We all have a sense that love is meant to be beautiful, splendid, amazing, but how often our expectations are let down. The fact is that love is frequently a worn out word and a confused concept. Then we find ourselves on our wedding day saying we are going to love our spouse for our whole life. Is faithful love possible? Can it be for real? Maybe true love is just a fairy tale after all.
In the past few months these questions about love have filled my mind and heart as I prepare to make my perpetual profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Can I really be faithful to our Lord for my whole life? Will this life fill my heart to the brim? What do I make of love for a God I cannot see or touch? For all of us, discovering love is the central problem of our lives; love lies at the heart of all the other struggles we face.
Rembrandt’s striking painting The Jewish Bride offers us a glimpse of the love we seek. Here we find a stunning reaffirmation that love is real, that love is possible. We enter a moving scene, perhaps after all the wedding celebrations. The newlyweds are finally alone, just before their first intimate encounter. With a tender, pure gaze the husband is absorbed in his wife, as she wonderingly ponders the significance of her total response to his total self-giving. Love freely given and love freely received. A precious and intimate moment has been revealed, that first expression of total self-giving to the one whom we love with our whole heart—a moment so longed for and forever remembered.
This love and self-giving of a husband and wife is a beautiful expression of the reality of love that God is calling all of us to. God is placing one hand tenderly on our shoulder and the other gently over our hearts, ready to give all of himself to us just the way we are, asking for our whole self in return. Contemplate for a moment what this response entails as your hand meets his over your heart. “Do I trust him enough to put all my cares, desires and hopes in him?” This is the relationship that will fill our hearts beyond all measure in heaven.
This is the very moment where I find myself before my religious profession. The love totally given and totally received in marriage shows me what my relationship with God is all about. At the same time, my relationship with God as a consecrated soul is meant to be a sign for all men and woman—an image of that love we all long for and which we will receive fully in heaven. Love discovered and always new, when we can truly say, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song 6:3)