Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Way of Love in the World

Can we love God without seeing him? And can love be commanded? Against the double commandment of love these questions raise a double objection. No one has ever seen God, so how could we love him? Moreover, love cannot be commanded; it is ultimately a feeling that is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will. Scripture seems to reinforce the first objection when it states: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn ). But this text hardly excludes the love of God as something impossible. On the contrary, the whole context of the passage quoted shows that such love is explicitly demanded. The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbour is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbour or hate him altogether. Saint John's words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbour is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God.
Deus Caritas Est 16
Reflection – I have already blogged about the next paragraph of the encyclical, where the Pope addresses the question of love being ‘commanded.’ Here, he tackles briefly the thorny question of the relationship between love of God and love of neighbour.
Personally, I have always found one of the most challenging, confronting sentences to be something the Lord said to St. Catherine of Siena, to the effect that “The degree to which you love the person you love least in the world is the degree to which you love Me.” That’s something to ponder.
Of course, it’s not a complicated matter. God created everyone. God loves everything He created. To love God is to love what He loves. Therefore our love of God (that mysterious commodity) can be ‘gauged’ by our love of what He loves.
But what this simple little syllogism does to us is immense. It plunges us into the passion of faith, into the crucifixion of our emotions, into battle with the world, the flesh, the devil. When we really get that our very communion with God which is the very essence and substance of life for us, is bound up with how we treat that obnoxious co-worker, that malicious relative, that person who swindled/lied/cheated/abused us… well, this may be simple, but it sure ain’t easy.
But it’s a passion of faith we must enter. God is waiting for us in the midst of that struggle. God is offering us, at the heart of these most painful encounters when everything in us cries out ‘Strike back! Don’t take that! Don’t let him do that! Don’t let her get away with that!’—God offers us, in the midst of all that, Himself. An intimate sharing with his own life, his own way of love in the world.
If we refuse, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to Hell, necessarily. But it does mean we are distancing ourselves from God. It does mean that we are choosing not to become saints. It does mean that we are choosing to not burn with love in the world, and the world is so very cold right now, you know. So many people are shivering and freezing because so few people are willing to burn with love of God and neighbour.
Well, it’s up to each one of us. No one can make me love; no one can make you love. But it seems to me that this is the way of it – we choose the path of universal love, with all the struggle and anguish it entails, or we choose the path of least resistance, loving those we like, loving when we feel like it, and meanwhile returning slap for slap and insult for insult. Perhaps not a wicked way of living, but also not a way of living that makes much difference in the world.
If we want to make a difference in the world, we have to meet God in the battlefield of love, where his love sets our hearts on fire, and our hearts on fire pour out towards everyone, without exception, loving with out counting the cost and clinging fiercely to God in the midst of it all.


  1. Your phrase, a “battlefield of love”, captured my attention. What I know to be true is that this combat of life is a crushing blow to those who have not been loved. In other words, one cannot give away, what one has not received. Such a broken society these days and many are starved (and I am not referring to meat & potatoes) but that of being unconditionally loved. Sometimes I cringe at certain Christian writings as I remember clearly being ever so broken and wondered why it was I was so fearful and disconnected from life. I use to be so dissatisfied and angry in most human relations. Why was it that I could not love!?! But life has changed for me now and I understand the importance to give what so freely given. Now Christian writings grab my attention and affirm my past experiences. For instance the opening paragraph in the encyclical of DEUS CARITAS EST says:

    1. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”.

    “We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

    Those two paragraphs above express my experience. I see clearly now from my old battle days; that love was not something I could take but something I received. Finally the battle was over and my new birth came, not by what I do so much, but by the “encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” I understand that line today.

    It was paragraph 16 that you reflected on from Deus Caritas Est that made me turn to the actual document above. I was particularly struck with this line that you quoted, “Moreover, love cannot be commanded; it is ultimately a feeling that is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will.”

    I had never attended 101 emotions class as a child; therefore I spent most of my life cut off from this important part of my being – yes being, not doing. Also the Catechism was important to me during my growth stage. This whole section of the Catechism 1762-1775 contained some vital directions that allowed me to be more open to receive, particularly, “1770 ... being moved to the good not by his will alone, but also by his sensitive appetite, ...” What I found was, without a connection and understanding of my emotionally life I was most certainly hopelessly lost – a voluntaristic way of life is not what we are made to live by. That way of living was a very painful existence. Thank you kindly for letting me share.

    God bless

  2. I absolutely agree - so much of our Madonna House life is precisely this: to make God's love visible to people by loving them - that's what it's all about. Catherine Doherty said to us in one of her last writings that if we fail to do that we will have wasted our lives. Strong words, eh?


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