Sunday, August 22, 2021

Everybody Wants Love. But What IS "Love"?


It's an amazing thing, this impetus and need we call "love" that boils so deep inside everyone of us and that provokes us so inescapably.

We want love, we long for love, we fight over love, we resent the lack of love, we try to render ourselves immune to the pain and the risk of love...

Love: it is engraved on the heart; it constitutes our identity, and yet we don't even know what it is.

We are fooled by so many cheap deceptions that pose as love. We are ready to run to anything that promises "love," only to be disappointed again and again. Too often we abuse one another and provoke violence and atrocities, all the while claiming that we are doing these things "for love." Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong in our perception of what "love" is all about.

Often we use the word "love" as a synonym for a phrase that indicates something-I-really-WANT or something-that-makes-me-feel-really-good. This is only part of the whole dynamic of love. The real goal of our "wanting" is far greater than the limits of objects we use or feelings we perceive (which are not enough to satisfy us and ultimately point beyond themselves). In our lives we experience a fundamental intuitive sense that we are "called to love" - that the meaning of our existence is realized in an ecstasy of self-giving and receiving, of reciprocal interpersonal belonging - which, moreover, is founded on something Greater, on an original and sustaining gratuitous Gift.

We want to love, because in the depths of our being we recognize the basic fact that we are already loved. We are radically given to ourselves and to one another by an original Someone who "holds us all" in a transcendent mysterious love: all-encompassing yet intimately personal to each of us; invisible, ungraspable, yet real - the Source of our own reality - and entirely worthy of our trust.

Therefore, we are made for love. But we fail to trust in the Mystery who makes us, we lose perspective on reality, and our efforts to love degenerate into grasping at the world and reducing persons and things to our own measure. Without radical trust in the One who loves us, we try to make ourselves into the "guarantee" of the value of our own existence by dominating others (and we fear the power of others to crush us and deprive us of our value and personal dignity). Our "love" does not know how to receive and give, and so it becomes a project to take and manipulate, to crave and covet what we think we want and to hoard and devour what we think we "possess." We're all messed up regarding what it means to love and how to realize this basic facet of our humanity. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in all the dangers and crises and dysfunctional relationships and social problems of the world we live in. 

Nevertheless, it remains possible to love and be loved in this life. It is necessary to our humanity. And by living in authentic relationships with commitment and fidelity to other people - wherein we receive and give love, sacrifice ourselves for one another, collaborate in common endeavors, and look at one another with compassion, forgiveness, and mercy - we can experience and grow in the reality of true love.

Even still, it remains a mystery.

Ultimately, it is a mystery because love is at the core of our being-in-the-image-of-God. The human person is made in the image of the Infinite Mystery that that transcends all things, that brings all things into existence, sustains them in the fragility of their finite being, and guides them sweetly to their fulfillment - with the unsearchably vast and at the same time attentive tenderness and intimacy of ultimate wisdom and love.

We are made in the Image of God! We have an ineradicable dignity, a sense of purpose and responsibility, and the freedom to affirm and live our true identity.

Don't get down on yourself, ever! You are not worthless! You are worthy of love. And you are capable of love. The experience of love and the practice of loving are possible in every circumstance: in the family, at school or work, in play and recreation, in the self-giving of creativity, in helping others in a multitude of ways, and even in all the "little, inconsequential things" - the apparently superficial interactions we have with people all the time.

Love is also possible in times of darkness, amidst life's great burdens: in difficulties patiently borne, in the midst of confusion and upheaval, in the loneliness that can be such a great invisible suffering, in every kind of sickness, incapacity, sorrow, or grief. These things reveal to us our fragility and poverty, and we may feel that we cannot love because we have nothing to give. But this not true, because in these times especially God loves us and is close to us. He is at work within us to transfigure our poverty into more profound ways of loving. 

Finally, and perhaps harder to believe than any of the others, love is possible even in the intolerable dullness, boredom, and frustration, the apparently paltry and flawed accomplishments, and all the undignified failures and mistakes of an ordinary day. Here, where so much of our life is lived, God is surely present. Here, He secretly invites us to embrace the mystery of His ineffable plan wherein He is accomplishing the all-encompassing victory of love.

We must be confident that "Love will 'win'." (I am certain that this triumph of God's love has already been radically achieved and is working in the depths of human history and the heart of every human person, because my own life - incoherent though it may be - has been taken hold of by the love of Jesus Christ, who is the definitive revelation and accomplishment of God's love not only for me but for everyone. That is why I am "compelled" to profess the name of Jesus. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-Begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:16]. Whether I mention Him explicitly or not, all my hope for any goodness in the world, any recognition of human dignity, any value to what I accomplish with my work, is rooted in the joy of knowing the love of Jesus and the promise of the fulfillment of all things in Him.)

Love is at the heart of all life. We must never give up and turn to cynicism or discouragement because of the strange ways and apparent absences of love, or because of our impatience with the arduous and seemingly distant fulfillment that the vocation to love often entails. We are destined to grow through this life in ways beyond our imagining. We must sacrifice and persevere, because the fulfillment of love is so much greater than our hearts and our own measure. But it's worth it. It's what we are made for!

Love is real. So do not let yourself be cheated. God created you in His image. And God is not a void of ultimate loneliness. God is Love. God is communion. In an infinite and transcendent way - yet in a way that wholly penetrates and constitutes our being, awakens our aspirations, and sustains our hope - God is the "eternal embrace" that we all long to give and receive in love.

God calls us to love Him and to love one another "in Him," to be His children, and to realize the purpose of our lives by sharing forever in His embrace - the inexhaustible gift and fulfillment of Infinite Love.