Tag Archives: Love

What is Love?

 

Recently, my Facebook page has been ripe with conversation over the whole issue of the Obama Administration forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients with the new HHS mandate.  It has been an interesting (and, to be frank, tiring) conversation.  Many friends who are not religious have been especially vocal on the discussion.  Some have realized the real issue – religious freedom – while others have totally missed the point, thinking this is all about contraception.

In regards to contraception, a lot of people who I have discussions with promote the idea that Jesus is all about love and peace and so therefore he should be about letting us do thing according to the norms of today.  They are right to an extent: Jesus is about love and peace.  However, the Christian understanding of love and peace are vastly different than what the world thinks.

In regards to peace, the day to day parlance tends to mean “without conflict, comfort, stability”.  For Christians, this is anything but the case.  Peace comes from living a devoted relationship to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Peace comes from embracing the Cross, from living a life of love for God and others.  Peace, then, could be in the midst of conflict and strife: externally, things may be anything but peaceful!  Yet in the heart of the Christian, they have the certitude of faith that Jesus is with them in this moment and that they are following the will of God that they have come to know for themselves through prayer and discernment.

This leads me to what love means for the Christian.  This is perhaps the most misunderstood concept about Jesus and Christianity in the world.  Love, for many today, means nothing more than to accept people’s actions and norms as they are.  In short: be as you are, that’s all that matters.  To an extent, there is a kernel of truth to this: we love people as they are, but it does not mean we are always affirming of their actions.  We love the murderer (to be hyperbolic) but do not approve of his actions!

For Christianity, love is self-sacrificing, objective, and demanding of more.

Self-Sacrificing

This is the core of Christian love.  It is encountered by all when the see Jesus on the Cross.  Love in human flesh is put on the Cross out of love for us.  He goes up there willingly with the desire to embrace all the sin of humanity so that humanity can live their true calling once again.  It is a complete death-to-self-for-the-sake-of-the-other.  It is putting my self to the side for the one whom I love.  It is in this complete death to self for the other that makes me human.  The Second Vatican Council teaches that “man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self”.  To give myself is the means to finding myself because, by giving my whole self to an other, I thereby find myself accepted, loved, and affirmed in the one to whom I give my whole self to.  To give consideration to self is contrary to Gospel love.  Selfishness has no place in it.  Every serious Christian knows this and does what they can to root it out of their lives with the help of God’s grace.  This type of love is the basis for the demand of greatness and the objective character of love.

Objective

This aspect of Christian love comes from the great insights of St Ignatius of Loyola and my reading of my favourite theologian: Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Love is objective.  What do we mean by this?  The term objective in Christian parlance means that it is greater than me, it holds a force that transcends me as an individual and calls me to make it personal in my life, to become flesh to it.  Love as objective, then, has a very personal dimension: it is something I make my own and is not me.  For love to be objective in me, I need to embody it completely and put my self to the side completely.  In way, love as objective is another way of speaking about love as self-sacrificing except that I find it gives it a much more personal dimension.  Love is something that calls me to embrace it completely and to live it with a totality of my life because, by doing so, I become the person God calls me to be.  We are only truly happy, truly joyful when we allow God in our lives so completely, so totally,that people see Christ in us and we see Christ in others.  To live the objectivity of love, then, requires complete and totally humility.  Humility is that complete openness to the truth of reality: to let God speak as He is, to let our world “be itself” to us.  Humility is listening with an openness and attentiveness that – frankly – is difficult in a world full of noise.  I have a whole post on humility that I want to write so I think I’m going to leave it there for now.

Demanding of More

For me, this is perhaps one of the more misunderstood elements of Christian love.  As I said above, people are right that we are to love people as they are.  But, since love is objective, it calls us to something more than we are.  It is greater than us because the Person Who embodies it – Jesus Christ – is both perfect man and Son of God.  The love we wish for in our lives, the love we yearn for by being distracted, the love we seek in casual sex, the love we seek in countless relationships with “the love of our life (I’m sure this time!!)”, the love we seek in material wealth, it is all an expression of a deeper desire of our human heart for something more.  It is why we accumulate, it is why we try more things: we are seeking for the one thing that fulfills the call of our hearts.

Our issue, though, is that we seek that one thing in that which does not call us to be more.  One of the most disheartening things I have heard from people in this conversation about contraception is the pessimistic, lethargic, and complete undervaluing of the human person.  People do not expect great things out of themselves or others.  They say they are “realists” because they are in tune with what is normative in our culture.  Is millions of abortions normative?  Is suicide normative?  Is loneliness normative?  Is poverty – both of the heart and financially – normative?  The way a society exists is – if you will – the work of art of a culture.  What is in the soul of our society expresses itself in the ‘art’ of our actions and what is normative.  I do not see a society all that happy.  I see a society that is content, and that scares me.  Jesus said “it is better to be hot or cold” but do not be lukewarm.

The Christian teaching of love demands us to be greater than we are.  What we are now is not who we are called to be.  We are called to be so much more!!!!  We are called to live a life of heroism in the ordinariness of our lives!  Deep down, there is a desire to be unique, special, and loved.  But many of us have found that desire frustrated, trampled on, and destroyed all too many times by those we thought loved us.  This is sad and true.  But it does not justify repressing our desire for that “something more”.

I know from experience.  My life prior to my conversion – and to an extent it will never leave me! – was a life of complete selfishness.  I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and how I wanted to do it.  And I was miserable.  I had no direction in my life.  My heart yearned for more, but regardless of where I went, my heart was never satisfied.  The encounter with Jesus Christ changed my life.  In one night of prayer, I encountered Him Who I had been searching for all along.  I can guarantee it: if there is a life lived for the Love which fulfills all desire – the love that is incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ – then all you search for, all you yearn for, is completed in Him.

I thought I was happy before encountering Him.  Now that I know Him, I realize the misery that was a part of my life.  But we cannot see the darkness of our misery until we see the brilliant light of His Love.

in Christ

-Harrison

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On Rhetoric in the Debate on Marriage

Lately, on Facebook, the following video has been floating around:

Yes, the rhetoric of this young man is amazing.  He is well spoken, and has a good head on his shoulders it seems.

Yes, he has grown up normally.

I do not doubt his experience, or his normalcy at all.  I give credence to every single word he said.

In fact, I must admit, watching this video initially, I was challenged by it: the young man is incredibly persuasive.  What can one say in response to that?

To an extent, not much can be said.  I think one of the issues of the marriage debate is that the two sides speak two totally different languages and have two totally different worldviews.  We are talking at each-other, and not with each other.

I know some friends may be reading this and, seeing the clip online themselves, would be hard pressed to offer a reasonable response to such a clip: I too find it difficult, which is why I have had to take some time to reflect, to give serious weight to his words and arguments, and to see if I hold onto every word he says.

I will start with an agreement.  I don’t think the marriage debate should be on the impact of gay parents on their children.  While I am not for such an upbringing – for reasons which I will not bring up here – I do not think it ought to be the basis of the argument.  Ultimately, it doesn’t hold water: it is too subjective.  People like Zach (and I know others, too) have grown up to be well balanced and productive individuals in society.  They are proof against the argument (though proof can be offered on the opposite side as well).  In fact, good or bad upbringing can happen even in families with heterosexual parents.  This is not where the argument can lie.  Thus, Zach is right at first: if the argument is about upbringing, then the law must be in favour of same-sex couples.  But that is – or at least ought not – to be where the argument lies.

As beautiful as passionate rhetoric can be – his speech is a fine example of the finest rhetoric – rhetoric itself cannot be the basis of a judgment.  I recall during the Presidential Election hearing one of Obama’s speeches.  I was swept up in it.  His rhetoric was persuasive – not on the intellectual level, but on the emotional – your emotions could almost lead you to say “Yes we can” with him.  But reality is not based on emotions.  I remembered afterwards thinking about his actual arguments – what he was really saying – and realized I myself almost got swept up in the emotional stir that I experienced.  I didn’t agree with his arguments at the time – though I no longer recall what they were – and realized, unfortunately, most speech is emotion only.  Reason has fallen out the window.  People, because of the fact that emotions and feelings have become the basis of their life, fall into the emotional stir often and, thinking they are applying their reason, really throw it out the window.  I recall, again with Obama as the example, that Howard Stern did a brief little walking survey of Americans asking who they would vote for, isolating those who were voting for Obama.  Then he said “Well, I guess that means you’re pro-life” or “pro-war” or what not – positions Obama explicitly did not hold.  And these people answered that yes, they too were for that.  What Stern was demonstrating was the fact that people were not informed in their voting, but to me it demonstrated a deeper reality: people were swept up in Obama-feeling and not in Obama-fact.  Feelings and reason are not opposed, though reason is higher in the human person.  But people tend to pit one against the other.  In our North American society as of late, we have leaned towards the feelings and have imposed the concept of reason to them.  The arbiters of our moral compass are no longer our minds informing our lived life: it is our feelings that are equated with the mind.  In the search for reason, we have become unreasonable.

This brings me back to my argument about Zach’s speech.  What happened with Obama is what is happening with Zach’s speech, and is probably why it is taking the internet by storm.  But there is a statement in his speech that made me ask myself “is that really true?”  He said that love is the basis of family.  I agree with this, but my question is, what does he understand love to be?  Is it a feeling?  Well, we have “loving feelings” all the time, they come and go, and they are not the basis for love as love.  So he probably didn’t mean that – even though people tend to equate love with that.  He did equate the concept of commitment with love.  He is right about that.  Commitment and love go hand in hand.

Zach and I would probably even agree that life-long committed love is expressed through the sexual act.  But it is exactly at this point, too, that we would diverge.  Because what is at issue in the whole debate – an issue that the courts do not seem to take into account – is the concept of the human person.  What I see in the statements of those who are pro-homosexual marriage is that there is a different concept of the human person in both sides of the argument.  For those who are pro-homosexual marriage, they do not see the person as a body and soul unity.  Love can be expressed in a sexual way regardless of whether or not the parts fit.  For those who are pro-traditional sense of marriage, the opposite is true: deep down, their concept of the human person is one that sees the body as expressing the soul: they are in a great communion.  Their acts are expressive of their nature, and so to have a ‘male body’ means to be a ‘male soul’ as well.

While what I have just said is incredibly basic, lacking nuance, and needing of a far more extensive treatment, I think this is more where the issue really lies.  The concept of the human person is under attack, and has been since the enlightenment.  By trying to value the body, many post-modern thinkers have actually devalued it.  Yet – and this is where one, with time and space, could demonstrate the inherent inconsistency of the post-modern view of the human person – if we took a deep and profound look at our experience of life, we would realize that tendencies, even strong one’s, do not define us, that the body needs a soul and the soul a body. We would realize that to be truly human is to value the beauty of the body and the soul in its complete integrity.  As I read Maurice Blondel’s “L’Action”, I think his philosophy offers us a key to engaging this issue.  That is where the argument ought to be – in the realm of the human person – and that is precisely where it is not.

As an end note, I must insist completely: I am not anti-gay people in any way, shape or form, though I know those who read this who are pro-gay marriage, despite my saying that, will still think I either hate or strongly discriminate against gays.  I do not.  I am not attacking them.  The reason why people will say I am anti-gay people, though, is because they believe, in the end, that action defines who we are.  I think that action expresses our choices as to who we want to be: one in accord with our nature, or one who acts against it.  That is where the argument is, and, despite the qualification I have now just posted, I will still be called a bigot, a gay-hater, etc.  I have tried to make it known I am not, but accept the fact that I may still be called that.

in Christ

-Harrison

 

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Love of Neighbour

A person is more than just their body.

A person is more than just their physical beauty.

A person is more than just their laugh.

A person is more than just their hair colour.

A person is more than just their physical attributes.

A person is more than just their intellect.

A person is more than just their personality.

A person is more than just their words.

A person is more than just their interests.

A person is more than just their quirks that frustrate you.

A person is more than just their lack of sensibility.

A person is more than just their anger.

A person is more than just their constant complaining.

A person is more than just their possessions.

A person is more than just their selfishness.

A person is more than just their ego.

A person is more than just their self-centeredness.

A person is more than just their inability to love another.

A person is more than just their addiction.

A person is more than just their actions.

A person is more than just their political views.

A person is more than just their unfaithfulness.

A person is more than just their rudeness.

A person is more than just their crankiness.

 

A person is more than all these things.  When Jesus commands us to love our neighbour, He asks us to love the person who is our neighbour.  Our neighbour is the drug addict, the prostitute, the person at Church who is cranky to us, the person in our family we have difficulty loving.  Our neighbour is our parents, friends, family, and all the strangers we meet.  In each one of them we find Jesus, in each one of them, there is a dignity beyond their individual traits.

Yet, we, due to concupiscence have “the concupiscence of the eyes” (1 Jn 2:15): we look to what is immediately in front of us and do not see the person who is greater than the sum of our parts.

If we want to begin to love our neighbours as Jesus loves them, we must begin by looking past the attributes to the person who expresses himself in those attributes.  The person is not the parts, but is more than what we see.  Our neighbour is a person who has a mystery we delve into, never fully plumbing the depths of who they are.  When we look past their attributes – and it is especially in regards to their attributes which we find frustrating or difficult to put up with – then we see them as God sees them: a child of God who is a temple of the Holy Spirit and Christ to us, warts and all.

A person is more than just their….

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Overemphasis of Excitement

I couldn’t take it anymore.  Yesterday, as I took a break from my paper on Blondel, I checked my Facebook for messages and to see what friends were up to.  The following is things I tended to see:

  • The most amazing thing ever happened to me…
  • That was the best time ever
  • This is the coolest song I have ever listened to
  • Today can be an amazing day if you make it so
  • Let yourself be encountered by the awesome amazingness of Jesus today

Then I did some browsing and came across websites that had roughly the same things to say about their products (though, admittedly, I did not see anything mentioned about Jesus in the advertisements).  I had to step back for a bit.  I was overwhelmed by the seeming awesomeness of the world.  Everything was perfect and wonderful, and it made me want to puke.

The world is indeed amazing, and full of wonder.  Even the most minute of things has wonder and awe built into it.  What disturbs me about the above sayings, and many other sayings like it, is that it does not really reflect reality.  Is that really the coolest song you have ever listened to?  What about the previous song, or the one before that which you declared to be “the coolest song ever”?  I am the last person to say that Jesus isn’t awesome and amazing.  But the encounters we have with Him are often hidden and full of the mystery of His Presence.  We do not recognize Him right away.

What disturbs me about the over-excitedness and enthusiasm of the world is two things.  First, people believe you when you say something is great.  They try it out, only to find it is not so great.  And then they tend to not believe you in the future.  They have high expectations of the experience and, when those expectations are not met, they discredit that which they experience.  This is particularly true of faith-related matters.  We must be passionately in love with Jesus Christ: I agree with this.  But it does not need to be pronounced each day like a thirteen year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, either.  Love is not manifested in excitement, it is manifested in death to self for the sake of others.  It means actually going through the hard knocks of reality, embracing the world, loving it with every fiber of your being, and giving every drop of your energy, life, and love for it.  Look at someone like Mother Teresa.  She had a very serious demeanor about her.  She smiled often, but she was also serious too.  But the world does not remember her because she was excitedly in love with Jesus.  The world remembers her because she lived her love for Jesus each day.

Often, especially in relation with youth, we try to tap that youthful energy to be about screaming, excitableness, and pure-enthusiasm. Enthusiasm becomes the litmus test for our faithfulness to Christ.  Youth have energy, and, I believe, there is even a place for such youthful excitement at times.  But that energy is meant to be tapped so that they can be trained in the love of Jesus Christ.  That is the challenge, and it is a challenge because we live in a world that overemphasizes this excitement.

Thus, to an extent, I do not blame people for this.  It is all they know.  And that is because it is all they are exposed to.  This brings me to my second point.  We are in a commercialized culture: all we know is advertisements.  And what do advertisements say?  “Use this cream and your skin will be healthier”, “use this drug and your marriage will be happier”, “buy this car and your life will be fulfilled.”  Advertisement, as the great culture critic Neil Postman once said, is no longer about selling a product according to its own merits.  Instead, advertisement manipulates a product so as to make it seem like you will be the happiest person with it in your life.  But it is not the case, and we all know it.  When we buy that cream, that electronic device, that car, we are, initially, excited about it.  But our excitement wavers because we realize the fulfillment it promises is no fulfillment at all.  If everything is exciting, then everything becomes dull.

What we must do, instead, as Christians, is to be critical towards the world we live in while also loving it.  It means toning down our excitement and not buying things at face value.  It means using our energy for something greater: for Christian love.  It means using every fiber of our being, day by day, to loving God and others with a deeper love.  That is the true call of Christians.  Excitement comes and goes, but the love of Christ is forever.

I wrote on a similar topic before.  Check out The Heresy of Happiness.

in Christ

-Harrison

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