ARE YOU PRIMARILY A LIKER OR A LOVER?

By (Fr.) Charles Van Winkle, CSC

In a commercial a lady says, “I want to fall in love again.” Impossible. Notwithstanding that billions of times over the centuries people have eagerly talked about falling in love, no one has ever fallen in love. Rather, we readily fall into infatuation, into liking, into good feeling toward another, but we have to climb into a love relationship.

Have you ever wondered why we are commanded to love God and neighbor? The Incarnate Word was nailed to and raised up on a cross. And Jesus had exclaimed, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).

Jesus not only told us but showed us the true nature of love by his passion, death and resurrection that we might become the lovers we are called to be: “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person . . . But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:7a,8). Jesus did not feel like suffering and dying for us sinners, nor did he like us for our sinfulness, but he made the act of the will to love us.

People say they don’t go to Mass because they don’t feel like they are getting anything out of it. Jesus didn’t feel like he was getting anything out of it either but he arrived three hours early on the cross and did not leave until it was over. Accordingly, we refer to the “Sacrifice” of the Mass.

Sacrifice is the nature of love, and because we have a fallen human nature, we usually don’t feel like loving. Also, it is repetitious to speak of “tough love.” “For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away. Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love, he would be roundly mocked” (Sg 8:6b,7).

Because sacrifice is the nature of love, to be able to fulfill one’s commission to live the Two Great Commandments, one must be open to the Holy Spirit to be inspired, motivated, committed, focused and persevering by living the Faith-Love Principle. The optimism of the will must override the pessimism of the intellect and the inclination of the wayward feelings. As emphasized, if Jesus had succumbed to his feelings regarding his passion and death, we would not be redeemed.

Again, we must make the act of the will to love one another. For example, several years ago during a retreat day for high school seniors at Holy Cross School in New Orleans, one of the participants startled his classmates by sharing the following: “I broke up with my girlfriend six weeks ago. You want to know why? Because I love her. Yeah, we got ourselves into a situation where I wasn’t helping her to become a better person, and she wasn’t helping me to become a better person. And although I still have this strong liking this strong feeling for her, because I love her, I had to accept the strength of Jesus to back off.” One could hear a pin drop in that assembly.

Shortly after I heard that powerful tribute to the nature of love, I read the following confirmation entitled “One Perfect Friendship” by the late Holy Cross priest, Robert Griffin: “Friendships, please God, do not often involve the breakup of people who love each other, but if you care for someone, you have to recognize if the moment has come for letting go. If you can let go while the pain is killing you, if you can say good-bye when it breaks your heart—then maybe you can imagine, as I did, that your friendship is unselfish enough to be called perfect, because you have given your friend the most Godlike love you are capable of.”

And so the young man beautifully illustrated how we know if we are in a love relationship: When we are determined to respect one another as children of God made to his image and likeness; when we are willing to sacrifice, to go forward or back off when we don’t feel like it that we may become more whole, holy, happy, human, free, mature, in control, lovers, Christlike, who we are called to be, we truly love one another.

Falling into infatuation, into liking, into good feeling regarding the other is the easy aspect of a new relationship. Climbing into love—making the act of the will to sacrifice in order to love the other—as did the high school senior—; to live the GOD the Good Orderly Direction that promotes growth, freedom and happiness when tempted otherwise, is the challenge.

Because of our fallen human nature, liking—living by feelings—is inclined to be selfish and manipulative; to be asking “What’s in it for me?” regardless of others. For example, the late Ann Landers wrote in a syndicated column, “Infatuation (simply liking) might lead you to do things you’ll regret later, but love never will. Love is an upper. It makes you look up. It makes you think up. It makes you a better person than you were before.”

God is not wanting us to live by feelings but by faith; people who are sure of things hoped for certain of things not yet seen because the God of love is who he is for you and me (cf. Heb 11:1). For it is only through faith that we can express our love for God; and it is only through faith, as indicated above, that we are open to his transforming love that enables us to continue to mature spiritually—to be receptive to the Fruits of the Holy Spirit by which Jesus says people will know we are his disciples: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22b,23a).

Finally, an axiom is a statement universally accepted as true. Unfortunately, the following statement has been accepted as an axiom for centuries, but has always been totally false: “All who love are blind.” Rather, since God is love and the source of all love, all who love share God’s vision. All who simply like are blind.

FREEDOM THROUGH FORGIVING

By (Fr.) Charles Van Winkle, CSC

Let us consider one of the most formidable, prevalent and most misunderstood obstacles to good health, freedom and happiness. Of most importance, we will consider the solution, which is much easier than most people realize.

Unfortunately, a dominant fallacy regarding forgiveness is the belief that it may often take years to forgive, or that there are occasions when it may be impossible to forgive. If indeed it is this challenging to forgive, why did Jesus teach us the prayer we should in conscience daily be able to pray; the prayer that says our disposition to receive God’s forgiveness depends on our having forgiven anyone who has offended us? Read on to relish the freeing truth.

If a person asks why he or she should forgive, perhaps the best answer results from answering another question: How much do you love yourself? The doctrine of forgiveness is said to be the most effective of therapies. One meaning of forgiveness in the Old Testament is to have a weight lifted. The late Father Leo Trese wrote in one of his syndicated columns: “There is nothing so corrosive to happiness as the nursing of ill will toward another. There is some¬thing suicidal about hatred. The hater destroys his own happiness. It is he who suffers rather than the person he hates. If we find in ourselves any degree of hatred toward another, we are fools not to spit out the poison.”

“Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the LORD? Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins? … The vengeful will suffer the LORD’S vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray your own sins will be forgiven” (Sir 28:3, 4, 1, 2).

One day a businessman and a psychologist stepped into the elevator at the same time. The businessman got off at the 14th floor and the psychologist at the 17th. But just before the businessman got off at the 14th, he cursed and spit on the psychologist. Calmly the psychologist took out his handkerchief and wiped off the spittle as if nothing had happened. In utter astonishment the elevator operator ex¬claimed to the psychologist, “How could you let this guy do this to you!?” The psychologist replied, “Fellow, that is his problem.”

The application should be evident: Anytime someone treats you in an irrational, unreasonable, uncouth, boorish, hateful, immature manner, you don’t have the problem; the other person does. Accordingly, without being judgmental, feel sorry for the offender. And as Jesus says, pray for the person; exercise your baptismal priesthood to help the person to become who he or she is called to be. As St. Paul says, “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Rm 12:21).

“But,” you may exclaim, “how to forgive!? If you only knew what was done to me!” Here is a hint. “To fail is human, to for¬give is divine.” A fourteen-year-old Muslim boy became a Christian. Consequently, he was ostracized by his family and former friends. And on one occasion the young Christian was being taunted by a for¬mer companion: “You sap. You stupid person. What has this Christianity done for you for which you now suffer so much?”

“My Christianity,” he replied, “my Christ enables me to forgive.”
So at this moment, if you find it difficult or even impossible to forgive, Jesus is saying to you, “Bring your burden to me, and I will strengthen you; I will give you my ability to forgive” (cf. Mt 11:28).

However, let us consider an especially relevant truth I believe most people in our “be guided and ruled by your feelings” society fail to realize. To have forgiven we do not have to like or feel good toward the one who has hurt us. Certainly Jesus did not like or feel good toward those who crucified him. One might have the attitude, “If he is going to be there I am not going; I never want to see or speak to him again!” and still have forgiven.

The late Corrie ten Boom who witnessed her sister being beaten to death in the concentration camp said, “Forgiveness is not a feel¬ing or an emotion; it is an act of the will. And a person can make the act of the will regardless of the temperature of the heart.” As Jesus says, “…bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:28).

Therefore, because the essence of love and forgiveness is in the act of the will and not dependent upon the feelings, when we have made the act of the will to pray for the offender, we have proof we have forgiven, notwithstanding feelings to the contrary.

But how are we able to make the act of the will to pray for the offender when hateful feelings are so overwhelming? The answer of the young Muslim boy converted to Christianity—to Christ—is just as applicable to all of us. And so Jesus continues to say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest …. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:28, 30); “But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33); “…because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5b).

Therefore, the successful way to achieve the victory is as follows: By living what I refer to as the FLP, the Faith-Love Principle, we are always able to forgive: As a little child at the very first moment of encountering any danger immediately retreats to a loving parent, so must you in your mind immediately retreat to Jesus at the very first moment of the temptation to hate and to be unforgiving. That is, at that very first moment mentally, not on your lips, say, “No, in the name of Jesus” to the temptation to hate and to be unforgiving; then immediately say, “Jesus, with your strength I ask you to bless so-and-so and anyone else who has hurt me.” Having made that act of the will with the strength of Jesus to pray for the offender, you have proof you have forgiven, even though your emotions may convey the opposite.

However, because “Jesus” means “Healer” as well as “Savior,” every future time you exercise the Faith-Love Principle when you are tempted to hate and be unforgiving, the emotions will begin to wane, to calm; to be in accord with the freeing truth that if someone has mistreated you and failed to respect your dignity in your having been made to the image and likeness of God, that person has the pro¬blem and needs you by your prayer to exercise your baptismal priesthood on his or her behalf. Then you will indeed realize that living the truth sets you free.