“Abiding with a Determined Love, the End of John” (6/8/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
We have today the somewhat mysterious words at the end of the Gospel of John. Jesus says about the beloved disciple, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” The Greek word translated “remain” here is meno and could just as well be translated as abide. It is a key word in the Gospel of John, beginning in chapter 1 when the two disciples ask Jesus where He is staying or rather where he is abiding. And by then we already know from the Prologue where Jesus abides: He abides in the bosom of the Father.
And then the word reaches a certain climax in the Vine and the Branches discourse about the branch abiding in the vine and Jesus’ key words, “Abide in me and I in you.”
So in this passage at the end of the Gospel of John, we should hear the full depths of these words of Jesus as applied to the beloved disciple, “What if I want him to abide until I come?” Surely these words have a special resonance for those in monastic life. The Lord could just as easily say these words about you to anyone who might raise objections or doubts about monastic life: “What if I want them to abide until I come? What concern is it of yours?” If the Lord wants you to abide in intimate love with him until he returns, what argument or doubt could hold any weight against you? Abiding in intimate love with the Lord until he returns, there’s nothing better.
Let’s consider this abiding in love a little more closely. Abiding involves the fidelity of love. There’s a constancy to abiding. It involves perseverance. It is an abiding which bears eternity within itself, letting divine love have its way with us. It is an abiding that is rooted in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who produces communio, abiding also with the sisters in the community, in the fellowship of the community. Abiding with the Lord in intimate love involves fidelity to every dimension of your life.
Abiding in intimate love with the Lord sounds so delightful but let’s not forget all involved in it. St Teresa of Avila speaking to her Sisters says she wouldn’t be surprised if they wouldn’t really know what love is. She says that love consists in a strong determination, in striving, in asking and desiring.
She says to her Sisters, “Perhaps we don’t know what love is. I wouldn’t be very surprised, because it doesn’t consist in great delight but in desiring with strong determination to please God in everything, in striving…and in asking Him for the advancement of the honor and glory of His Son and…the Catholic Church. These are the signs of love.” She says at other times, these souls “would be right if they engaged for a while in making acts of love, praising God, rejoicing in His goodness, that He is who He is, and in desiring His honor glory” (IC, IV.1.6-.7).
These words of Teresa come in 4th Mansion of the Interior Castle about the Prayer of Quiet. So whatever you might think about the prayer of quiet, it is interesting to note it also involves this strong determination and striving. Abiding with the Lord in intimate love is no easy task. These phrases about striving, praising, rejoicing, desiring get at a certain inclination of the soul that can survive in all the ups and downs of life.
Simone Weil, the French philosopher from the early 20th century, captures all this in one simple sentence. She says, “Love is a direction and not a state of the soul.” Experientially she’s right. We could quibble with her and say, Well since charity is a virtue, a habit of the soul, it is in fact a state of the soul. That’s true. But I think we know what she means on the level of experience, “Love is a direction and not a state of the soul.” Love is not so much a pleasant experience, or a good feeling, or a state of consciousness. No, it’s a direction of the soul, always aiming at God, tending toward him, striving with determination, desiring, pressing forward toward God. Love is the direction the soul is moving in. Love is a constant abiding with the Lord—always tending toward him in perseverance and fidelity. What if the Lord wants you to abide until he comes? Well it’s a task worth a lifetime of effort. Love is the direction of the soul, in responding to the Lord’s call in your vocation. As he says to us all in the Gospel today, “You, follow me.”