Love is a central question in life for all people, so much so that people seek to express love in any and every way they can (movies, songs, television, poems, blog posts…), and yet we cannot agree upon a definition. English especially makes this difficult because we only have word for “love“ while other languages have more, (Greek has four words for love).
Some people say it’s only a feeling.
Other say romance is essential to love.
Others say it is admiration for someone or something.
I’m partial to St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of love, which is benevolence. Aquinas says love is to constantly will the good of the other for the other’s sake. This means seeing the other share in the good as constitutive of one’s own sharing in the good. So if a good thing happens to a friend we rejoice with that person, no matter what is going on in our own life. If something bad happens in the life of one of our friends then we mourn with them, no matter what is going on in our life. St. Paul encourages us in this way too, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.“
There are many people in our world today who do not love in this way. Venerable Fulton Sheen gave this instruction to the people of our own day and age: “You must remember to love people and use things, rather than to love things and use people.“ Using people for our own purposes does damage. The damage can be and often is serious because love and use are, in fact, opposites. Many people believe the opposite of love is hate – when it really is use. Karol Wojytla, later known as St. John Paul II, argues as much in his book Love and Responsibility: Love is only possible when there is a bond of a common good between persons. “Man’s capacity for love depends on his willingness consciously to seek a good together with others and to subordinate himself to that good for the sake of others.“ The way to prevent use is for people who love each other to have the same end, the same goal.
And what is that common good, what is that goal? It’s the other person’s eternal salvation. God put you and I on this earth to get as many people to Heaven as possible. Often times our own sins, fears, anxieties, stresses and disappointments get in the way of God’s plan for us, and get in the way of our mission to bring people to Heaven. But those sins, fears, anxieties, and disappointments should not stop us either. We must be confident in the fact that we are chosen by the Father. We must continue to love the people around us, because God put them there so we could love them. Often times we will get hurt in the process, and often times we will hurt others. So we beg for forgiveness and keep moving forward. We seek out the sacraments so that God can give us the light and strength we need to endure the Cross He gives each day.
The biggest expression of this love, of willing the good of the other, is total self-sacrifice, self-gift. This is exactly what the Lord Jesus did for us on the Cross. It was not just the physical pain of the crucifixion that he endured, but many things leading up to it where he totally emptied Himself and everything He had was taken away. He was handed over to the authorities by one of his closest friends, another one of his friends betrayed him too (but eventually reconciles to be our first Pope). The rest of his chosen friends – with the exception of St. John – abandoned Him when He needed them most. There were false witnesses surrounding Him, who testifyed about things He had never done or said. He was treated as if He was a criminal, counted among the wicked, and held in no esteem. They took His divine kingship and twisted it, mocking Him with a purple cloak, and a crown made of piercing thorns. He was left alone to carry His Cross down the streets of Jerusalem, with helps from only a few people, some who were willing and one who was forced. Then He was stripped of His earthly possessions, left totally naked, totally exposed, totally vulnerable, and no one was able to come to His aid. His hands and feet were pierced with nails to the wood of the Cross. He left this world in the same way He entered it as a baby. Vulnerable, naked, exposed, and dependent on his own creatures to provide for His needs.
He did all of this knowing that not all people would accept the salvation He came to give. He knows people will turn away from belief in Him. Sadder still are those that turn away from Him due to pain caused by the very people who claim to be His followers. Whether it be be priests or religious, moms or dads, siblings or co-workers, relatives or friends we’ve all been hurt by followers of Jesus in one way or another, and we’ve all hurt others because of our own brokenness. This is the human condition. We must take a look at ourselves at the end of each day, thank God for what He has done to bring us close, and beg his forgiveness for the times when we’ve pushed others or ourselves further from Him. This is how we move forward, every day we must begin again. Nunc coepi!
St. Teresa of Calcutta exhorts us:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
At the end of the day what we must do is draw close to God, and He will draw close to us. What does that look like? The Cross.
If anyone would follow me…Little friend we are sad, living the Passion of Our Lord Jesus. See how lovingly he embraces the cross. Learn from Him. Jesus carried the cross for you: You…carry it for Jesus. But don’t drag the cross…Carry it squarely on your shoulder, because your cross, if you carry it so, will not just be any cross…It will be the holy Cross. Don’t carry your cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous word. Love the cross. When you really love it, your cross will be… a Cross without a cross.
And surely, you will find Mary on the way just as Jesus did. – St. Josemaría Escrivá
Pain and suffering are the kiss of Christ in our lives. Whatever pain, sorrow, trial, or difficulty comes our way we must accept it as a gift from the Lord. Especially with the transition happening in my own life at this moment there are relationships that are changing and people I’m letting go. The community of seminarians I was with everyday are split up in three different places. Relationships change, friendships change, but God remains the same through it all. No matter the storms that come in this life, we must keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus Christ.
I’ll end my reflection with the last lines of my favorite song “The Hardest Part of Love“ from the musical Children of Eden:
You cannot close the acorn once the oak begins to grow
You cannot close your heart to what it fears and needs to know
That the hardest part of love
And the rarest part of love
And the truest part of love
is the letting go.