Love is the Problem

Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J











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“God is love.” (1 John 4:8) “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom.13:10) Love is my origin, my mission and my destiny. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, what is your state in life, what is your job - what matters, and without which nothing else matters, is that you love. Love is the divine alchemy that transforms the most insignificant task into spiritual gold. (1 Cor.13: 1-3)

There is no doubt that love is the answer. But love is also the problem. What is love? Love is a many-splendored thing. It has many different meanings. It can mean lust and it can mean self-sacrifice. In marriage it means everything. In tennis love means nothing. In the rest of life it can mean anything. We love oranges, pizza and football. Love is the most misunderstood and misused word in the language.

It is said that one day Michelangelo was attracted to a magnificent six foot block of Italian marble and contemplated it with admiration. He was so captivated by its possibilities that he went to work with chisel and hammer and after many weeks of chipping, surveying and chipping again, lo and behold there was David. So as we contemplate and admire this large magnificent concept of love let us begin by chipping away all those things that it is not and see what we arrive at.

Love is not like. What is it that makes us like one person and dislike another? Whatever it is, it is something over which we have little or no control. Love is in the will. Since we have a free will we can love those we dislike, even our enemies. We can love them because they are made in the image of God and have an intrinsic core goodness that nothing can destroy. We can distinguish between the person and the person’s actions. Opinions and actions are to be judged, but the person is to be loved. We may hate the sin but love the sinner. No one hated sin more than Jesus and no one ever loved the sinner as much as he did.

Love is not justice. Justice is that moral virtue which makes us give to others what they have a right to. Justice forms the infrastructure of love. Love begins where justice ends. Once we have given to others what they have a right to, then we are in the field of love.

Love is not found in words. Love is found in deeds. “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt.7:21) Love is authenticated by the observance of the commandments. “If you love me keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Loving deeds are the fruit and the proof of love. St. Augustine said, “Love, and do what you will.” What he meant was that if we truly love we will do what is right.

Love does not mean an absence of conflict. Real conflicts do not destroy love. They lead to clarification and strength. Each person is unique and sees reality in a unique way. So love is a constant challenge; a working together whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness. It is a growing together. It would be a rather dull world if everyone agreed on everything. To disagree is not to hate. Love makes it possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

It is not possible for anyone to give an absolutely objective view of anything. Our view is colored by our personality and our experience. Each person is a mystery, a mystery even to themselves. A mystery only God knows. We should respect this mystery and not try to destroy it with a stereotype. How wise is the advice of St. Augustine, “In necessary things let us have unity, in doubtful things let us have liberty, but in all things let us have charity.”

Love does not mean that you never have to say you are sorry. Reconciliation is an important part of human love. Human nature is such that people cannot love one another very long without having to forgive and be forgiven. Reconciliation is the catalyst that causes love to mature and grow. That is what Jesus meant when he said to whom little is forgiven loves little. We have a wonderful example of this in the parable of the prodigal son. The young man knew his father loved him. But it was not until he had squandered all of his inheritance in dissolute living and then received the complete forgiveness of his father that he realized how much his father really did love him. It was an experience the elder son would never have. Forgiveness is not the “reprieve of a judge, but the embrace of a lover.”

Love is not cheap. It costs to be a lover. The language of love is sacrifice. Never has this language of love been spoken so convincingly and as efficaciously as our Lord spoke it from the cross on Calvary. The crucifix with the wounded heart will ever be the symbol and the proof of love. If you want to know how much you love someone just ask yourself how much you are willing to sacrifice, not of your possessions, but of yourself for that person.

Just like Michelangelo we have been chipping away at the concept of love to remove its false meanings, to see what it is not. Now we have arrived at a true definition of Christian love. And lo and behold there is Jesus. It is a definition not in words but in flesh, it is an incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1: 1-14) “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jo.3:16) Jesus is God-incarnate. “God is love.” Jesus is love-incarnate. Jesus Christ is the fullest expression both of the love of God for us and the fullest expression of the human response to that love.



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