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.