From The Blog

Mission Monthly – April 2007

“Love shares the good with another not by dividing it with him, but by identifying itself with him so that his good becomes my own.”

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Every year during Great Lent, as I am blessed to carry out my most “fulfilling” task as priest—the hearing of Confessions, there usually arises a common theme which our Lord seems to ask me to speak about with His beloved who have been given to my care. This year the theme that has been most powerfully present in the Confessional conversation has been the true meaning of loving others . For those of you reading this who had one of these conversations with me I sure you remember what I am writing about.

The most important aspect of love and the ability to love, I believe, is founded on the understanding and belief that all of life is interconnected, man with man, man with nature, and nature within itself. Creation is a system of life in which all living things are bound. It is this connectedness that forms the demand for a certain action among God’s rational creatures that is defined as love. In this view the most unloving thing a man can do is cut himself off from other men and be concerned only for himself. It is most interesting that only man can make the free choice of self(ishness). In the Akathist of Thanksgiving we hear, “Nature responds to [God’s] law, but I do not.” That which is of nature and lower forms of life are not given the gift of free and rational thought, therefore it is only man who can choose to disconnect himself from God and from the rest of creation (or so he thinks).

I do not want to say too much about the disconnectedness of modern society. There is much already written about this by both religious and secular observers. Suffice to say there is widespread agreement that within modern society and man’s pursuit of a material standard of living there has been much harm done to his ability and willingness to love. In fact, this probably was my main point in those many Confessional conversations: we as a society and each of us individually, at one level or another, suffer from a lack of love; meaning that most of us really struggle with identifying, as Thomas Merton states above, with the state of anyone or anything other than ourselves.

Certain biblical passages come to mind as I ponder this fundamental definition of love. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (St. John 15:13). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (St. Matthew 19.19). And maybe most importantly, “We love, because He first loved us”(1 John 4:19). From childhood we move from dependence to independence and as we grow we learn more and more to give and to sacrifice. We are taught to acknowledge the other but even more importantly we are commanded to completely identify with the other as with my own life. If we ignore this commandment the other is seen at best as only an inconvenience and at worst as a burden.

We live in a climate of self-determined ambition, which is a product of sin and the result of a lack of true love. This was the very subject vividly discussed in so many Confessional conversations this Lent because people are hurting! This is the most amazing fact to which we all are at least partially (and tragically) blinded. We are hurting and unfulfilled in our isolation: spouses from each other, parents and children from each other, extended family, friends, and co-workers from each other. And why, because we have been deceived into adopting a virtually singular material existence, an almost “every man for himself” mentality. This unfortunately leaves very little emotional time or room for one another, let alone an ability or willingness to identify with and love one another.

One cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us as Christians to make this pursuit of love our first and foremost priority. We have not been set in this life simply to pursue our own interests and secure our own wellbeing! This is one of the most important lessons we learn from our Lord Who became incarnate for our sakes, to die, and by His death to defeat death and sin for us. The love of God for His creation and His complete identification with us *save sin* is the perfect image of what our life is to be in this world; and one of the reasons why we suffer is precisely because we reject this image and choose our own isolated image—life disconnected from Life (which cannot be life)!

Repentance from this grave sin is paramount and requires our immediate and vigilant attention. It requires our worship, our prayer, our discipline, our gratitude, and our total conviction knowing what God has done for us and what life is truly meant to be. And it requires our response, the difficult response of learning to love one another, as we have been loved by the One Who is Love, and Who has loved us completely, in life, in death, and in Life! Beloved! Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!