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.
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.
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.