Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Limits of Agape

Eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn -38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn ).
Deus Caritas Est 7

Reflection – So we continue our reflection on love, on the two loves of eros and agape and how they relate to each other.

Yesterday I wrote quite a bit about the tragedy of eros when it is cut off from agape, especially in the current crisis of epidemic pornography. The Pope refers to this here: how eros only remains itself as it is met by and grows and deepens into agape.

He goes on, though, to show that agape alone is not enough. Our own commitment to agape has its limits. To live a life of selfless love requires receiving selfless love from another. To be a shepherd we must be shepherded ourselves, must be that sheep carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.

To care we must be cared for, and to love, really love, we must first be loved. All of this points to the basic need of the human person for prayer, for worship, for sacramental gift, for spiritual food. No matter how ‘good’ you may be (and I don’t mean that sarcastically – there is genuine goodness in the world!), you do need to drink from the source of goodness which is Jesus Christ.

This is one of those areas of spiritual peril that ‘good people’ are especially prone to encounter. When you have heavy responsibilities, many people seeking your time and energy, and a fundamental disposition to be of service to God and neighbour, the first thing to get crossed off the list generally is prayer time or other forms of spiritual refreshment.

The mother with a house full of kids, the priest covering three or four parishes, the father working long hours to support his family, the child caring for his or her aging parents—all of this can eat up every minute of waking life.

This is both difficult and dangerous. Bitterness of spirit can enter in, or cynicism; faith can be weakened to the point of extinction; joy and peace can flee. ‘Man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive.’ We have to look for the possibilities in our own lives – clearly general advice cannot be given here, as everyone’s circumstances are so different.

We cannot give what we do not have—if love is not filling you, you will run out of love sooner or later, and probably sooner. If any of this is resonating with you, but you’re really not sure how or what you can change in your life to be ‘filled’ a bit more regularly, ask the Holy Spirit to show you. God must want to come to each one of us to give us what we need, right? So there must be a way in your life, in my life, in every human being’s life where He can do just that. So be simple and childlike and ask Him, that’s all.

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