Love your difficult neighbours
We do not always find it easy and straightforward to love people who are next to us. We are not alone with this challenge. St Teresa, the Little Flower, admitted she needed to work on this area. She writes: “A sister in the community had the gift of irritating me in everything she did” At that time Teresa had already passed through the first stage of deep purifications, which means she already lived largely in accordance with every virtue – theological as well as cardinal and moral. Yet, everything about that sister irritated our Little Saint: her character, her mannerisms, and her words.
What can we learn from St Teresa in relation to love our difficult neighbours, and be admitted to those who conquer the Kingdom of God?
1. We need to desire God and go through the fist deep purifications (The Collected Works of St John of the Cross, The Dark Night)
2. We need to do everything to be just and see beyond what is hurtful. St Teresa says: “Nevertheless, I am referring to a nun who must be very agreeable to God.”
3. We need to do everything to see our neighbours in the same way as God sees them, and yet to admire God who dwells in them: “does not every artist enjoy having his work admired? Similarly, the divine Artist of souls, is equally pleased when we do not restrict our observations to the outside but penetrate into the intimate sanctuary where He has chosen to dwell, in order to admire its beauty”.
4. To build all over the certainty that our admiration of God in a soul of our difficult neighbour is an act of worship of God: “I was certain that this pleased Jesus greatly”
5. To distinguish between our emotional and natural inclinations from acts of our soul, super-natural actions. St Teresa was able to see that “Struggling not to succumb to the natural aversion I felt, I told myself that charity does not depend so much on feelings, but on deeds; I decided, therefore, to treat this nun the way I would have treated the person most dear to me. Every time I met her, I prayed to God for her, offering Him all her virtues and merits”.
6. When we find the situation too difficult, it is enough to escape into prayer than to be affected by an act of not loving. “Often, when the devil violently tempted me, and I could not deal with it without her (the nun) noticing my interior struggle, I would escape like a deserter in the army”.
7. To learn to be discreet and to tell others what irritates us. “Since she had no idea of my feelings towards her, she did not suspect the motives for my behaviour and she remained convinced that I found her personality very appealing. One day, during recreation, she approached me with a delighted look on her face and said: ‘Tell me, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, what is it that you find so attractive about me, because every time I meet you you always smile so graciously?’ It was Jesus concealed in the depths of her soul who attracted me … Jesus who makes the bitterest things sweet … I told her that I smiled because I was glad to see her (naturally I did not say that this was from a spiritual point of view)”. When you smile with sincerity at someone whom you do not naturally get on with, you smile at Christ.