LEARNING HOW TO LOVE: A Lay Cistercian reflects on what it means to love others as Christ loved us.

In a recent Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5), I thought of the saying of Christ, love others as I have loved you.  I asked myself, what does that “as I have loved you mean?” The only way we have to explore love is with our human knowledge and our senses. Our mind stores up lived experiences and, hopefully, we can learn to love. Here are some of the categories that I pull out of that great Mystery of Faith. This is an excerpt from my latest book, entitled Learning How to Love: A Lay Cistercian reflects on learning to love others as Christ loved us.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR CHRIST TO LOVE US 

Here are some thoughts I had during my Lectio Divina on what it means for Christ to love us. We know what love is because Christ loved us first and gave us the way, leading to the truth, and finally the life with Him…Forever.

EMPTYING SELF: The simpler the prayer, the more authentic it is. The most profound act of love is found in Philippians 2:5. It is the voluntarily emptying of self for the other. God emptied himself for all us, me as an individual, and all of us, believers or not, that we all have a chance to love to the fullness of our nature. As a Lay Cistercian, these eight words in Philippians are my purpose in life, my center.  Christ emptied himself first and then bids his followers follow his example. It means I must deny myself and take up my cross daily to follow Christ in whatever challenges the day brings for me. Emptying means turning your glass over so that every last drop of what is inside is poured out. Jesus emptied himself of his last drop of blood on the cross, the highest form of love, so that we humans might have a way to claim our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. Each of the martyrs, those we know about and those known only to Christ, emptied the last drop of their blood because of love.

 

I WANT TO BE WITH YOU…FOREVER: Philippians 2:5 again.  Jesus wanted to be with us, even though Christ would not know each of us by name, God does, and Christ is God. Jesus loving us means we should do no less than to love everyone. For me, that takes on wanting everyone to go to Heaven. Not everyone may make it there, but that is your decision. God just gave us a chance to love others as Christ loved us. Opening up my heart to the heart of Christ means I long to be with Christ, just as He longs to be with me. I look forward to my Lectio Divina and Eucharist because it is there that I can communicate with Christ and He with me. Forever is a word we humans don’t actually comprehend because we have no history or experience of what it actually is.  I term it part of the Mystery of Faith. I know it exists because of all the other aspects of love fit so well.

 I WANT TO SHARE WHO I AM WITH YOU: In marriage, the covenant of relationship between man and woman, means I share with who I am with you, physically, mentally and, most of all, spiritually. Spiritual sharing is the most difficult but depends on how well you do with physical and mental sharing. Part of the genius of Jesus is that he left us a way to share Himself with us, despite the passing of each age. The simplicity of the message of love is like the body, and the way in which we adapt to each age  is like clothes we put on. Each age has different customs, but there is always just one simple message, love one another. The Eucharist is an example of Christ wanting to share love with us.  Christ gave us, and continues to give us his real physical body in each age until the end of time itself. We called that the Real Presence, a sign of contradiction to those without faith, but to those with faith, no answer is possible or required. What is even more of a sign of contradiction is that the man who knew no sin entrusted his precious body and blood to sinful humans in each age. Remember Peter? Sinners all of us, but Christ loved us so much as to give humans the power to make him Real in each age, despite all the foibles and follies of popes, bishops and deacons throughout the ages, and add to that our own individual peccadilloes. Each time you receive the Eucharist, think about your sinful self containing the Real Body and Blood of Christ. Of course, not one of us is even remotely worthy to be called Christopher (Christ bearers). It is only because Christ loved us so much that we know what love is, even if we sin repeatedly and grievously.

I don’t know if I will ever completely know who Jesus is, just as it is impossible to love with all my heart, but I can try to begin each day with the goal of loving others and seeing the world as Christ would see it, giving glory to the Father in the Eucharist, asking for mercy and forgiveness in Reconciliation, Seeking to make all things new over and over in the context of a living Body of Christ, the Church.

I WANT TO SHARE THE DARK SIDE OF LOVE AS WELL AS THE LIGHT SIDE: Christ bids you to not only love those who love you back (light side of love) but love those who persecute you even if they kill you (dark love), OR, Love can also be the extent to which you endure misfortune and suffering or even pain so that the one you love may thrive. Here are some thoughts from a recent blog I wrote on the dark side of love. Remember, dark, as I use it here, is not evil, but one that takes more sacrifice on the part of one party than the other.

This is a topic which can be misleading, if not put into context. In my Lectio Divina a few weeks ago, Phil 2:5, I came across several thoughts that made me sit up straight and come to attention. I was thinking, if love is the purpose of life, Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37, is love always easy and happy, full of peace, with no anxiety or stress? Is love without pain or sacrifice of self? Right away, I thought of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani.Matthew 26:38-40 This is genuine love but one that demands choice, a choice that is uncomfortable, the dark side of love. This dark side of one is not evil or bad or less love than the bright side. The  the reality that sometimes love demands great courage and sacrifice remains true. You have heard of the phrase TOUGH LOVE. Dark love is not evil, but takes sacrifice and self-denial to love as Christ loved us. Dark love is not evil. We call evil Hatred, not Love.

  • Dark love is like the marriage vow that says I will love you in good time and in bad, in sickness and in health, no matter how rich you are or how poor you may become.
  • Dark love remains with their partner even though they have physical or mental problems and have a dead bed syndrome (one partner wants to have and hold and the other partner just wants to be left alone).
  • Dark love is the person who must give up everything to be with their partner or child, such as someone who has leukemia.
  • Dark love is the mom and dad that sell all they have to keep their children health and off of drugs
  • Dark love is what Christ had for us when he knew he would have to suffer and die for our redemption, He became sin for us, even though he was without sin.
  • Dark love is the son who gives up his job to be able to feed and care for his mother with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dark love is someone who puts up with verbal abuse and terrible personal discounts with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder or Anger Mood disorder.
  • Dark love is putting up with the hatred of children who accuse you of being in la-la land when you try to move from self to God.
  • Dark love is Phil 2:5.
  • With dark love, love does not count the cost or the suffering you must endure to be with someone who needs you.
  • Dark love means you love others but they do not love you in return, such as spouse, family members, or friends.
  • Dark love means you want to love Christ with all your heart and mind and your strength and your neighbor as yourself but your spouse think you live in La-La Land and that God could not possibly love you because you are a failure in everything you try to do, especially with God.
  • Dark love is when you love your children when they tell you they are getting married out of the Church.
  • Dark love is when your children tell you they will go to Eucharist to make you happy not because they believe in Christ.
  • Dark love is when you try to hand on the heritage of your mom and day to your children and they laugh at you as being out of touch.
  • Dark love is when you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Eucharist and Eucharistic Adoration so deeply that you want to pass on this heritage to your children and they can’t or won’t share it with you.
  • With dark love comes living out the sign of contradiction, taking up your cross daily, loving those who hate you, not returning evil for evil talk, and loving those who do harm to you.  Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict.

As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, I view dark love as the price I must pay for the pearl of great price, the treasure I would sell all to possess, even though those closest to me don’t have a clue what that means for me.

Like the Widow’s Mite in Mark 12:41-43 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Widow’s Offering

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.  42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.”

The coin has two dimensions of value, both having nothing to do with the true monetary value. a) it is an unconditional gift from one heart to another, in this case, God. b) it is also an emptying of self as well as forfeiting coins.

I WANT YOU TO FORGIVE OTHERS AS YOU WANT ME TO FORGIVE YOU.  Don’t condemn others but rather have mercy on them as you want the Father to have mercy on you. Here is the part that many people conveniently leave out, that you should go and sin no more.  Your behavior is not to be condemned if you see that you are in need of change and redemption. The tricky part is to commit not to do that behavior again, which most people either don’t do or won’t do.  Another way to say this is, don’t condemn the sinner but condemn the sin. We sinners must recognize that what we do is not consistent with Jesus loving us and therefore change our behavior. The dark side of love is accepting what Christ’s love is and then acting upon it. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as our self. If we hold that adultery is okay and that love means you can have indiscriminate sex with your mother, your sister, your friends, your enemies, in fact, anyone, then you really don’t believe in what God is telling us what love means.  The love of Jesus is a stumbling block for those who consider themselves god.St. Benedict

 PRAYER AS LOVE: The purpose for why Jesus, Son of God, came to earth was to save us from being locked out of Heaven…Forever. His mission in life was to give glory to the Father, I might add, as only God can do, yet represent all of us, as only Christ could do. Read John 17, the priestly prayer of Christ. “…eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Reflect on this beautiful passage in John in your Spiritual Reading.  I suggest you read it several times in silence and solitude, the silence that comes from being open to God’s silent wisdom, and the solitude that comes from you loving others as Christ, as only you can. Prayer is lifting up the heart and mind to God. It is knowing, loving and serving others because of the love that fills our whole being when we realize in Philippians 2:5-12, the depth, the height and width of Christ’s love for us. We can do no more, nor can we do any less.

GIVE YOUR LIFE FOR ANOTHER: If we want to love others as Christ loved us, we must be willing to give our life for another. To make sense of this statement, I do not think about a soldier laying down his life for another, although that is certainly heroic and the ultimate sign of love. In the secular world, The love of which I speak is not dying for another person but living your life for others as Christ emptied himself and glorified His Father in the sacrifice of his death and resurrection, for the sins of all humanity. Lest you go off the charts in being confused, think about this. We do not celebrate or honor a dead God, ones like the secularists serve, but Jesus who lives today. Christ gives his life to the Father every time we come together to proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again in glory (Eucharist) and the prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, or in the silence and solitude of our heart in Lectio Divina. We make Christ present when we love others as He has loved us.

 LOVE: WHAT THE FLOWER CAN TEACH US  If you want to find out what love is looking for nature. Think of yourself as a beautiful flower whose whole purpose is to be a flower. Things happen naturally, you do not have even to worry. You bloom, take in nutrients, have bees come around to pollinate your species, smell delicious to bees and insects, then die. This is the natural order.

Humans also have a natural order. Our nature is to be human, like our prototypes, Adam and Eve. We find ourselves in a world where we cannot live forever, where there are a pain, suffering, and misfortune based many times on our choices. However, there is also happiness, love, peace, joy, goodness, and thoughtfulness. We are the conduits of both good and evil for the world around us. The world is good, we are good, but we have suffered the effect of the relational sin of Adam and Eve and must pay the price until we die.  The Genesis principle is, for me, a very challenging tale of where humans find themselves and where we are headed.

MAKING ROOM FOR THE ONE YOU LOVE  If you love someone you want to live with them forever. People get married because they want to be with each other as much as possible. If God wrote you love letters, would you not want to read them over and over? Would you not want to keep them in a special place and honor them because they remind you of the one you love? Even though the one who sent you the love letters is not present, reading them somehow makes them present to you. That is Scriptures, love letters from God to humanity. These love letters make room in our hearts for the one who sent them (capacitas dei) and help us individually and collectively to love others as Christ has loved us, our only command from the Master.

 WANTING TO BE WITH THE ONE YOU LOVE…FOREVER  If you love someone, you want to be with them every minute of the day, every day of the year, all the years of your life, even to the end of time and the beginning of Heaven.  This love is not exclusive to marriage. You love your parents and want to be with them and your family in Heaven. Heaven, remember, is permanent. Your head tells you that it is good to be with the ones you love, your Church members, those for whom you have prayed in your lifetime, those who need our prayers for purification. We want to be with all because all are One and we will be able to love Forever without the effects of Original Sin and the temptations from the Evil One. You heart allows you to feel that love and the desire to be with loved ones Forever. This feeling of the heart is prayer, loving Christ so much that Heaven becomes a destination that is anticipated because it is the fulfillment of your humanity, the purpose for which you were created, the relationship of someone who wants to be with you, Jesus.

DOING WHAT COMES NATURALLY The Church uses the natural order as the basis for morality and values. It also takes into account the effects of Original Sin. We are born of two parents, grow up with nutrients of knowledge and values, reproduce, but we are different from the animals. We can know that we know, to find meaning for a reason, to be able to expand our senses and minds to include love from God that sustains us for the trip to Forever. Humans are not destined for earth. Earth is the incubator for growing and learning how to love, for it is love that is the language of God and the nectar of Heaven.  The reason for the Church, the living  Body of Christ, is to feed us, clothe us, shelter us from that which does not lead to love and allow us to love others as Christ has loved us. We do not automatically go to Heaven as if we had no free will, but we have the words of Christ in Matthew 11: 28-30, Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Jesus is our mediator with the Father, but he is also our Brother and has given us the gift of adoption to be sons and daughters of the Father. This he has not done for flowers, even as beautiful and fragrant as they are. Why is that? All of these attributes that Jesus had he wants us to also share with others as love. We do that in silence and solitude by being open to the heart of Christ and allowing the Mystery of Faith to permeate our whole being, like invisible x-rays. Rather than destroying, they allow us to call God Abba, Father, and Christ, brother. When we do that we are all adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We pass on Christ, the Body and Blood of our Master through out own bodies. We can do that by Faith, by Hope, but most of all by the product of these two virtues, by love.

THE ANTICIPATION OF LOVE

RULE OF ST. BENEDICT: CHAPTER 72

Of the good zeal which monks ought to have

As there is an evil zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and life everlasting.  Let monks, therefore, practice this latter zeal with most fervent love: that is, let them in honor anticipate one another; let them bear most patiently one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of character; let them endeavor to surpass one another in the practice of mutual obedience; let no one seek that which he accounts useful for himself, but rather what is profitable to another; let them practice fraternal charity with a chaste love; let them fear God; let them love their Abbot with a sincere and humble affection; let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ; and may He bring us all alike to life everlasting. Amen. (emphases mine)

As part of my Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5) today, I began by thinking of the Christ Principle in my meditation but quickly segued into thinking about zeal, particularly the notion St. Benedict has about anticipating one another practice zeal with most fervent love. (See emphasis above).

In my former life as a trainer of managers and supervisors, I taught them on the subject of customer service and how going beyond the normal “thank you” to a customer will, hopefully, make them remember you and cause repeat business. None of that makes sense unless you actually mean it.  That seems like a lifetime ago and is now just a faint memory, yet the concept of “super-service” is a good one to think about. St. Benedict calls monks and nuns who seek to practice “good” zeal to be super monks, super nuns, or going beyond just being nice to those who are nice to you as a response. He calls for them to have zeal which anticipates of practicing fraternal charity with a chaste love for one another. I my Lectio, here are some things I thought about as it pertains to anticipating love.

In my Lay Cistercian approach to looking at reality, anticipation, as St. Benedict counseled, is best comprehended by looking at every day life and how I actually use anticipation to foster love for those around me.

Anticipating love means knowing that your spouse likes a certain meal, a flower, a smell, helping others by giving them gifts, then helping her by taking her to Trader Joe’s to buy groceries, flowers, or offering her to drive her to give gifts to others (flowers on birthdays, Korean Chim-chee, meals for sick friends).

  • Anticipating love means you send birthday greetings and flowers to others knowing that they will not send them to you. You don’t care.
  • Anticipating love means you give your children love as and when they need it, even when you know they won’t return it to you in the same way as you need it.
  • Anticipating love means I have zeal to place myself in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, Rosary, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, reading Chapter 4 of the Rule every day. Anticipation is excitement to be with the one you love.
  • Anticipating love means I don’t wait for those with cancer, those needing a heart transplant, those experiencing spiritual depression, to come to me with their pleas for someone to give them a kind word. Zeal means you are proactively radiating Christ to those around you, believers or not.
  • Anticipating love means you have zeal to be in the presence of those trying to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus, even if they don’t reciprocate. Enthusiasm is contagious when you sit next to Christ on a park bench in the cold of winter and soak up his presence without your agenda.
  • Anticipating the needs of others can only be accomplished with zeal to live in our Father’s house, living there with others who seek God.

Do Not Worry

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12)

God anticipates our needs (not our wants) and gives us what we need to treat others with the same love He has for us in Christ. We must, in turn, anticipate the needs of others with the zeal that can only come from our relationship with Christ Jesus.

As a Lay Cistercian,  I would like to be more conscious of anticipating love in those I meet. This is consistent with St. Benedict’s notion of hospitality. Here are some things to think about.

  • Does zeal preced anticipation or does anticipation induce zeal?
  • Good zeal is allowing Christ to be present to you, as much as you become present to Him.
  • Bad zeal is that which is based on hatred and deceit, such as the current political climate. Hateful statement about others demand hateful responses.  I don’t want to give hateful responses. That is bad zeal.
  • Bad zeal is proselytizing others to join your Church; good zeal is helping anyone to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).

Love means sharing. If you like any of these ideas from this blog, pass them on to others you love.

That in all things, God be glorified.  –St. Benedict

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