In the Old Testament there is a little book tucked away in the Wisdom literature. Hardly anyone knows about it. Certainly very few people have read it. It is called, “Song of Songs,” or “Canticle of Canticles,” or “Song of Solomon.” We will be shocked when we read it because it is nothing but graphic, passionate, earthy love poetry. It describes vividly the physical yearnings and longings of the beloved for the lover and the lover for the beloved. We may wonder how such a book could find a legitimate place within the Canon of the Bible. The answer is simple. By including it as the Word of God, the Church tells us that within the context of the committed relationship called marriage, physical intimacy is a gift given to the couple by the creator to strengthen their bond.
Certain saints and theologians have viewed this book as an allegory for the mystical relationship between the soul and the Lord. We are the beloved and God is our lover. St Bernard develops this theme in his commentary on the “Song of Songs.” It is he who applies many of the passages in the book to Mary, the Mother of God. The passionate love described in the book is fully realized, according to St Bernard, in the special relationship that exists between Mary and the Trinity.
Such a passionate relationship existed in the lives of certain saints. Their mystical experiences were outward manifestations of this unique passionate love. For instance, St Teresa of Avila experienced such love for Jesus. In the American parish in Rome, Santa Susanna, there hangs a painting by the Italian artist, Caravaggio, entitled “The Ecstasy of St Teresa.” The saint is in ecstasy as she lovingly gazes on the crucifix. The longing in her eyes is undeniable.
Such passion is evident also in the life of St Augustine. In his Confessions, he writes:
Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new!
Late have I loved you.
And behold, You were within, and I without,
and without I sought you.
And deformed I ran after these forms of beauty you have made.
You were with me, and I was not with you;
Those things held me back from you,
things whose only being was to be in you.
You called, you cried; and you broke through my deafness.
You blazed; you shone; and you chased away my blindness.
You became fragrant; and I inhaled and sighed for you.
I tasted and now hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me, and I burned for your embrace.
This sense of longing for God is found not only in the Song of Songs. It is found also in the Psalms. In Psalm 42, the psalmist prays: “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”
Unfortunately we have lost the passion as we relate to God. We have forgotten that it is because of His romance that God loves us in spite of our sins. His love is a given. We are incapable of meriting His love. It is a gift given to us without our deserving it. Sadly we view our relationship as one between a Father or Mother, and children. We are always trying to win the approval of our parents and we think that we should do the same with God. Instead we need to look on God as our Divine Lover and allow ourselves to fall in love with Him.
It is in this spirit that we have chosen the theme for our advent season. It is taken from the Opening Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent. Here is the theme for this advent: “Increase our longing for Christ, our Savior.” Everything we do should be geared towards increasing our longing for the Savior. We need to fan the flames of passion.
We cannot remain in the realm of duties and obligations. We need to do everything out of love. A husband may say to his wife, “Honey, I know it is my duty to talk to you. So let us sit down for fifteen minutes and let us talk.” His wife would then respond, “Get away from me. I don’t want you to talk to me because it is your duty. I want you to talk to me because you love talking to me.”
How do we increase our longing for Christ, our Savior? We need to discover how this God has loved us first. In his First Letter, St John writes: “This is the love of God – not our love for God but God’s love for us, Who loved us first and gave us His only Son.” Once we realize how much we have been loved, our longing for Him will automatically grow. Let us then spend this Advent meditating on all the ways this God has loved us – personally, concretely, and intimately.
Let us seek the help of Mary and Joseph who longingly awaited the birth of the Savior. Have a beautiful, refreshing Advent season!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...