“He has remembered his mercy and faithfulness toward the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God” (Ps 98:3).
When we look at all of salvation history as an adventurous love story, our whole perspective changes. Since the garden, God has chased after humanity again and again. He is the lover always searching for the heart of the beloved (Songs 7:11). He has made covenant after covenant. And we — the human race — failed to keep his promises with faith.
That was until, of course, Jesus came to save us. And we know the story well, don’t we? This new eternal covenant was, is and ever will be unbreakable by his obedience unto death. Jesus was faithful to the will of God the Father by his obedience and love for us. Even if the Father’s children had betrayed him in the past, he still wanted to save them and his children to come.
But God doesn’t stop there. Jesus, because all power had been given to him, does not measure out the gift of the Spirit. This means that, by grace, we have the capacity to love as he loves. The Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son that was not only poured out to the apostles, but continues to overflow in our hearts today whenever we ask for him.
God has never, even for a moment, failed to be a faithful lover. And when we look through this broad lens of salvation history, we can easily forget that God has been faithful to each of us in a unique way throughout our lives. To you. To me.
But are we always faithful to him?
Let’s be honest with ourselves — the truth is that it’s easy to remember the faithfulness of God as long as we have tangible signs of his goodness. When we first begin our faith journey, the Lord floods our souls with grace and consolations. The sweet tastes of heaven are signs to us that he is real and has a radical love for us. And it is easy for us to respond with praise and thanksgiving because we are receiving those true, immediate gratifications.
Then, something happens. When God seems to leave us or remove his presence, it all changes. In times of trouble and spiritual darkness, it becomes more difficult to make those acts of faith, hope and love.
Carmelite reformer, mystic and Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), sheds light on this common situation in which souls find themselves. She was a normal woman like you and me, and she understood an incredible depth and complexity to the spiritual life. But St. Teresa wasn’t always a faithful lover.
For the first 20 years of her life, St. Teresa willingly admits to a half-hearted spirituality. Even when she entered the relaxed convent at 21 years old, she attended to her social life and neglected convent disciplines like contemplative prayer. After a prolonged illness forced her to remain in solitude and silence for almost three years at around 40 years old, she was removed from worldly noise and entered into the mysteries of God. It was here that her eyes were opened to the true fidelity of God, and she was able to respond to him with her whole heart.
One of St. Teresa of Avila’s great works after her awakening is “The Interior Castle.” In this guidebook of spiritual theology, we are given rich insight on how a soul moves through different dwelling places of the Lord’s castle. Each subsequent room leads the soul deeper into the heart of the castle, that is, the King of Kings’ dwelling place.
Throughout her writing, she acknowledges that being faithful to God on our journey to heaven isn’t easy. Although she sheds light of the great joys of the pilgrimage, she also writes about the great trials that accompany it. St. Teresa writes:
“This treatment will be a great mortification to her: Our Lord tests her love for him by the way in which she bears his absence.”
She acknowledges that a relationship with God does not consist of constant ecstasies and consolations in prayer. Although these are beautiful and true gifts from God that benefit the soul, so, too, does the removal of his presence give benefit.
St. Teresa’s words, or rather, the words of the Holy Spirit, speak straight to my heart whenever I read this. Quite frankly, whenever the Lord seems absent from me, I become a whiny baby. It becomes difficult to find motivation to pray. It becomes difficult to be joyful. It becomes difficult to love. When a soul experiences true love himself, what was once skipping through a field of wildflowers with the Lord of heaven now feels like spending the day watching paint dry.
How well do you bear the Lord’s absence? When he seems to leave, what do you do? Do you quit praying? Do you get frustrated? I’ve been there, and I get it.
But our God is a faithful God. Even if I can’t feel him around, he awaits me all day long to come to him in prayer and still provides me with unfathomable amounts of grace to get me through my day. Even if I forget to pray or even turn my back on him, he will never turn his back on me.
Just like any good Father, sometimes he lets us toddlers go when we are learning how to walk. At first, we feel him by our side when we ditch all-fours. He holds us and stabilizes our balance. With his help, our bodies slowly build up the muscles and develop motor skills to move one foot after the other. Then he lets go. And it is for our good.
My love for God is not contingent on how I feel when the Lord gives me gifts of consolation or joys. It is meant to be so much more. I have to admit that my love is weak, and I need him to help me grow.
To be a faithful lover is to not forget the ways my beloved has chased after me even before I existed. To be a faithful lover is to be grateful for all of the ways my beloved has fought for me and cared for me. To be a faithful lover is to love him, even when he seems far away.
St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!
If you want to learn more about what St. Teresa of Avila has to say in “The Interior Castle,” you can purchase it from OSV’s online bookstore. Sign up for Radiant newsletters to get a 25% off discount!