In one of his reflections on the Song of Songs in the Theology of the Body series general audiences (June 6, 1984), St. John Paul II elaborates on the nature of human and divine love. It is entitled, “Love Is Ever Seeking and Never Satisfied,” a title we can all relate to. We live in the desire of love and as believers we have encountered human and divine love, yet we remain on a journey that will only find rest in the next life. As the Song of Songs reflects on the image of spousal love, we can find corollaries in the love of friendship and in the longing of the Church, Christ’s bride, for fulfillment.
In this Sunday’s readings, there is a tension between completeness and incompleteness. The Twelve disciples are an incomplete unit. The betrayal and death of their brother Judas has left them seeking another to fulfill the brotherhood initiated and commissioned by Jesus. One can only imagine their personal distress that this brother and friend on their journey with Jesus ended up fulfilling the worst possible prophecy, “the son of destruction” Jesus mentions in his prayer the night he was betrayed (Jn 17:12). Yet this gap must be filled, to fulfill a prophecy that overcomes this void, “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: May another take his office” (Acts 1:20). Peter entrusts this discernment to God who “who know the hearts of all” and knows whom He has chosen.
There is a tension as well in the prayer of Jesus between this life and the next; earth and heaven; agony and ecstasy. Jesus perfectly loves and obeys the Father; he beholds the Father and receives every word and action from Him because he has entrusted Himself completely to the Father’s will; He and the Father are one. Yet, Jesus demonstrates the longing we can all relate to — our lives of faith are still aching to be immersed in the glory that awaits us; until he has completed His passion and resurrection, his journey is incomplete.
Returning to the relationship between spouses, earthly marriage is always a tension between lovers. Spouses desire the other, yet God has revealed that He is the bridegroom of our souls. The love of spouses is a mere reflection of — and a participation in — the totality of our longing for God. The union of hearts and the consummation of love in the covenant of marriage bring consolation to the ache of Adam’s original loneliness and solitude before the creation of Eve, but never fully satisfy the longings for love. We remain seekers on a journey: “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my lover — What shall you tell him? that I am faint with love” (Sg 5:9).
For St. John Paul, the mutual attraction of man and woman, body and soul, results in a mutual discovery that both satisfy the other and both long for one greater than they. In experiencing each other’s nearness, spouses “ceaselessly continue to tend toward something” (sic). This desire awakens the heart of each to a search for more: “This aspiration, born of love on the basis of the language of the body, is a search for integral beauty, for purity that is free of all stain. It is a search for perfection that contains, I would say, the synthesis of human beauty, beauty of soul and body.”
With this life marked by a restlessness that will never be satisfied, what is our response to the powerlessness we experience in this desire beyond our control to satisfy? St. John Paul II warns us against the desire to dominate—a likely motivation of Judas to take control and reject the patience required for the Father’s will to unfold in its proper time.
Rather, in today’s readings, when there is darkness and uncertainty, Peter demonstrates the virtues we need: trust and abandonment. Peter, even before the coming of the Spirit, has experienced the mercy of Jesus after his resurrection. In his poverty to know whom God has chosen to replace Judas, Peter entrusts himself and the outcome of this discernment to the Lord who has already chosen a successor. Peter trusts the witness of Scripture, and understanding that has been strengthened by Jesus after his resurrection (Lk 24:45).
We are on a journey with a heart that is restless, a love that is never satisfied. May we too entrust the discernment of how God is calling us to seek greater love with total trust and abandonment. Even after Matthias is added to the Twelve; even after a young man or woman in discernment finds his or her vocation, we must still lead one another to the eternal love that alone satisfies.
Father Kevin McQuone was ordained in 2010 for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. He serves as the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Panama City, Florida. He has attended several Theology of the Body Institute courses as a student and chaplain.