Chapter VII - Spiritual Friendship
In this chapter, Father Marie Eugene points out through the writings of St. Teresa of Jesus, that it is necessary for us to have spiritual friendships. God created it that way. As all of us know, today we are very divided. Satan is unleashed like never before. He is dividing and conquering families, relationships, parishes and religious communities. God is love - therefore His love must be an ingredient in our friendships or they will fail and Satan will win.
The weakness of the soul is indeed great, especially in beginners of the spiritual life. When one tries to find God, it has perhaps left its family and social milieu; the sensible consolations and easiness of the first days have given way to dryness in prayer and difficulties in the practice of virtue. In order to remain faithful to its commitment to prayer – it needs the company and help of its neighbor.
St. Teresa stresses the particular weakness of woman and her more real and strongly felt need of support and of the help of man who completes and sustains her. All her life long she was in quest of support and of help. It is pointed out that God wanted to reveal the mysteries of this friendship through the relationship of the Son with the Blessed Mother. He took a collaborator, the Virgin Mary, whom He associated, as Mother, with His whole work of spiritual paternity. Our sanctification cannot be the exclusive fruit of our personal activity, it requires collaboration.
St. Teresa mentions one nun in particular who stressed to St. Teresa the words of Gospel that many are called but few are chosen. She used to describe to her the reward which the Lord gives to those who leave everything for His sake. She soon had desires for the eternal things.
At the convent of the Incarnation, where she lived for nearly 30 years, the saint did not fall into any of the grave faults to which the absence of cloister exposes one but she wrote that she lamented that there was one person for whom she had a growing affection, who distracted her a great deal. Our Lord reproaches her for these conversations by revealing Himself to her with a stern countenance. On another occasion, a huge toad crosses the parlor when she is with that same person; this makes a strong impression on her. God wants no more of these worldly friendships for Teresa.
Her spiritual director notices that certain friendships were still keeping her from spiritual advancement. She was instructed to pray to God for discernment and to sing the hymn “Veni Creator”. So she spent the greater part of one whole day in prayer; and then, beseeching the Lord that He would help her to please Him in everything, she began the hymn and she received her first rapture with the words from Jesus, “I will have thee converse now, not with men, but with angels.” The words came true. From then on end, she only had friendships with people who she believed loved God and tried to serve Him.
Now she grows in her spiritual life so much that spiritual love overflows from the maternal heart of Teresa, more ardent and stronger than ever. It goes out to souls; and if it discovers in them gifts for working for the kingdom of God, it cannot but love them deeply and desire to see them belong entirely to God.
Even at the summits of transforming union, Saint Teresa keeps her specially loved friends, and to justify them she avails herself of the example of Christ.
The senses are to the supernatural life what roots are to the plant; it is through them that nourishment reaches it. The beginner will be, ordinarily, more sensitive to the influence of friendship. St. Teresa stresses and explains how this can be beneficial:
“For people trouble so little about things pertaining to the service of God that we must all back each other up if those of us who serve Him are to make progress. If a single person begins to devote himself to God, there are so many to speak ill of him that self-defense compels him to seek the companionship of others until he is strong enough not to be depressed by suffering. Charity grows when it is communicated to others and from this there results a thousand blessings.”
Love is the law of every life and of every being. God has put this law in every creature to regulate its movement towards its providential end, but He has adapted it to the nature of each being.
In man, we find the three forms of the law of love, adapted to the three levels of life in the baptized Christian; sensible love, proper to the life of the body; rational love, which belongs to the soul; and supernatural love, which is essential to the life of grace. All come from God and so are good in themselves. These different loves are united in various degrees.
In our nature wounded by sin, love tends to descend to the lower powers and to pour itself out through the senses. This break in balance threatens the most sincere strivings for spiritual good and makes them flounder in the culpable liberties of sensuous love, or even the deplorable deviations of mystical sensualism leading to disorders.
She mentions the caution of becoming too fond of our confessor. She goes at length with this for her sisters. In a nutshell, this fondness must be ordered. We can like a good and holy man but not if he is vain. We must be prudent and if it becomes a distraction, then it may be necessary to switch confessors. The tree is recognized by its fruits.
3. Spiritual Love
The spiritual love of which St. Teresa speaks in the sixth and seventh chapters of the “Way of Perfection” is a highly perfect love: “Few I fear, possess it; let any one of you to whom the Lord has given it praise Him fervently, for she must be a person of the greatest perfection.”
It is a love which is enlightened by a clear view on God and on the creature. These souls have a great capacity for loving and for serving God, which justifies their preferences for certain souls. This love is so pure in its object only because it is entirely spiritual and it has dominated all the natural tendencies in the soul. It is ardent and strong like the love of Christ. Those who possess it are neither blind in their love nor too complacent.
St. Teresa was delicately human in her spiritual love of neighbor. This spiritual love is full of divine riches and human delicacy. St Teresa states:
Happy the souls that are loved by such as these! Happy the day on which they came to know them! O my Lord, will Thou not grant me the favor of giving me many who have such love for me? Truly, Lord, I would rather have this than be loved by all the kings and lords of the world – and rightly so, for such friends use every means in their power to make us lords of the whole world… When you make the acquaintance of any such persons, sisters, the Mother Prioress should employ every possible effort to keep you in touch with them. Love such persons as much as you like. There can be very few of them… When one of you is striving after perfection, she will at once be told that she has no need to know such people – that it is enough for her to have God. But to get to know God’s friends is a very good way of “having” Him; as I have discovered by experience, it is most helpful. For, under the Lord, I owe it to such persons that I am not in hell.” Way of Perfection p. 33
As we can see from St. Teresa’s writings, the Spiritual Love just explained now causes us to wonder why there is so much division and hatred in the world. When we speak to each other, it should always be to help that person get to Heaven. We need to see eternity in each moment that we breathe. A community, family, parish that lives by this love (which can only be attained by a deep prayer life) would be without trouble or at least very little trouble which could be repaired with a humble act of apology and/or forgiveness. It would be Heaven on Earth!
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel pray for us to attain this Spiritual Love that unites us to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary with all those we meet and are loved by God.
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Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene