"In my chest full of flowers, Flowering wholly and only for Him, There He remained sleeping; I cared for Him there, And the fan of the high cedars cooled Him." In Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross recalls the tenderness with which he cared for God. Clearly, he knew not only how to welcome God, but how to treat God as beloved. His experience is echoed this month in the numerous ways the faithful have welcomed and cared for the Holy One: Abraham welcomes God as guest and dialogue partner; the disciple Mary welcomes God as teacher, and Jesus teaches us to welcome God first as an enemy in need, and then as "Abba," our beloved dad. This Abba is not a remote, distant father but a devoted parent who cares for us with a mother's tenderness: "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you...your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass" (Isaiah 66:13-14).
In a world filled with overwhelming suffering and persistent injustice, the work of discipleship can easily become life-draining instead of life-giving. Discipleship can become a burden that prevents us from recognizing the most important thing: the presence of God with us, and loving this Abba as we are first loved - with all our hearts and souls. When we, like St. John, not only welcome but cherish God's presence, whether in the stranger, enemy, or friend, we are comforted so that our hearts shall rejoice, and our work of discipleship shall flourish.