Part II of this Contemplative Study is from section one of Searching for and Maintaining Peace: "Interior Peace: The Road to Saintliness," part two "Interior Peace and Apostolic Fruitfulness."
We've probably all heard of that cliche which goes, "you must love yourself first in order to love someone else." And I always understood the basic premise of that, but I also always kind of rejected it. And I think I rejected it because it sounded selfish; however, I think I can understand the nuance more than I could before. I think part of the problem is that the English word, Love, is so convoluted and multivalent. It means a lot of things it shouldn't be used for, in my opinion.
By loving oneself before loving others, we do not mean that one should be in love with oneself. Rather, we mean that one must understand his or her own dignity in the sight of the Lord; he or she must be able to be able to make a gift of oneself freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. In short, one must understand Agape (the love of God) and know it, before being it for someone else.
It is along these lines that Fr. Philippe discusses the necessity of interior peace as a means of fruitful apostolic works. I must push myself to understand fruitfulness more broadly; for, in this time, fruitfulness means to have children. But I know the Lord requires other fruits of us--and the fruit we bear must be the good fruit, the wheat, and not the chaff.
"the peace of which we speak is that of the Gospels; it has nothing to do with any type of impassivity, extinction of sensitivity, cold indifference or being wrapped up in oneself...rather it is the necessary corollary of love, of a true sensitivity to the sufferings of others and of authentic compassion."
While, intellectually, I can understand this argument, and agree with it, I do wonder about cases such as Mother Teresa's and my own, in which--in the midst of great suffering and perceived distance from God--we must still minister to others and make faithful action, despite the darkness we feel. Mother Teresa felt, so often, and for such long periods, a great sense of the "dark night of the soul." And it is exactly that to which I liken my own experience (our next contemplative study will, in fact, be on St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul). I have to admit that this darkness is anything but peaceful. The distance is utterly frightening. The absence is infuriating. And yet, I must go on. I must pursue good works as acts of faith. By pushing on through my grief, I make an act of faith. By continuing to receive the sacraments, and by refusing to stop going to Mass, by going to confession, and by forcing my tongue to say the chaplet or the rosary, I am making acts of faith. Because those things are difficult. Those small actions are sometimes all I can bear in my pain. Bigger things, like holding a friend's baby while she uses the restroom, buying gifts for my expecting friends, these are acts of faith. And, while I'm not at peace--no where near peace interiorly--I must do these things to prove to myself, and perhaps even God--though He knows all things--that I remain faithful to Him.
And so, what does this passage mean to me? Must I be at peace within my own heart in order to serve the Lord fruitfully? I'm not sure. I do know there is nothing more that I want right now, than to be at peace and to be confident in God's love for me. Maybe, in my conviction and stubborn love for God, in my refusal to be unfaithful to Him, even in the trenches of this suffering, maybe I am more at peace than I know.