The great love stories in literature and real life have usually ended in tragedy: Romeo and Juliet, Napoleon and Josephine, Anna Karenina and her husband… that is, before her desire to be worshipped by Vronsky destroyed her. Then there are those great hidden and unknown lovers, whose romance was born in the heart of the Trinity and remained there in the darkness of faith, hope, and love. I have seen one such rare couple many times, in the pew in front of me at Mass. Bridegroom and bride are both in their late eighties now, snowy-haired, and frail. He gently leads her to the pew each week, tenderly unbuttons her red coat as he tells her how beautiful she is today. She has Alzheimers, but is like a lamb at his side; calm and docile. The husband gives himself in sacrificial love, doing all for the bride who is no longer capable of doing anything for herself. These beautiful lovers reflect the eternal love of the Trinity, and the sacrificial love of Christ for His bride, the Church, and with it, our own souls.
It is astounding that the most beautiful romantic poetry ever written was by the Carmelite Friar, St. John of the Cross, after having been kidnapped by his fellow friars, beaten and locked for months in a cold, narrow room that had been formerly used as a latrine for visitors. This is not the setting one would think of when one thinks of a great romance. And yet… it was in this darkness he wrote his Romances. John was seeking the Face of God in his anguish, and there discovered God was seeking him more.
St. John’s Romances were most likely written at the beginning of John’s imprisonment in Toledo during Advent of 1577. In his search for God, amidst terrible suffering and bewildering darkness, John expresses his hope in God by turning back to memories of the popular ballads of his childhood. He then stirs up his love, and gives voice to his faith, by recounting salvation history – the beautiful story of the immense mutual love of the Holy Trinity. In this overflowing love, the Father and Son each desire the glory of the other, and so creation comes into being. The Father creates a bride for the Son. The bride is the Church, and ourselves within the Church, created to share in the divine love. In Romances, the Incarnation, Stanza 7, John writes of the loving exchange between the Father and the Son. The Word of God is presented with a bride who is made in his image, but she is “unlike in her flesh.”
“You see Son that your bride
was made in your image,
and in so far as she is like you
she suits you very well;
but she is unlike in her flesh
which your simple substance lacks.
The pattern of gift, space, and God making the space himself are found in the verse. Father reveals his gift as “with love most tender” He speaks to the Son, who in accepting the gift knows that he must empty himself (making space), suffer, and die.
The next lines pierce one’s heart with a truth that is found in all John’s writing; that of the humility of God in emptying himself, becoming “like the one he loves” to unite himself with his bride, taking on her sins, suffering and dying for them himself, in order to redeem her.
“In perfect love
this law obtains;
that the lover should become
like the one he loves;
for the greater the likeness
the greater the delight;
would increase greatly if she saw you like her
in that flesh which is hers.”
This moment, before the Incarnation that will occur, evokes the memory of the night of the Last Supper when Jesus in his agony prays, “Father, not my will but yours be done:”
“My will is yours”, the Son replied,
“and the glory which I have
is that your will be mine…”
Jesus, himself has made the space for the gift of redemption to be fulfilled in Him; willing his own suffering and death, and later, in His resurrection for the sake of his bride, enabling her to share in his risen life – so that the bridegroom and the bride will be one — as he and the Father are one.
“I will die for her,
And lifting her out of that deep,
I will restore her to you.”
The pattern of “the perfect love” is a sign for all today, where it is repeated in each soul within the Body of Christ. The “perfect love” is seen in the example of the Virgin Mary, when she offered her “Fiat,” and Jesus became Incarnate in her womb, and each day until the foot of the Cross and the tomb. Following her example, in total “yes” to God’s will, we can trust that Jesus will ultimately make the space in our own pain, emptiness and darkness for the gift of the Holy Spirit; so that Jesus will become incarnate in our souls; transforming in love the lover, who, in union with Jesus will also become “like the one he loves:” a likeness of Jesus — to the Glory of God the Father, who delights in seeing the image of His Son in the soul of “the bride.”