|St. Catherine of Sienna|
This is another one of those questions which I have been pondering a great deal lately, as it has a very keen relevance to my personal life. The following is just a line of reasoning that I myself have followed; the conclusions seem, to me, to follow from certain principles expounded by the spiritual writers I've read. The question is whether it is acceptable to have a desire to be loved by others? It seems natural to men to have this desire, as humans were indeed made for love. And yet, on the other hand, we find in the writings of the Saints and other spiritual authors a discouragement of this very desire. For example, St. Catherine of Sienna, in her great Dialogue, records the words of Jesus to her, concerning the love of creatures:
Do you know how the imperfection of spiritual love for the creature is shown? It is shown when the lover feels pain if it appear to him that the object of his love does not satisfy or return his love, or when he sees the beloved one's conversation turned aside from him, or himself deprived of consolation, or another loved more than he.I struggle with this particular defect; I think we all do, to some degree. But this shows an imperfect love. Our love for others must be a love of benevolence, which is solely a will for the other person's own good; it is essentially a disinterested love, in which we do not seek ourselves, but rather give ourselves, as it were, to the person we love, for that person's good. We sacrifice our own self-will for the sake of what the other person wills, thus uniting our will to theirs, and seeking their good. This requires that we neither expect nor hope for the return of our love; for this would manifest in us a desire for our own good, for our own delight and consolation - this would be self-love, a manifestation of pride.
Now, it is true, as I have written before (see this post, and this post), friendship requires that love be mutual, and thus that the lover's love be returned by the beloved. Friendship is a love of two people for each other, not of one person for another. But, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, it is also necessary to friendship that the lover have the love benevolence, according to which he must not expect his love to be returned. Thus, it would seem, the perfect friendship is one in which the lovers do not expect or hope for each other's friendship. Again, this follows from the fact that the love of friendship, which consists in the love of benevolence, is a purely selfless love.
Again, this seems somewhat paradoxical; and it could also be seen as somewhat harsh. But it might soften some its harshness to note that, although two people ought not expect their love to be returned, neither ought they to be unacknowledging of the fact that it is returned. In other words, they ought to be very grateful to each other when their love is returned, even if they ought not to expect that return. But neither may they be cast down or disappointed when it seems to them that their love is not returned. This is the essential point. We ought to be completely satisfied with giving up ourselves in love, so as to seek purely the good of the other person.