For, if, when He tells us what we must do in order to be perfect, we turn our backs upon Him and go away sorrowfully, like the young man in the Gospel, what do you expect His Majesty to do, for the reward which He is to give us must of necessity be proportionate with the love that we bear Him? And this love, daughters, must not be wrought in our imagination but must be proved by works. (Teresa of Avila: Third Mansions: Chapter One)
Teresa continues her commentary on well-ordered souls who cultivate virtue, but do not follow Christ. They are like the young man in the gospel story who “keeps the commandments” but goes away sorrowful when asked to do something. These individuals tend to complain of aridity. They expect reward for their well-ordered spiritual life even though they do not do what Jesus asks them to do. Cultivating virtue is good, but we must also respond in obedience. And this obedience demonstrates our love.
In John 14.21 Jesus says, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” From this verse we learn four principles of love:
- Love and keeping the commandments are inextricably connected. If, in an effort to “keep a commandment”, we take unloving action, we do not properly understand the commandment.
- The commandments give love definition. Without this definition we reduce “love” to sentimentality. Teresa says “love . . . must not be wrought in our imagination but must be proved by works.” Some task-oriented people get a “bad rap” because they manage relationships by task lists and calendars. But at least they take action. Others drool sentimentality without follow-up. They get people to feel good in the moment but that’s about it.
- The Trinity expresses love to those who practice love and keep His commandments: “those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them.” Teresa’s says, “the reward which He is to give us must of necessity be proportionate with the love that we bear Him”.
- By practicing love and keeping the commandments we receive revelation: “I will . . . reveal myself to them.”
We do not get a rule-book or a policy manual for the spiritual life. Instead, we merge several activities: We listen to Jesus, we keep the commandments, we take loving action, we engage the Trinity, and we receive revelation. Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”