I've been wrestling a lot in prayer with attachments to others and with relationships. And I've discovered that when it comes to loving others, there are two extremes: to be too attached to people or to be too afraid to be attached to people.
For most of my life, I lived in the first extreme. I cared far too much about what others thought about me, and I placed too much emphasis on my relationships with others and not enough on my relationship with Christ. My relationships, instead of leading me into greater holiness, detracted from my relationship with Him because I gave them a higher place in my heart than Him. There was always a certain grasping in these relationships: it seemed that no matter how much love these people showed me, I was always hungering for more, grasping for things that I didn't think they were giving me, expecting more than was reasonable from them.
But now that I've progressed a bit in the spiritual life, I find myself falling into the second extreme. Every time I feel a deep love stir in my heart for another person, I live in a state of fear that I'm falling back into that first extreme. So instead of examining this love or allowing it to grow, I try to squash it or run from it.
There's this relationship in my life right now that is extremely important to me. This person is a spiritual mentor to me, and she's teaching me so much about what it means to be a holy woman of God. She’s become such a big part of my heart that I can’t imagine my life without her in it.
And honestly? That terrifies me. I live in a state of fear that I'm too attached to her, that my love for her is unhealthy, that our relationship gets in the way of my relationship with God.
When I begin to feel this deep love for her rise up in my soul, my first instinct is to run. Squash it. Root it up out of my heart and throw it far from me. Because obviously this deep and incomprehensible love that I have for her isn't from God--it must be from my own grasping, my own brokenness, my own need that I'm grasping for her to fill.
In prayer, the Lord has been opening my heart more and more to the truth that He wants me to be in this relationship. He wants me to have this deep love for her. He wants to use her love to change me. He wants to use my love for her to soften both of our hearts to His love for us. Through her spiritual motherhood, He wants to teach me more about what it means to be a daughter. And through my spiritual daughterhood, He wants to teach her more about what it means to be a mother.
“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer … I give you a new commandment: love one another.” -John 13:33-34.
This is our faith, sisters. It is Incarnational -- He could have saved us in any way, but He chose to come in the Incarnation -- to come as a human person that we could see and touch, to use a human body as the instrument of our redemption. And He chooses to come to us physically in the Eucharist, to give us His Body and Blood in order to continually sanctify us and draw us closer to Him. And just as He wants us to encounter His love in His real presence in the Eucharist, so He uses others to bring us to a deeper encounter with Him.
Faith is not a solitary journey. It's not meant to be. Our God is a communion of persons -- three Persons, one God. And just as the Trinity exists in community, so are we meant to exist in community. We can't go it alone. We need others: friends, spouses, spiritual mentors, teachers, siblings, parents. And when I live my life in fear of being too attached to others, when I try to squash the love that stirs deep down in my soul for others, I miss out on the way that He wants to move through those relationships to transform my life.
Ultimately He is the only one that can fulfill all those desires that we feel so deeply, but that doesn't mean that others aren’t part of His plan to do that. He works through others to fulfill those desires.
And this relationship in my life? The love that stirs so deeply in my heart, a love that seems to reach into the abyss of my soul, a love that scares me and yet brings me an incredible amount of peace and joy--this is His love. I’m not capable of loving that deeply and selflessly on my own. This love flows from my love for Him. Because I love Him with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, I am free to truly love this beautiful and incredible spiritual mother of mine as myself. "Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God" (CCC 1878).
And the love that this spiritual mother has for me flows from His love. When she loves me, she is truly and freely loving me, but only because it is His love being poured out into her soul. He could fulfill my desires in any way, but He chooses to do it in an incarnational way--to use her love to show me how deeply He wants to fulfill my desires. When I think of this deep love that I have for so many in my life, I’m reminded of the quote from Les Mis: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Through my relationships, I see the love that God has for me.
Sisters, there is nothing wrong with desiring relationship. There is nothing wrong with desiring to be loved, affirmed, wanted, cherished by others. There's nothing wrong with being attached to others--as long as we're attached first and foremost to Him. When we set our sight on Christ and our focus on our relationship with Him, others are going to come into our lives. He's going to bring other people into our places of need, and He's going to use their love to change us and to show us His own love for us. And what a beautiful gift. What a blessing to know that we do not walk this journey alone, to know that a love that stirs so deeply in our souls is a participation in the love of Christ.
Be not afraid to love deeply, to seek relationship. Just remember that He loves us first and that He loves us most. When we allow this truth to be the penetrating force and guiding principle, we are truly free to love deeply and to love selflessly.
So here's to deeply loving others.
Catie Destatte is a senior Theology and Catechetics major. She has a passion for writing, Mama Mary, ministry to women, and evangelization. Her life motto is Totus Tuus Maria, and she tries to live that out in her every moment. After graduation, Catie will be serving as a missionary on a college campus with St. Paul's Outreach. You can find out more about her here.