The Way of Love

Readings on USCCB

Lent is all about conversion in every moment. “Follow me,” Jesus said to Levi. There are little things, (which to God are actually big things), that we can do. Isaiah gives them to us: remove oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; give food to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; and finally, delight in the LORD on the Sabbath—do not seek your own interests, but delight in the LORD. As I read these and examine my own life it is not too difficult to see where conversion is necessary. The key is to look inwards, and to realize that Jesus is calling me (every part of me), just like He called Levi. “Let Me into all these inner places where you seek your own interests,” Jesus says to me. He wants me to recognize my sinfulness and repent. “Let Me into all these inner places where you are hurting and try to fix things on your own.” He wants to be in everything, and He is not repulsed by any part of me. All the “little things” matter. He wants to be in every little moment and every little thought. He calls to us all the day, says the psalmist (86:4). Anything and everything can be offered to Him, for He takes pleasure in our conversion (cf Ez 33:11), and will make us like a spring whose water never fails (Is 58:11).

It takes practice. It takes a gentle curiosity looking inward, rather than condemnation. In the Gospel today, as well in other Gospel stories, we witness the Pharisees looking to condemn. They don’t “see” the beauty of love and compassion offered by Jesus to sinners; their hearts are closed. Who of us wants to go to a physician who condemns us? Who of us will even approach the divine physician if He condemns us? This is not the way of Jesus, and it should not be our way as we look inside to examine ourselves.

Love is what changes any person. Knowing the love of Jesus is what draws me to Him. Patience and gentleness are the seeds of the Word that grow to be the abundant fruits of the Spirit. They are the means to conversion within myself and of others. They are the way of the Lord.

In sum, Isaiah gives us the things with which new should examine our Christian life. Jesus gives us the manner in which we should do it — the way of Love. He is patient, kind, and gentle.

Who are we to be?

Today in the first chapter of Hebrews we hear,
“…in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son,     
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
    who is the refulgence of his glory, 
the very imprint of his being,
 and who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Heb 1:2-3).

I admit that I had to look up the word refulgence. It means shining out. In its verb form it means expressing intensive force. The meaning of this word is significant. How did Jesus do this? How did He shine? How did He make His way known? How did He express intensive force?

By loving. By dying — literally — by submitting to the forces that were outside of him and that were outside of human control. And He forgave them as it happened.

He knew what was within His control, and that was control of Himself (His SELF), manifested in a choice to love those who were persecuting Him. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We live in Christ through the Holy Spirit and manifest the same fruits [“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23)], when we continue seeking to be like HIM — making the choice to love. And He accompanies us in every moment.

God the Father, who created and sustains all things through His mighty word sees US through His Son. He sees US through the Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. When we join Jesus in this sacrifice…when we pick up our cross and follow Him, he brings us into His inner peace and joy…to the Resurrection.

This is who we are to be — the refulgence of the Father, living in the Word through the Holy Spirit who is living in us through our Baptism. This is how we are to act as Christians.

Lord Jesus, lead us, heal our Nation.

Heavenly Father, hold us close.

Holy Spirit, make it so.

Amen.

Just Love.

What could be in the mind of God, that He would come to live with His creation…subject Himself to it?  That He would be born as a helpless baby in poverty?

Love.  Just Love.

We have such issues with this word love.  We all want it.  We feel it inside and it can overwhelm our bodies with feelings of warmth and joy.  We all long to give it.  Why then, is love so confusing?

Because it is so hard to accept what love really is: a gift of Self.

In my previous post on love I tried to convey that learning to love others begins by loving your Self, and that the essence of God is God’s own love for Himself, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.  In the Christmas season we celebrate the greatest gift of this divine love — God made man, Love Incarnate — Jesus.  God’s gift of Himself to humanity begins as a helpless baby, and not only that, He was born to die.  Does this seem crazy?  Indeed it does…even St. Paul, speaking of the Cross, said as much: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25). 

We can give ourselves love by gentleness with our mistakes, and compassion to our weakest parts. The fruits of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23) — are born and nourished in ourselves and towards ourselves, in freedom. The fruit ripens in our actions towards others.  And what happens when the ripe fruit falls to the ground (in humility)?  The seeds are then planted for new fruit.

It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith that we gain all things by giving ourselves away. Jesus, born in our hearts, shows us the way.

Love Your Neighbor as You Love Your Self

“Learning to love your Self is the greatest love of all!”Whitney_Houston_–_The_Greatest_Love_of_All.jpg

I’d like to attempt to defend a thesis: We, ourselves, need to learn to love others, and we do this by learning to love our SELF.

I will begin by sharing an interesting memory regarding this song by Whitney Houston.  I was sitting in an airport restaurant with my father in December, 1985.  Her song, “The Greatest Love of All” came on over the PA. This conversation had a great effect on me. Now as an adult this memory has given me insight not only into my father, but myself.

“I love this song!” I exclaimed.

“I don’t!” my father said.  “It’s wrong!”

“Wrong?  How can it be wrong?” I asked.

“The greatest love is to love God, not to love yourself,” my father replied.

“But didn’t Jesus say to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?” I asked.

“That’s not what it means!” my father argued.

Let me interlude with a little background.  At the time I was sixteen, and it hadn’t even been a year since I met my father.  He took me on a ski trip to Park City, Utah, with the rest of his family: his wife, her two sons, and my half sister and half brother (from his other previous marriage).

I want to add another short, more modern story about a conversation that I recently had with my daughter.

“President Trump is the perfect example of loving yourself too much,” she said.  “Otherwise he wouldn’t say those things about other people all the time!”

“Oh no,” I said, “he absolutely loathes himself.  If he loved himself he would never say that about anyone, not even his worst enemy.”

She looked at me quizzically.  I explained to her that we express outwards what is inside of us.  If the chatter inside of our heads is constant criticism, that will also be expressed outside of us.  We can fool ourselves and believe that we will be more loving to others by hating ourselves.  In reality this is impossible.  We give from what is inside of us.

Think about it.  We cannot give what we do not have.  It is the lie of Satan to believe that we can actually love from hate.

In the beginning humanity was tempted to believe that the Love of our Creator was not enough…that He was holding out on us. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Gen 3:4-5).  Satan tricked us into thinking that we have to know hate (evil) in order to be like God, who is all loving.

God the Father shows us differently, through His Son, Jesus.  Love can only flow from love, and He showed us the greatest love of all.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

But what does this mean?  Is there more?  Let us look to St. Paul, who said, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“While we were still sinners…” is such an important phrase. I have talked about this before. God never waits for us to be better before He loves us.  He loves us right now.  St. Paul also says, “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy…” (Tit 3:5). We cannot do anything ourselves in order to be loved more by God. It is already there.  He is never holding out, waiting for us to be better.

The essence of the Trinity is that God loves Himself.  The three persons of the Trinity are God’s love of Himself in the Son and the fruit of this love between the Father and the Son is another loving person, the Holy Spirit.  There is no chicken/egg argument here. God just IS.  God. Is. Love. Eternally. Period.  God’s love of Himself is therefore the greatest love of all, and there is no human love without it.

Let us apply this to ourselves.  We, too, can love ourselves in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.  We do not do this eternally (yet), because we are created beings who live in time. We make choices. We grow both spiritually and materially.  Our spiritual capacity is to grow in the Love of the Trinity.  This begins by loving our SELF, in Christ.  Our material capacity is to die, in Christ, who raises us up (He will literally resurrect us!) and seats us at His right hand, in the presence of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).

Back to my story.  My father loathed himself.  He bought into the lie that he wasn’t enough, and that by hating himself he could love God more.  Again, this is a lie.  I would venture to say that this is the lie that most fathers who abandon their children have bought into.  I will say it again — one cannot love others when he hates himself. This is an important truth for all parents, and most especially, me.

We all have heard the adage, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

We get this wrong too!  We end up hating the sinner because we are tempted to define others by their sin.  This also happens personally; we hate ourselves when we are defined by our sin, whether it is done by others or our own selves.  Again, let us allow St. Paul to teach us. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom 7:20). Sometimes the teaching of Paul in Romans 7 can be very confusing, but what he is saying is that sin is not me — it is not my SELF.  Sin is something outside of me that needs to be removed. The shame that came from believing the serpent’s lie is not me; however, I have taken it on as a burden.  Shame is a burden that does not come from God — it comes from sin. The Good News is that shame is removed by Love, and this burden is completely removed by Jesus through His suffering and death on the Cross.  This is why Jesus tells us to pick up our Cross and follow Him, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). When we decide to follow Him, we have new life in Him.

Does this mean we are perfect? Indeed, even Jesus fell three times, yet not through sin. But He has shared with us the burden of sin! We fall consistently: “the righteous falls seven times and rises again” (Prov 24:16).  He is with us when we fall, and especially when we refuse to get up.  He continues to stand at the door of our heart.  He continues to knock. He is always there in our spirit, encouraging us and drawing us to Himself, and thus to the Father, through the Holy Spirit.

We are consistently growing in new life with every loving choice we make. Every choice for self-giving love is a sharing in Christ’s love, whether we realize it or not — and even whether we are Christian or not.  The reason is because God is Love, and He planted the seed of His love within us at our creation. When we give love we give God.

Therefore, Love of others begins by loving ourselves.