Virtuous Friendship

Virtuous Friendship

The Way of Perfection is a highly detailed guide to approaching the Lord through higher and higher degrees of meditative prayer and contemplation, written by the queen among the saints of meditation. This excerpt compiles St. Teresa’s counsel on cultivating virtuous friendships.

Detachment From Worldly Validation

It seems to me that when God has clearly shown the soul what this world is, and that another world exists, and how different the two are—how that one is eternal while the other is but a dream—when the difference is seen between loving the Creator or the creature (which can only be found out by experience, not by holding a mere idea or opinion on the matter but by perceiving and proving what is gained by the one and lost by the other); when the soul understands what the Creator is and what the creature, with many other truths which our Lord manifests with certainty and conviction to those who seek to learn from Him in prayer, or to whom He chooses to reveal these verities—then that soul loves in a way very different from ours, who have not advanced thus far. 

It may seem needless to you, my sisters, to speak of this. You will say you know it already. God grant you do; that you know it practically; that it is graven in your hearts, so that you never forget it even for so short a time as a ‘Memento’. If you know it, you will see that I speak the truth in saying that souls which God has drawn so far feel such a love. 

These are generous, noble spirits who are not content with loving anything so wretched as a mortal body, whatever beauties and attractions it may possess: that is, with a love that dominates and enslaves them. Though the sight gives them pleasure, and they praise the Creator for it, yet as for dwelling on such qualities—no! I mean by souls ‘dwelling’ on them that they should love any one for such things, for this would seem to them loving a nothingness, a shadow: they would feel such shame as not to dare afterwards, without horrible confusion, to tell God that they loved Him. 

The Dangers Of Shallow Love

Notice, that when we wish for any one’s love, it is always for the sake of self-interest or pleasure: those who are perfect, however, have so trodden underfoot all worldly goods, delights, and joys, that, even if they wished, as we might say, they could care for nothing outside God and speaking to others about Him; therefore what gain can human love bring them? They cease to care for it, realizing this truth so clearly that they laugh at the thought of how anxious they used to be as to whether their affections were returned or no; for pure as our love may be, it is natural to wish for it to be repaid. 

Yet this repayment is but a thing of straw, an airy nothing, blown to and fro by the wind, for after we have been dearly loved, what remains to us? Therefore perfect souls care nothing whether they are cherished or no, except it be by those who can profit them, as I said; for human nature quickly tires of helping those we do not care for. 

Do you fancy such hearts can love or think of none except God alone? Indeed they love others far more, with a truer, more generous, and intense affection. In a word, this is true love. These souls are ever more ready to give than to receive, even with their Creator. This, I say, merits the name of love, for all other base affections have but usurped the title. 

Supernatural Friendship

You may wonder, if such persons do not love what they see, what it is that they love. They do love what they see, and are drawn by what they hear, but what they see and hear is what is stable. If they care for any one, they do not arrest their eyes on the body but at once look into the soul to see if it contains aught they can love, or if not, whether it has germs or inclinations which show that, by digging deep enough they will find gold within the mine; loving this soul, no trouble wearies them, no service is too hard for them willingly to render it, for they wish their affection for it to last, which they know is impossible unless their friend possesses virtue and the love of God. 

I say it is impossible, though the other should render them immense services and even seek to die for them, and if she should do them every kindness in her power: though she should possess every natural attraction yet they could not force their wills to love her nor to remain attached to her. They know, and have learnt by experience, what these are worth, and cannot be cheated with false coin: seeing that their minds are not in unison they cannot continue to love her, for if their friend does not love God nor keep His law, they fear their attachment must end with this life and they will go to different regions. 

These souls in which our Lord has instilled true wisdom hold the affection which ends in this world no higher than its proper value—indeed, they hold it cheaper! To those who care for worldly things, such as pleasure, honour, and riches, it is of some worth if their friend be wealthy for the sake of the gaiety and amusement he provides. Those who have spurned such things beneath their feet care little or nothing for such friendships. If they have any affection for such a one, it is a longing to bring her soul to love God so that they themselves can love her, for, as I said, they realize that no other sort of fondness can last but will cost them dear. 

Therefore they make every effort to benefit their friend and would lose a thousand lives to help her in the least. O priceless love, thus imitating the Captain of all love, Jesus, our only good!

This article is taken from a chapter in The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila which is available from TAN Books



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