[Repost from 2016]
I have been reading through old letters on the weekend recently. So grateful I have saved so many. My spiritual director, whom I so often refer to here, wrote me a number of letters. There is one from the summer of 1992, when I was working in a factory, that I just had to share. The letter was in response to a phone conversation I had had with him, in which I (evidently) mentioned an incident to him where I thought I had been unfairly criticized by a supervisor at work. He wrote me the letter a few days after the conversation with some reflections, as he would always do after we had a session.
I’ll excerpt here a part, which came right after some excellent advice he shared on handling conflict in general. I will write it out like a poem, because of its beauty. The message of ”keep your spiritual life connected to real life” was really his anthem in general, here just applied sharply to this incident. How I loved this man those years he was my mentor!
…I’m so glad you are feeling
so close to the Lord these days. Good!
But let me ask, what good does it do
to tell God with great devotion
that you love him, as you said,
if at a criticism from someone
you bristle in offence
and at once seem to completely forget
that these situations are the very means
by which God waits on your love for Him?
Don’t say, ‘O God I love you!’
‘O God, help me love you!’
Just like you don’t say
‘See Father, I’m doing your will!’
Rather, you pray: ‘Please Father, Thy will be done!’
Just remember every day
God spoils you with endless
opportunities to love Him
in those who grate on you, like Mr. Martin.
He also referenced God the Father’s words to St. Catherine of Siena, which he first introduced to me when we first started meeting together in 1989:
I ask you to love me with same love with which I love you.
But for me you cannot do this,
for I love you without being loved.
Whatever love you have for me you owe me,
so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty,
while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously.
So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you.
This is why I have put you among your neighbors:
so that you can do for them
what you cannot do for me–that is, love them
without any concern for thanks
and without looking for any profit for yourself.
And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me.
So your love should be sincere.
You should love your neighbors
with the same love with which you love me.
Do you know how you can tell
when your spiritual love is not perfect?
If you are distressed when it seems
that those you love are not returning your love
or not loving you as much as you think you love them.
Or if you are distressed when it seems to you
that you are being deprived of their company or comfort,
or that they love someone else more than you.
From these and from many other things
you should be able to tell if your love for me
and for your neighbors is still imperfect
and that you have been drinking from your vessel
outside of the fountain [of my love],
even though your love was drawn from me.
+ + +
Incidentally, at the end of the letter from my director, he added: “Remember my words, that your litmus for growth is always humility. How do you deal with criticism? Value it as much as praise.”