“We love, because he first loved us.”
—1 John IV.19
The truest intimacy possible on this side of paradise is the intimacy of the soul with God. From it and only through this intimacy is it possible for us to know intimacy with one another. To truly know another is to love them. This love is a love that exceeds human categories of sexual pleasure, privilege, and bodily offerings. There is more to the human being than the goodness of the body. Each person possesses a soul, marked for eternity, made for transcendent glory.
The allurements of the world and of the flesh seduce us. The body, created good, works this way. Human attraction, a morally neutral reality, works to bring men and women together in an intimacy that is both bodily and spiritual, and this is a true good. On the other hand, seduction — from the Latin sed-ducere, “to lead to one against”, or “lead one away”, often has the violent character of inordinate possessiveness; a fettering effect which corresponds to inordinate loves and passions. Only authentic love which aims to offer itself for the flourishing and highest good of the beloved — their temporal happiness and eternal salvation — stands apart from the sexual greed of seduction and from the overpowering constraints of lust, and is itself both free and liberating.
This distinction is critical in an age where seduction is understood as the primary language love speaks. We almost expect to be seduced by another in order to gauge the authenticity of their love. The passions rule our intellect. The converse mistake is often prevalent: at times we presume the other will seduce us, and out of fear we become cold and distant, incapable of trust in our own insecurity, presuming failure in ourselves or the other, and are finally impaired from living in the freedom that defines authentic and virtuous human friendship and love.
Though not a merely modern language and modern challenge — after all, reciprocated seduction traces its roots to the Garden of Eden — modern forms of seduction have a particularly pernicious nature. They no longer seek simply to know presumed goods which turn out great evils as did Adam and Eve in their primordial curiosity; they also bind people to the lies that are believed true about love, about the body, about human sexuality, so much so that it becomes harder and harder to extricate ourselves from curious attractions turned addictions. This ageless phenomenon reveals itself in all aspects of human life, but most especially in and through human affection as this is expressed with our bodies.
Tragically, the human body has become a means of bartering. The cheapening of the human body shows us how much we have forgotten of our dignity and of our destiny.
The objectification of the body for pleasure cheapens the person, rendering the body damaged goods to be disposed of at will, and allowing persons use each other. This reality has immense consequences for the way men and women relate to one another, and whether or not they ever develop healthy and normative capacities for intimacy and authentic love.
At the heart of this abuse of the integrity of the body — of its flesh and soul unity — is a lack of reverence for the holiness of the other. Likewise, and conversely it is the goodness of the other that attracts deeply. When reverence is lacking, we simply manipulate the other and consume them to satisfy cravings for power, or pleasure. When reverence is present, attraction becomes the binding force for the good of friendship: that first and critical step to love, for it allows us to discover in the other what is most true about them, what is noble and good, as we increasingly gaze upon and begin to love the image of God that they are.
Seduction either rules us or must be conquered and transformed in us. There is little room for a middle way. In its varied manifestations, seduction cages the soul and binds its capacity to alight to higher goods. Its violence crushes the hidden delicacy of the soul, imprisoning it. Yet grace, invisible but mighty, sustains the integrity of our being—it seeks union and pours in us the gifts God lavishes. The tension is felt intimately. As a flame in the wind struggles to remain lighted, so also the soul struggles to correspond to the graces available to it as it is besieged by the winds of lower loves. The light and power of grace allow the ascent of love, permitting the embrace between creature and Creator with each triumph over the inclinations of our wounded condition. The allurements of the flesh keep it earthbound and paralyze.
The Christian message of hope — a message of stark contrast to the allurements of the world — is grounded in the reality that the human heart is made for more, that the human body is made for more, that the rational soul desires more and will not rest until it finds its way to God. The arduous journey to beatitude is a love story — one marked by loneliness and companionship, by attraction and affection, by anger and joy, by betrayal and salvation.
We stand at the gates of the Temple of Paradise each day of our lives on earth. Yet all around the temple gate, vendors are hawking cheap goods. We need to pass through the throng of merchants of pleasure to access the Tabernacle that is holy.
Christ lamented the way the house God had become a den of thieves. Each soul is a house of God, made for intimacy with him, consecrated in Baptism, reserved by the sacred bonds of vows, elevated by the grace of the Sacraments, yet also besieged by the thievery of the world aiming to make cheap gains at its gates.
The coins Christ scatters off counters as He processes through the eminent portico of Solomon remind us of the ever tragic squandering of grace. He saw from those hallowed foyers His own Blood, falling from His Body before a cold and hardened people who sold animals for sacred rites and yet would soon crucify him. Vending lambs for sacrifice, they failed to see the One passing through the gates who would Himself be the sacrifice to ransom their souls at great cost. Seduced by the material prescriptions of the Law, they missed its eternal significance and its incarnate manifestation. He placed himself among them as the Crucified in a paradise lost, reclaiming Eden from the evil and seduction that had filled it.
The exchange between temptation and grace, death and life, love and loss, is made true is His own flesh and blood. He who came to fulfill the desire of the ages, would bestow upon a longing world “the kiss of his mouth” (cf. Canticle of Canticles, 1.2) and pledge His flesh in sacrifice. He came among a people in time, in His body, to salvage the souls of the just from the thievery of power and pleasure, from the thievery of sexual objectification, from the thievery of burdens too heavy to carry which He replaced with the yoke of love that is easy and the burden that is light.
Upon my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
“I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me,
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
—Canticle of Canticles, III.1-3
The disfiguring allurements of the material world beckon endlessly. So strong is the noise of the crowd that we lose sight of Him and find Him not among the clamoring of passion, and pride, and selfish lust.
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
He likewise calls out – a call of predilection in reply to the silent cry of the soul which seeks rest in the nights of the world’s despair. With the gentleness of love that is tenderly human and powerfully divine, he walks about the city — in the streets and in the squares — and seeking the lost, calls forth souls into the Fathers House, into His own Heart, drawing them apart from the masses to discover and believe once more in a Love that illumines the night.
The story of Redemption is a love story wherein we are seduced by grace.
We beg to know:“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” And in the very seeking we discover “We love because he first loved us”.
God lavishes to replenish what we squander and to supply what we ache for. He comes to love firstly, madly, and by the justice of His love, the Lord of the Temple effects the consecration of man to the Savior’s own Heart. He comes jealously for His Beloved — for souls that need desperately to be salvaged lest they become fodder for the preying ways of the world.
Christ’s anger at the temple gates is nothing less than a mad love: a reclaiming of what is wasted to apply it rightly. He restores the orientation of human love, and refashions a new sacrifice fitting to the glory of His creation, of His divine image, of His Eternal Word.
For each human heart that stands at the temple gate to make sacrifice, the Lord passes by to toss the coins that barter cheap exchanges and clears a straight path towards that offering of the heart that restores the tragic loss of squandered grace. In our frail attempts at love, we are seduced by the temporal pleasures of bodily delights. Christ wants us for Himself, wants to give Himself to us. He reverses the dark power of lustful seduction and transforms it into union.
Was Christ any less consecrated to God, because he loved us in his humanity, with His body?
If this is the way God loves, madly, freely in the flesh, in his own Son, we are also to fulfill our consecrations and love as madly and as freely. The call of Christian hope, the consecration of our Baptism, the endless longing of the human heart, made to know and love Him requires no less.
“Every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure”
—1 John, III.1
Herein is the confidence we seek, patterned after Christ Himself, and his mad love of us. It is a confidence in the power of grace by which each person is perfected in the intimacy of love which does not lessen the divine, does not trade off God, but rather elevates the weakness we know in flesh as it divinizes the human.
Human affection, given and received, thus becomes the correspondence to the love of Christ Himself, a participation in the divine intimacy, the divine profundity of love given in abundance, drenched in mercy, abiding in hope, never failing, always sustaining and progressing heavenward. Celibate or spousal, it remains chaste by the power of Love that transcends and perfects human weakness as it assumes it fully — a love that reveals the power of God to man — an incarnate love that makes possible for us to delight in “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious” (cf. Philippians, 4.8).
The mystery of human love implies a sacramental nature where the eternal longing becomes union, pure and undefiled, because it is purified in the purity of the One who is one with the Father. It is modeled on the union of love of the Trinity, and on the creative power of God who “ordains all things for the good of those who love him” (cf. Romans 8.28).
Our participation in this mystery allows us entry in to the superabundance of the holy of holies, where there can be no waste, no squandering of the sacrificial love of God. To understand this is to enter the mystery of divine love deeply and to be transformed by it, such that each human action and each of our affections takes on a sacred form, and rests in the peace of Truth.
The nature of the union between humanity and divinity likewise conforms to the deepest truth about ourselves— a correspondence with lavished graces that replenish in us what we lose through the wounds of sin—a restoration whereby “Having purified our souls by our obedience to the truth, we can love one another earnestly from the heart” (cf. 1 Peter I.22).
The gates of heaven are the feet of Christ. The temple gates have been cleared. Christ has passed by. The losses have been paid for in His blood. The Cross becomes the scale of grace whereon the goods of heaven are poured over the debts of the flesh, and human life is restored to freedom and returned to the peace of Eden.
In a reversal of offerings, the nard once poured over the feet of Christ is lavished now on us. Blessed the soul that shatters to receive it! Transformed in its delight, it finds itself forgiven by Love at the feet of the Saviour! Blessed, is the sacred Love that burns this way for souls and purifies! Blessed, the desire of God that does not cease! Blessed, is the soul that seeks to see His face! And the body that longs for true delight and peace!
My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God.
Seduced by grace we transcend the limitations of the flesh and ascend heavenward. No longer are we fettered by the inordinate possessiveness of lust, seduced by the peddling of the world’s imperfect loves, but ascend the ever perfecting way of Eternal Love, of divine intimacy, receiving from the springs of salvation what has been set aside for us from the foundation of the world.
Such is delight that awaits those who live the fullness of Christian freedom. “Because He first loved us” (1 John IV.19), we are indeed led away by grace to behold the face of God.
The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
—Canticle of Canticles II.8,10
Behold, He comes! He who is the Advent of our peace.
… “Arise, and come away”
You may reach Maria Grizzetti at IncarnationandModernity@gmail.com