Revisted this week takes a look at love — what it is beyond initial infatuation, what it is in relation to God. As it reads, I’m fairly certain I was taking a class on the Catholic sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) when I wrote it. It originally appeared in 2014, the third post ever on this blog.
Most examples that a person can give about love in regard to popular culture are such clichés that one is hesitant to bother calling these things to mind. In modern usage and thought, love is supposed to be easy. It is a feeling that either is or is not – of its own volition and out of the control of the person who feels (or wishes to feel) that warm, fuzzy, obsessive glow brought about by their perfect other. Upon review, perhaps the previous statement oversimplifies, as often we see that the beloved inspires neither warm nor fuzzy feelings, and yet the love-er remains somehow obsessively attached and in this attachment somehow feeds a disordered need within themselves. However, in both of these instances, different as they may seem, the persons who “love” do so because it serves them in some way; and if they don’t feel loved in return, they try to figure out how to make the other love them in order to perpetuate their own feeling of well-being.
Love in its truest sense is not a feeling, although it can inspire feelings within us. Love is not self-serving, but action in the service of. Love is to work for the good of the other. Spouses may be irritated with one another, but still do and desire to do what is best for the other. This discipline is often no easy accomplishment. Love can also be messy and not much fun, as parents of toddlers and teens alike can attest. Nonetheless, these are the joyful work of both spouse and parent — joyful with focus on the bigger picture and the ultimate goal of having a family who are happy, healthy, and confident in God’s love for each of them.
God, of course, is the ultimate parent and the ultimate lover. There is a quote from Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century bishop, which has drawn me back over and over to contemplate the depth of God’s love for humankind:
Do you realize how much your Creator has honored you above all creatures? He did not make the heavens in his image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which you can see in the created universe. You alone are made in the likeness of that nature…you alone are a similitude of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness…Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens fit into the palm of God’s hand. And though He is so great that He can grasp all creation in his palm, you can wholly embrace Him; He dwells within you, nor is He cramped as he pervades your entire being.
God was not forced to create us in this fashion, and the fact that he did so is a profound example of his love for us. He gave us alone the ability to both experience and wonder at his creation; he made us alone, of all of creation, in his perfect image. Not only can we experience and know God externally by way of his creation, but he also allows himself to be completely contained within our being. The lover is both the giver and the gift to the beloved. We know this love as agape. We have done and can do nothing to deserve it. God shows us his love in this way because of and through his goodness only.
The truest way in this world for us to experience God as the giver and the gift, and to form ourselves as giver and gift back into right relationship with God, is through participation in the liturgy of the Mass. There we enter into the story of salvation history and become witnesses to the ultimate gift of Christ on the cross, risen, and ascended. It is in this way that mankind finally experiences God who is love.