Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On Love

Nearly two months have gone by and I've not shared anything at all from St. Alphonsus. That's not because I have nothing to share but because the subject is so large -- on love. Am I ready to say anything profound? I doubt it, but I've had a chance to ponder and pray both on love of God and love of neighbor, the topics for March and April respectively.

Nature bids us love God! 

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. ~ Matt. 22:37
St. Alphonsus says, "Love of God is a divinely infused virtue which leads us to love the Lord our God as the sovereign good, and purely for His own sake."

The good saint challenges us and then gives practical ways to advance in God's love:
First, an ardent desire for perfect love.
Second, renounce all love that doesn't refer to God.
Third, deny oneself by gladly embracing what is opposed to self-love, and refusing oneself what self-love demands.
Fourth, frequent meditation on the sufferings of Jesus Christ, so that our hearts may be inflamed with love for our suffering Savior and to learn from Him what He desires us to do.
Fifth, prayer. "Jesus, give me Thy holy love." The Lord is generous is the bestowal of His gifts; but He is especially bountiful in giving His love to those who seek it.
Oh, to love Him perfectly, for nothing, no reason. It is everything. I am sorely lacking. The love I experience is bounded by my human nature. I love Him because He made me, because He is all good, because I want to be with Him, because He has blessed me abundantly. Would I love Him the same if my life were filled with strife? I think not. Remember, I lost my faith over the problem of suffering. That's because even though my heart is moved when I think of Him as a Babe at Christmas, I failed to understand the depths of His love for me when He endured His cruel crucifixion. And therein is the mystery of love. He lays down His life for me, for you, for the whole world.  
I was struck when Sister Jane Dominic spoke about woman's greatest desire: to be loved for who she is. Yes! Not for what I can do or give, but to be loved for who I am. And then she posed the question of man's greatest desire. I didn't know what it was. I looked to Michael and wondered if he'd whisper it to me. But there was pin drop silence. We waited to hear what Sister had to say. She said, man's greatest desire is to lay down his life for those he loves.
And everything clicked. Man, made in the image of God. Who lays down His life for us.
And so love of God is tied intimately to love of neighbor. St. Alphonsus says, "Why must we love our neighbor? Because he is loved by God." He goes on to remind us that brotherly love induces us to practice mutual forbearance.  
And so what is love? St. Paul defines it for us in his letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
It's a tall order. And the hardest to exercise with the people I know and say I love. St. Alphonsus gives some acts to practice in loving our neighbor:
Strive in the first place to reject every rash judgment, every distrust, and unfounded suspicion of your neighbor.
For charity in speech, avoid calumny and slander.
Give alms to the poor and needy.
Above all, extend charity towards your enemies. It is heavenly revenge!

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~ John 15:12

My love is so limited and often, distorted. But my good friend Fulton Sheen (soon to be a saint, who is embracing Saint John Paul II) comes to the rescue. In one retreat he explains the conversation between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection. Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" And thrice Peter declares his love. However, Peter uses the word "philia" (brotherly love) instead of "agape" (self sacrificial Godly love) that Jesus uses. But the third time, Jesus comes down to the human level of Peter and uses the word philia. Oh, how our Lord understands and knows our limitations, yet He trusts Peter to "feed My sheep." He is the Good Shepherd.

I wanted to speak of love in stories but this post is too long already. So I will close in His love. 


Mirka Breen said...

This topic leaves me without words... In the end, there's love.

Becky Shillington said...

This is so very beautiful, Vijaya. I will be thinking about this all day, I know. Thank you--again--for enriching my life with your words. You are truly a gift!

Faith E. Hough said...

Thank you, Vijaya, for all of this!
I love your sense of humor throughout even the most serious topics: "heavenly revenge"! :) I think it was Oscar Wilde (one of my favorite converts) who said, "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

Gary Ludlam said...

Beautiful reflection! Too often we focus solely on consoling ourselves with the knowledge of God's love. But it's in loving Him back that we truly find consolation. Thanks for the mood-lifter!

Vijaya said...

Mirka, I was overwhelmed by the love of God, but procrastination made this all the harder.

Becky, St. Alphonsus doesn't mince his words. And I am happy to share.

Faith, I think I stole heavenly revenge from St. Teresa of Avila. Great OW quote. There is a PB you will like: Enemy Pie by Derek Munson.

Gary, precisely! And since we cannot see God, we have all these other people to love (some of them downright annoying).

Marcia said...

"Oh, to love Him perfectly, for nothing, no reason."