We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. (1 Jn 4:16)
Love appears without notice. When we fall in love, there is no time to think about what's happening. Falling in love is a crazy thing. It both hurts and soothes the aches of our innermost being. When I had been in love in the past, it would take me longer to put my socks on and to get ready in the morning because I was constantly thinking about that person. When we fall in love, coffee tastes better and there is a scent of hopefulness in the air. To me, falling in love is not quite a graceful thing, but it is an experience full of grace.
The problem with this kind of love is that it is mostly a feeling or an emotion. While it is true that we can find God through our feelings and emotions, this sort of feeling makes me think that we can fall out of love just as easily as falling in love. This has puzzled me for a while, especially in light of the advice given by the former General Superior of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.” Certainly, Don Pedro hoped for all of us to experience love. Yet, he did not merely advise us to fall in love. He also exhorted us to stay in love. He counselled us to fall in Love, to dive into the wondrous waters of Love itself. The love he calls us to experience is the love of the Heart of Jesus.
Fr. Arrupe urged us towards the direction of true love. Recently, reading Louis de Bernières' Captain Corelli's Mandolin has prompted me to ponder about the difference between falling in love and being in love. Speaking about love, Pelagia (Captain Corelli's love interest) declares:
When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement... Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But it is!Love is much more than a temporary madness; that much I know. It is more than a feeling or an emotion. The renown social psychologist Erich Fromm told us so when he said that love is a decision, a judgement, a promise. Otherwise, nobody would have a basis for promising to love another forever. As Blessed Pope John Paul II used to tell us: “Love is a choice.” Love is a decision we make every day. Even when the people we love do something that upsets us or drives us crazy, we can still decide to love them.
I have no problem with thinking about love as a decision, but I object to the idea that love is what is left when passion has gone. For me, love has always meant a passionate encounter with someone who gives meaning to my life. To love is to give myself to someone who gladdens my heart. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. In my life, such an encounter has always required and included a great deal of passion and devotion. I cannot think of my love for those dear to me as only a simple decision or choice, not matter how clear or how important that choice is.
I have tried to invest most of my life in loving Jesus and his Bride, the Church, and loving those God has blessed my life with. I hope it can be said of me: “Here is a man who loves much.” Yet, I know that I have loved badly at times. Nonetheless, in my inadequate and limited way of loving, I have discovered that love is a passionate commitment. Love makes no sense to me in any other way.
Loving others has prepared me to love God. It has taught me to fully appreciate the words of Dorothy Day: “You only love God as much as you love the person you love the least.” I have been created to love God. And I cannot truly love him, until I learn to love all the people he has blessed my life with. As I learn to love them, I learn to give my heart to Jesus. By giving my heart to him, I commit myself to love and serve his people. To love “my Lord and my God” is a passionate commitment. It is an adventure that transforms me and broadens my horizons.
We are all called to contemplate the Heart of Jesus, and in that loving experience to find the passion and the commitment to be instruments of his love. To love Jesus requires a little bit of madness and a lot of resolution to die to ourselves. To love God requires a zeal for his kingdom and the willpower to choose his will every day. Nothing is more practical than falling in Love; nothing is more exciting. Nothing affects us and transforms the world like the love of God.