely on receiving even for the very gift of love that I give. Rather, this is the nature of all love, even in the very realm of the spiritual and divine.
Thus the very “masculine” love of the Father for the Son is not a merely initiating, leading, directing, outpouring love—but first of all, in its very inner form, it is a love of tender receptivity, a love of sheltering and holding and cradling. It is a love that brings together, in super-eminent fullness beyond the distinctions of gender and beyond every created analogy, the reality of motherhood and fatherhood, of parental love and spousal love, of the acceptance of the other and the donation of self. The same is true of the love of the Son, which is the archetype of “feminine” receptivity, or rather of the receptivity which is simultaneously a gift, or the gift that bears the inner form of reception. When we look at the life of the Trinity this way, when we draw near enough, with a stilled and quieted heart, to the place where the diverse lines of human existence converge together in contact with the love of the Trinity, then we do immediately recognize that, in this sacred space, receptivity to the other and the gift of oneself become one.
This is the “inner law” of all being, the core of all that exists, participating as it does in the law of the inner life of the divine Persons themselves. For the divine Persons of the Trinity abide together in a ceaseless dance of love for all eternity, in which each Person rests in contemplative receptivity, in tender acceptance, before the other Persons, welcoming and sheltering them in the home of their own tenderness, and, in the same, act surrender themselves as a gift to live in the other in return. This inner essence of the divine life was unveiled for us in the breathtakingly intimate words of Jesus at the Last Supper, which manifest both the life of the Trinity as well as God’s desire for us to participate in this very inner life:
I pray that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24)
This ceaseless dance, this ever flowing circulation of love in the movement of acceptance and self-donation, is precisely what allows the divine Persons to be totally and eternally united in an intimacy that is not merely a “togetherness,” not merely an enfolding embrace from the outside, but a true and total interpenetration—a living of each Person in the others. Here the outpouring gift of each is given and received simultaneously by the others in a respiration of life and love that is total, totally vulnerable and totally safe, because it is ever sheltered in receptive love and, in receptive love, ever given, in the Home of the eternal Family, in the inner personal mystery of each Person, in the intimacy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This inner law of all life and love—which is actually far more than a law, though it is also the place in which every law finds its true place—this inner law applies to every single sphere of human existence and indeed to the inner nature of the universe as a whole. There is no place, no place however subtle or seemingly unimportant, which does not unseal its true meaning and beauty precisely by being illumined by this essence of the Trinity’s love, which is simultaneously acceptance and self-donation, which is the ever flowing current of reciprocal surrender and the ever consummated intimacy of mutual indwelling. Yes, even non-personal beings, by the very laws of science and of nature, follow a kind of “magnetism” of love that reflects, and finds its ultimate origin, in the life and love of the Trinity. Of course, they live this law without personal freedom, without love in the full sense, but in a way which nonetheless truly takes its origin from the Trinitarian mystery and thus speaks a word to the contemplative human heart which impels it towards God himself.
The whole universe exists in a ceaseless movement of respiration, of reception and donation, of mutual interpenetration in which two are made one without ceasing to be two, and, in being made one, bring forth a third. And yet this law truly becomes the law of love once we enter into the personal realm, into the realm in which one is truly a subject, an “I,” created in the image and likeness of God for conscious, free, and deliberate loving relationship. Here the person—in mind, will, affectivity, and body—is oriented completely and totally in everything towards participating in this ever flowing current of reception and donation, not only before created reality as a whole, but above all in relationship to other persons, and, finally, before the Trinity himself.
Yes, even the human body in all of its corporeality lives this ceaseless respiration. In order to live, the human person—in bodily constitution as well as in the spiritual mystery of the inner heart—must rely on receiving. I must rely on the love of my parents, on their own joining together, in order even to be conceived and brought into this world. I must rely on the nourishing breast of my mother, on her sheltering care, for my very physical well being. I must rely on the gift of love that comes gratuitously from the outside—the gift of cherishing and affirming love—to experience and to live the true beauty of my own identity as God’s beloved, as a person truly sacred and lovable and valuable in myself and for myself.
None of these things are things that I can give to myself. And yet even in the very act of giving them to me, persons are not merely giving; rather, their very giving bears the inner form of receptivity. They first welcome me, make space in their hearts and their lives for me. And this act of acceptance is spontaneously manifested also as gift. And this gift never departs from, but rather remains always enfolded within, reception. The same is true for the reciprocal gift that is awakened and set free within me by the love that I first receive from the outside. I cannot become a lover unless I am first beloved. I cannot let my heart mature and flower in spousal love unless I first receive the gift of filial love, and I cannot let my heart flower in parental love unless I first live spousal love to the full.
This is the way that God designed the whole creation, and not by an arbitrary act of the will by which he created any of an infinite possible number of worlds, but rather, in a real sense, by which he created the best and most perfect world that he could, since all that God does, after all, is the most loving thing that he could possibly do. Thus the world is not an artifact, a product of “making”—like a man builds a barn or a civilization builds cities—but rather a fruit of “conception,” a spontaneous and yet totally free and deliberately willed overflow of the intimacy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And clearly, to even speak in this language—which is not imposed as a lens on a world that itself bears a different form, but is rather the simple recognition of the inner essence of all reality in its inmost truth—to speak in this language is immediately to recognize that the same law applies in the sphere of the rich complementarity of man and woman, in all the depth and breadth of their existence, including in the very expression of this in their bodies through the sexual act. And thus we come to an essential point for these reflections, which will make possible, and unseal the true beauty, about which I desire to speak in my following words. The law of love and intimacy between man and woman does not operate according to a different law than the rest of the universe, but rather is simply intended to be a particularly vivid and full “distillation” of this universal essence of all love, of all being, into the singular relationship of a man and a woman in the sight of God.
In a certain sense, the chaste intimacy of man and woman is the primary intersection point by which the inner life of the Trinity meets the life of creation. It is here that the image and likeness of God radiates out into the rest of creation, just as creation, in and through the love of man and woman, is lifted up to become what it was meant to be, finding its fulfillment and consummation, not in the impersonal realm, but precisely in being personalized within the hearts and lives of man and woman, united lovingly to one another in God, and, with one another, surrendered directly to God in the virginal core of their hearts. It is here—in the primordial sacrament of marriage as well as in the virginal intimacy made possible by Jesus and Mary—that man and woman are truly made one in the sight of God, living in their very communion with one another the inner life of the Trinity.
It is here, in their communion and yet also beyond it, enveloping it, and permeating it, that both together and each individually, surrenders into the virginal embrace of God who surpasses all and yet, in surpassing all, fills all with the inner essence of his own divine life of love and intimacy. Here man and woman, surrendering to God in faith, hope, and love, belong totally and entirely to him who alone in the fulfillment of their deepest desires, who is the Lover and Beloved for which they long, and in whose embrace they can eternally rest in contemplative receptivity and tender surrender, permeated by the spousal wonder and childlike play that circulates at the very heart of the eternal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.