I learn so much from the saints. One of the graces I most appreciate of Rome is being able to visit so many of the tombs of these holy men and women who have gone before me and taught me how to madly love the Lord. This closeness to them has inspired me to take up their writings, adding a spiritual resonance to this physical closeness. I can’t find a saint that doesn’t deeply inspire me! I consider them all my big brothers and sisters. My family of favorites grows every time I take up a new book. All their writings have something in common: they evince a burning love for Jesus as a personal friend and lover. It is this passionate relationship of love that carried these big brothers and sisters through their earthly pilgrimage to their heavenly home.
As for them, so for each one of us, life is a personal journey of being pulled into God’s embrace. We are all called to holiness because holiness is nothing other than letting God hug us. Spiritual giants have divided and described this journey into the embrace of God in different ways with different images. St Theresa of Avila chose the image of seven ascending mansions in the “Interior Castle” of the soul, through which we enter ever deeper into his arms. She also used the image of the different ways of watering a garden to cultivate the soul as it grows toward this union: a well, a pump, a river, and rain from Heaven. St Ignatius and other spiritual authors have adopted the traditional purgative, illuminative, and unitive stages. John of the Cross broke up the first stage, the purgative, into a succession of nights where the soul is freed, first from attachment to sensitive pleasures and then from that of spiritual pleasures, so that it is purified for spiritual betrothal (illuminative stage) and spiritual marriage (unitive stage). Whatever the image, it is a journey towards our final goal, Heaven, His full embrace!
Antonio Maria Sicari expressed this embrace so well in his book on the lives of the saints in the chapter dedicated to John of the Cross:
“This embrace is of the most intense Love that it is possible in this land, and it involves the whole of reality. God awakens—as it were—in the soul, and the whole creation wakes up in her. Only a thin veil separates the creature from eternal life, a thin veil that is about to tear. (Ritratti di Santi, Vol I, Antonio Maria Sicari, Page 247)”
God wants to pull us in closer and closer to his heart as his little children. He wants to “lead us out into the desert and speak to us.” (Hos 2:14) Growth in life is offering less resistance to this passionate, burning, irresistible Love of God for us, putting our hands down, and letting him pull us in to his embrace. We are children in the Father’s arms. Our sins and imperfections are us putting our arms out, forcing the Father to hold us at the distance we have chosen. Holiness is being pulled ever closer into this warm, consuming embrace of a loving Father, but it isn’t our work. It isn’t us pulling ourselves into God. It is us putting our arms down, offering less and less resistance to the Love of this Father that is burning to pull us in. He respects our freedom, but any moment we cease to offer resistance, his love can’t help but pull us in. That is our Father’s heart. It burns to pull us into him until our hearts meet. Our job isn’t to force this union, but to take away what hinders it. The Father’s Love does the rest.
Sometimes this embrace is exciting, joyful, and motivating. Sometimes it is warm and consoling for our cold, fearful hearts. At other times it is being pulled into his Heart crowned with thorns. The closer we allow ourselves to be pulled in, the deeper we are pricked by those very thorns, and the more we become intimates with him, not only in his joys, but also in his sorrows. But no matter what embraces we receive and when we receive them, they are embraces of infinite Love and Wisdom nonetheless, and that is so easy to forget. Think how it must melt our Father’s heart to be able to pull his children close to his heart and share everything with them: his joys and warmth, yes, but also the pains of his bleeding heart that receives so much ingratitude. What a consolation for the Father. Think about it. It is simple and beautiful. And this is Life!