Authentic Love: Intangible and Freely Given

I don’t know if it’s just me, but one downside about growing up cradle Catholic is that I have this tendency of taking God’s love for granted. Sometimes, when I feel particularly melancholy, I feel as though God’s love is obligatorily given. He created me, sure, but he also created mosquitoes, roaches, and Michael Bay. He’s God. He loves me and everybody.

But my mother reminds me that God cares as much for the individual just as much as he loves everything he created. You don’t send your only son to be tortured and killed because you have to save humanity. It’s hard for me to believe that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit truly love me, just as an individual and not as just a part of a larger species.

It’s a lot harder for me to remember the blessings in my life when I get into this melancholic state. I’m constantly haunted by my past and fear the future. My present state isn’t so great at the moment, either, because I feel like God is so far from me.

Even though I’m a person who tends to trust her intuition and feelings, there’s still a part of me that wants something tangible. I need proof of God’s love on a constant basis, as if the sacrifice on the Cross and saving me wasn’t enough. It takes a lot of prayer and some songs for me to remember that God holding me even now.

It’s during times like this that I turn to the saints and remember that they shared these same problems. And in spite of my melancholy trying to take over me, I fight against it and try to remember the blessings God gave me. There’s no point thinking of the tragedies that might have been when I’m starting a whole new chapter of my life.

As often as I envy converts, I still feel blessed that I was born and raised in the Catholic faith. I had the privilege of having great nuns as teachers (alongside a good number of lay women). I read The Imitation of Christ during my years in public school and attended a Bible study group that kept my faith afloat even when I felt so lost. God was always working in my life, even when I didn’t feel like He was there, keeping me from going too far. Eventually, I was led to a wonderful Catholic university that helped me to grow in my faith.

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Whenever I think about the stuff that happened after I graduated college, I’m reminded of this song from Laura Story:

In spite of the fact that I developed anxiety, experienced betrayal when I least expected it, and felt like I was stuck in a hole that I couldn’t get out of, God was there to save me.

I don’t have any tangible proof of God’s love, just a lot of memories.

I remember the white smoke that came out, the first little sign that things would be okay. The world gained a new pope while I gained a new hope. I graduated from college. I went to retreats and an Audrey Assad concert. I started teaching Catechism. I started volunteering at retreats as a staff member. I learned the power of intercessory prayer.

Eventually, God took me places I couldn’t even imagine. Sure, I haven’t moved anywhere, but I gained more friends and eventually went to a convention for the first time since my early college years. I eventually gave a talk at a retreat. And now, I’m doing what I wanted: getting paid to write. It’s not exactly writing the Great American Novel and being JK Rowling levels of wealthy, but you gotta start somewhere.

God’s love may not be tangible, but it’s there and it’s a gift that is given with all the love a benevolent Creator can have. It’s not an obligation. It’s a state of grace.

 

Four Loves Friday: Agape AKA Charity

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

The last section of CS Lewis’s The Four Loves brings in a form of love that goes beyond the natural loves of Affection, Friendship, and Eros. The difference of life with three of the four loves but no agape and life with all four loves is the difference between a garden and a wilderness, according to Lewis. He also emphasizes that the three previous loves are not rivals to God’s love (Agape) in and of themselves. The way that the rivalry was created was when we put the three loves ahead of Agape, an idolization of them if you will.

Think of it this way: it’s harder to find works in media that portray selfless love. Eros is easy to find, due to our hypersexualized culture. Agape is stuff saved for Oscar movies or movies that want to get Oscars. It’s harder to find in the everyday life, partially because of how selfish and skeptical the culture is. We often scoff at the “Christ” metaphors in superhero movies such as Man of Steel, we often question a celebrity’s altruistic motives, and while we all love A Christmas Carol, our minds cling to the image of the miserly version of Scrooge rather than the changed man he became in the end.

But does being selfish and skeptical really benefit society and ourselves in the long run? To make a long answer short: NO! 

No matter how hard we try to pride ourselves as an intellectual society, the fact of the matter is that we are a culture that follows our passions. Human beings can’t cut themselves off from emotion unless they want to be labeled as a “sociopath.” There’s no such thing as being “incapable of loving” because even the worst of humanity has something or someone that they love.

This is also the most theologically centered chapter of the book because Agape ties into so much of what God means to Christianity. In the eyes of Christianity, God IS Love. He created humanity to love him, but the love He wants isn’t a forced love. God NEVER forces any person to love Him if they don’t desire it because real love comes from free will. Christians don’t do good things because they think they’ll go to Heaven. They do good things because God’s love inspires them to love others in return.

So often, people think that Christianity is hateful when in reality, Christianity is so selfless that they want to protect people from hurting themselves. In the end, everyone has a choice to make, but Christians want to encourage people to make good choices. Christians don’t get anything out of trying to stop somebody from hurting themselves, if their motives are for all the right reasons. Real Christians don’t actively try to condemn others, but they admonish others.

Admonish means to caution someone, to remind a person of his or her obligations to something. Think of a child who is still learning the ways of the world. If a child was going to climb a tree, you would caution that child to be careful. If a child was procrastinating on an important project, you would remind that child of his or her duty as a student.

This all falls under the category of selfless love because the person who is admonished may hate the person doing the admonishing; he may not listen or he may condemn the other person. But the person doing the admonishing will still love the person being admonished anyway.

The best example of Agape in a person is Mother Teresa. She serviced the poor, but she never discriminated against a person’s religion. However, she did admonish wealthy countries and spoke out against abortion. Some people have hated Mother Teresa for what she stood for, but she continued to do her work anyway.

I’ll end this entry with a quote attributed to Mother Teresa and leave you to think about how our society would be if we were all a little more like her…

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

 

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

 

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

 

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

 

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

 

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

 

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

 

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

 

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.