St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross teaches about God as love with three points: first, from the fact that God is love; second, that love must be self-gift given freely (ἀγάπη); third, that love creates a union which she refers to as a “we.” While this teaching may seem similar to something St. John of the Cross would say, St. Teresa Benedicta is pointing at the nature of persons and how persons love one another.
Personal love between human persons is an image of the love of the Divine Persons of the Trinity
Consider the following passage from 1 John 4:8:
ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν Θεὸν ὅτι ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν (The one not loving has not known God, because God is love)
God as love begets a complete image of himself lacking any deprivation, which is the Eternal Wisdom, ὁ Λόγος, and this image, begotten of love, turns back and loves the Father, and since this love is God, that is, the being of God is love, then love must be a Person, which is the Holy Spirit.
The measure of our charity is God as Love
All this Trinitarian theology may seem a bit abstruse, but if we reflect for a moment on God as love, then it becomes clear that all our love comes from Him, since we are not love itself. To love as he loves, he must give Himself to us to empower us to love like Him.
This truth is important since we love in a human way. When we see how God is love, this truth helps us to understand the measure of charity. This measure gives us a goal to measure the image of our own love of neighbor that guides us on whether we are really loving our neighbor.
How we treat our neighbor reflects our measure of self-gift
This connection to our neighbor shows in how we look at our neighbor. Do we imitate the Father in how he looks on His Son as a complete image of himself by seeing our neighbor as God sees that neighbor? If the Father’s love for the Son is complete, should not our love for our neighbor, seen in reference to God, be complete as well? Shouldn’t our self-gift, our charity, be aimed at bringing about the good for our neighbor’s sake, free from our own self-love and pride?
Love of neighbor becomes especially difficult when our neighbor frustrates us in some sense way. For example, something about the person’s manners or way of being annoys us or frustrates us. We may want our neighbor to see things like we see them, but after many conversations, our neighbor still does not see things as we want him or her to.
God calls us to be images of the Love of the Trinity
This call to love when meditating on the Trinity as taught by St. Teresa Benedicta should prompt us to find one person whom we consider an enemy and pray for that person. Consider Mt 5:44-45:
ἐγω δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ διωκόντων ὑμᾶς ὅπως γένησθε υἱοὶ τοῦ Πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς ὅτι ἥλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους (But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those persecuting you so that you all get to become sons of your Father who is in the heavens, for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous)
We see here a reason to love our neighbor in the image of God’s love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is to become sons of your Father. Children of God must in some way be images of their Father, just as natural children of parents image both parents. As sons of our Father, we must (1) love our enemies and (2) pray for our persecutors.
The form of our love will become like God’s love. This image in us, with the source as the Holy Spirit, who is the impetus for all charitable acts of ours, will kindle in us self-gift instead of self-love, as our form of love takes on an image of God’s mode of loving.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s teaching here on the Trinity is so important for understanding Christ’s teaching on praying for enemies and persecutors.
If we practice this teaching in our own prayer life, we will see charity increase in us since we will be following Christ by loving as He loves us, and we will thereby become a clearer, brighter image of God’s love and will truly be sons of the Father.
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