Wounded for Love

By Rev. Patrick J. Fiorillo

Each year as St. Valentine’s Day roles around, we’re all reminded of that chubby little boy carrying a bow and arrow named Cupid.  In classical mythology, he is portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars, making him the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection.  A person or deity shot by his arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire.  Cupid continued to be a popular figure in the Medieval Period, when under Christian influence, he acquired a dual nature as the meeting of heavenly and earthly love.  And thanks to the Renaissance artist, Caravaggio, Cupid also became associated with the famous motto from the Latin poet Virgil: Omnia vincit amor: et nos cedamus amori - Love conquers all, and so let us surrender ourselves to love.

I know this is not a wedding ceremony, and Valentine’s Day has long passed, but beneath the folklore and myth of Cupid lies a deeper truth about the nature of love.  Love, when it is experienced in its fullness from God, really has the power to wound us.  Many great saints have experienced this.  The most famous example is that of St. Teresa of Avila, a great mystic and doctor of the Church from 16th century Spain.  She herself experienced being wounded with an arrow of love.  This arrow was not from the pagan god Cupid, but from an angel of the true God.  Furthermore, St. Teresa was no young bachelorette being pursued by a handsome young man.  She was a Carmelite nun, so advanced in the spiritual life, that she reached what is called a state of spiritual marriage with God.  It began at one particular moment, which she describes thus:

I saw in [the angel’s] hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God.[1]

Teresa’s heart was utterly consumed with the love of God, to the point that it hurt.  It just so happens that after her canonization, St. Teresa’s heart was found to be incorrupt.  And in her heart was discovered a puncture wound from an arrow.

 

St Teresa of Avila.jpg

This moment in St. Teresa’s life captured the imagination of the Baroque sculptor, Bernini. His work, called “St. Teresa in Ecstasy,” stands today inside Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.  The sculpture powerfully illustrates St. Teresa’s description of the experience.

            In today’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48), we hear of yet another instance of the disciples’ disbelief in the Risen Lord.  They simply cannot wrap their heads around Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.  And so Jesus seeks to prove himself to them.  He accomplishes this not by performing another miracle or by engaging them in debate.  Instead Jesus shows the disciples his wounds: the nail marks in his flesh from his crucifixion.  One might naturally wonder why these wounds still remain in his risen, glorified body.  The reason is very significant: Jesus’s wounds are the visible marks of his love for us.  His five wounds are the places where his Precious Blood was poured out for the salvation of the world, and thus the channels through which his healing graces flow.  These visible marks ensure that even the glorious resurrection does not cover up the price of our redemption.

Just as Christ was wounded out of love for us, we can become wounded with his love.  Of course, as St. Teresa teaches us, it hurts.  But is not sacrifice to the point where it hurts the mark of true love in any relationship?  Christ loves you so much that it has left a permanent mark on his glorified body.  Think about that.  The human body of the Son of God is permanently wounded by his redeeming love for you.  Jesus therefore wants you to be wounded by his love as well.  This may seem intimidating, but it is the very type of love to which God calls us.  Being wounded with the love of God and sharing in Christ’s wounds is how we find healing in our own wounds caused by sin.  Most importantly, it how we discover the true love of God: the only love that is perfect, infinite, and ultimately satisfying.

A contemporary mystic who has published his prayer journal under the popular book, In Sinu Jesu, also records Jesus conveying these same ideas to him.  Inspired by this devotion to the wounds of Christ, the Benedictine monk composed this prayer for after Holy Communion, which I try to recite after each Mass:

O my beloved Jesus, living in me sacramentally at this moment, I adore Thee. I beg Thee, by means of my Guardian Angel’s good offices, to organize, order, and direct my day in every detail. Hold me fast in the embrace of Thy Divine Friendship; and let nothing separate my heart from Thine. Rather, wound my heart and then apply the wound in Thy Side to the wound in mine, so that nothing may hinder the transmission of Thy love, Thy life, and Thy light into every part of my soul.  Amen.

 

[1] St. Teresa’s spiritual companion, St. John of the Cross, predicted this in his own writings.  “It will happen that while the soul is inflamed with the Love of God, it will feel that a seraph is assailing it by means of an arrow or dart which is all afire with love. And the seraph pierces and in an instant cauterizes [burns] this soul, which, like a red-hot coal, or better a flame, is already enkindled. The soul is converted into an immense fire of Love. Few persons have reached these heights.”