I just dusted off an excerpt from some of the writings I made about my last retreat at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) sometime last February. I added some fresh ideas, much like putting new wine in old skins, so I don’t know if it is spoiled or not. You can judge.
When I think about it, while dwelling on Philippians 2:5, one of the few things Christ told us to do was the admonition to love one another as He has loved us. How simple! How utterly profound. If I want to love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and neighbor as myself, I should know and love as Christ has loved us. Here comes my problem. How does Jesus love us? After all these years, will I be the victim of my Ego and make Christ in my image and likeness, or is there a deeper meaning to what Christ says? I like to think there is a deeper meaning. There is. In silence and solitude, I seek (not that I have arrived) but still seek to be transformed by the love of Christ by sitting on a park bench in the dead of winter and waiting for Christ. Waiting is love.
I had some thoughts during my Lectio Divina on what it means for Christ to love us.
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 of 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 bade his followers follow his example. 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: 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. God just gave us a chance to love others as Christ loved us. 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. 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.
I WANT TO SHARE WHO I AM WITH YOU: In marriage, the covenant of relationship between man and woman means I share 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 how we adapt to each age is like clothes we put on. Each age has different customs, but there is always just a straightforward message, love one another. The Eucharist is an example of Christ wanting to share the love with us. Christ gave us and continues to give us his actual physical body in each age until the end of time itself. We called the Real Presence a sign of contradiction to those without faith, but no answer is possible or required to those with faith. 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 of being called Christophers (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. Still, I can try to begin each day to love others and see the world as Christ would see it, giving glory to the Father in the Eucharist, asking for mercy and forgiveness in Reconciliation, and 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 love those who love you back (light side of love) and love those who persecute you even if they kill you (dark love). 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.
This topic 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 pay attention. 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 demands choice, an uncomfortable choice, the dark side of love. This dark side of one is not evil or wrong or less love than the bright side. The dark side of love is not the same as dark love, but the reality is that sometimes love demands great courage and sacrifice to remain steadfast. You have heard of the phrase TOUGH LOVE.
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.
FORGIVE OTHERS AS YOU WANT THE FATHER 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 require change and redemption. The tricky part is committing not to do that behavior again, which most people either don’t 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 Christ’s love and acting upon it. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. 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, anyone, then you really don’t believe in what God is telling us love means. The love of Jesus is a stumbling block for those who consider themselves god.
PRAYER IS 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 the Father glory, 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 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 loving others as Christ, as only you can. Prayer is lifting up the heart and mind to God. 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 undoubtedly 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 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 in nature. Think of yourself as a beautiful flower whose whole purpose is to be a flower. Things come; 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 pain, suffering, and misfortune based many times on our choices. However, happiness, love, peace, joy, goodness, and thoughtfulness are also there. We are the conduits of 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. For me, the Genesis principle is 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 repeatedly? Would you not want to keep them in a particular 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 you have prayed to in your lifetime, and 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. Your 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 that 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, and 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 the 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 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, 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?
You have just read some ideas about what it means for God to love us. If sexual instincts which we share with animals in the physical universe are the most dominant of impulses we have to satisfy, then love, being from the mental universe, is one of the mysteries of what it means to be human that we have to master. Together, both physical and mental universes, the sexual appetites and how to use them authentically or, because of sin, unauthentically as a human, I learned human perspective as the World sees it from Eric Fromm, the author of the book, The Art of Loving, and an unlikely person to help me begin to understand what it means to know what love is, mainly because he is an atheist. These insights are astounding and astonishing, at least to a young spiritual novice in 1964. Some of my reflections as a Lay Cistercians on what it means for me to love others, using the love of Christ as my template.
Here is a quote from the art of which he speaks, The Art of Loving.
What are the necessary steps in learning any art? “The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love, we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. Learning art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body and various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice until, eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one — my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art — the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, medicine, for carpentry — and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.”
Love is not only knowing, which it most definitely is, but also doing. Fromm states that: “Love isn’t something natural. Rather, it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and overcoming narcissism. It isn’t a feeling. It is a practice.” In my short lifetime of trying, yet consistently failing, to love with all my mind and heart, I find this statement inspiring. He also gives the requirements for authentic love. “The mature response to the problem of existence is love.” “Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Love is not a spontaneous feeling, a thing that you fall into, but is something that requires thought, knowledge, care, giving, and respect (my emphasis). And it is rare and difficult to find in capitalism, which commodifies human activity. ”
In this question about fierce love, we need to include love at all to go to the heart of what it means to be human rather than an Anteater.
LOVE IS LIKE A VALENTINE CARD
Love has two dimensions: the mind (knowledge and logic) and the heart (emotion and feeling). Remember when you were in Third Grade, and everyone exchanged Valentine’s Day cards? What did you do when you went home that day? Did you put them in a particular spot in your drawer where you could pull them out and look at them frequently? Did you think of the person who gave you the card with affection? Did you feel a sense of warmth and pleasure?
Love is one of the ways humans are different from other living things. It is a form of communication between two persons, heart to heart, thinking of others, and wanting to help others. It can be with two humans or groups of humans. It can be between single persons, homosexuals, heterosexuals, groups of people, with families and relatives. Love is a human phenomenon. Love does not exist between animals or between animals and humans, although we can love our pets. Animals can’t love back. So, what is this love? It is one of the thresholds through which all of us must pass.
Mature love is so much more than a Valentine’s Day card. Here are Eric Fromm’s five criteria for authentic loving with some thoughts about both dimensions of the head and the heart.
Love is thinking of the one you love all the time.
Love is having their picture on your desk and in your heart.
Love is wanting to know as much as you can about your love.
Love is wanting the one you love to know as much about you as possible.
Love is patient with the one you love as they explore life.
Love forgiving others, realizing that you are not perfect.
Love knows that your loved one likes A-1 sauce on their steak, and you make sure you buy it at the store.
Love is learning the art of receiving from your loved ones, allowing them to love you in return.
Respect is wanting your love to succeed and do what it takes to ensure they meet their goals in life.
Love is taking the time to tame your others, waiting for them to grow and mature.
Write your thoughts on each of Eric Fromm’s five characteristics of authentic love.
As one who only aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, I try to have Christ Jesus’s mind in me. I say try because I struggle to fight the influences of the secular world to make me into God, to say that, after all, everyone has an opinion as to what is right and who God is, and you should not force others to believe what you do. There are elements of truth in that statement, but a fundamental flaw. Do you know what it is?
I have chosen to use silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community to help me conclude my journey to find out how to love as Jesus loved us.
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian Doxology
How is the heart important in converting you from self to God when you think of prayer? Do you struggle daily to keep your focus on the prize? What is the prize?