Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Number One!

Love! Love is number one. And there's lots of love over at Cinema Catechism at 11:11 on 11/11/11.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

"The Bridegroom is coming."

In Act Two of his play, The Jeweler's Shop, Blessed Karol Wojtyla tells the story of Anna, whose marriage to Stefan began with promise, but has turned to the bitterness of disappointment and disillusionment. They have become like strangers in the same house, and she believes that their love is dead. But the mysterious jeweler will not take her wedding ring when she tries to sell it -- her husband still being alive, her ring alone does not weigh anything when he places it on his scales, which "weigh not the metal, but man’s entire being and fate." Ashamed, but still desperate for love, she leaves the jeweler's shop and meets a "chance interlocutor" who speaks to her of the Bridegroom who is coming.

In the parable of the Bridegroom and the Ten Virgins, which is the Gospel reading at Mass for this Sunday (Mt 25:1-13), we usually think of its lesson of constant readiness, but Pope John Paul uses it to add a couple of insights to our understanding of love.

Adam – I told Anna, “The Bridegroom will come shortly.” I said this thinking of the love which had so died in her soul. The Bridegroom passes through so many streets, meeting so many different people. Passing, he touches the love that is in them. It if is bad, he suffers for it. Love is bad when there is a lack of it. . . .

Anna – Isn’t what one feels most strongly the truth? . . . Is not love a matter of the senses and of a climate which unites and makes two people walk in the sphere of their feeling?
Adam, however, did not fully agree with this. Love is, according to him, a synthesis of two people’s existence which converges, as it were, at a certain point, and makes them into one. And then again he repeated that the Bridegroom would walk down this street shortly. This news, heard for the second time, not only fascinated me, but suddenly awoke a longing in me. A longing for someone perfect, for a man firm and good, who would be different from Stefan -- different, different . . . And with the feeling of this sudden longing, I must have started running, looking closely at the men I passed.

[Anna begins to encounter various men passing by.]

Adam – This is just what compels me to think about human love. There is no other matter embedded more strongly in the surface of human life, and there is no matter more unknown and more mysterious. The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama. It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence. The surface of love has its current – swift, flickering, changeable. A kaleidoscope of waves and situations full of attraction. This current is sometimes so stunning that it carries people away – women and men. They get carried away by the thought that they have absorbed the whole secret of love, but in fact, they have not yet even touched it. They are happy for a while, thinking that they have reached the limits of existence and wrested all its secrets from it, so that nothing remains. That’s how it is: on the other side of that rapture, nothing remains, there is nothing left behind it. But there can’t be nothing, there can’t! Listen to me, there can’t. Man is a continuum, a totality and a continuity – so it cannot be that nothing remains! . . .

Anna – [meets a second passerby] I was almost ready to cling to his arm . . . I longed so much for a man’s arm and a walk along the avenue of wilting chestnut trees. He went on to say, “How about stepping into that club?” . . . “And then?” I asked. He did not reply, and I seemed to take fright at that “then.” He must have had a wife . . . Suddenly, I realized what the expression “a casual woman” could mean. . . . I kept walking, however, still thinking about the same thing, coming forward, as it were, toward every passing man. . . .
Now I’m on the edge of the pavement. On the curb.... There’s a car; an expensive one. The window is partly lowered, a man at the wheel. I stopped.

Adam – Love is not an adventure. It has the taste of the whole man. It has his weight. And the weight of his whole fate. It cannot be a single moment. Man’s eternity passes through it. That is why it is to be found in the dimensions of God, because only He is eternity. . . .

Anna – I stopped and fixed my eyes on the car, the windows, the man. . . . The man looked. I approached. He had a low, warm voice when he said, “Won’t you join me?” He indicated the seat next to him. In a while, he will start the engine. We shall move off. We’ll drive into the unknown. . . . I shall be somebody again. . .
I want to, I think I want to very much. I think I had already put my hand on the door handle. I only had to press it. Suddenly I felt a man’s hand on mine. I looked up. Adam was standing above me. I saw his face, which was tired; it betrayed emotion. Adam looked me straight in the eyes. His hand was just lying on mine. Then he said, “No.” I felt the car moving past us. In a moment, it was gone. “It’s strange that you should come back; I thought you’d disappeared for good.”

Adam – I came back to show you the street. It is strange. Not because it is full of shops, neon lights and buildings, but because of the people. Look, on the other side of the street there are some girls passing by; they are walking, laughing and talking loudly among themselves. . . . Their lamps are out, so they are on their way to buy some oil. They will fill the lamps, and the lamps will burn again. . . .
They are the wise virgins.... And now look over there. Those are the foolish virgins. They are asleep and their lamps are lying by the wall. One has even rolled across the pavement and fallen into the gutter. To you it seems they are asleep in those recesses, but in reality, they too are walking down the street. They are walking in their sleep. They are walking in a lethargy – they have a dormant space in them.
You now feel that space in you, because you too were falling asleep. I have come to wake you. I think I am in time.

Anna – Why did you wake me? Why?

Adam – I’ve wakened you because the Bridegroom is to walk down this street. The wise virgins want to come forward and meet him with their lights; the foolish virgins have fallen asleep and lost their lamps. I promise you they will not wake in time, and even if they do, they will not be able to find and light their lamps. . . .
The Bridegroom is constantly waiting. He constantly lives in expectation. Only this is, as it were, on the far side of all those different loves without which man cannot live. Take you, for instance. You cannot live without love. I saw from a distance how you walked down this street and tried to rouse interest. I could almost hear your soul. You were calling with despair for a love you do not have. You were looking for someone who would take you by the hand and hug you.
Oh, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves which fill our lives, there is Love! The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street! How am I to prove to you that you are the bride? One would now have to pierce a layer of your soul, as one pierces the layer of brushwood and soil when looking for a source of water in the green of a wood. You would then hear him speak: “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love and my suffering” – because to love means to give life through death; to love means to let gush a spring of water of life into the depths of the soul, which burns or smolders, and cannot burn out. Ah, the flame and the spring. You don’t feel the spring, but are consumed by the flame. Is that not so?

Anna – I don’t know. I only know that you have been talking to my soul. Don’t be afraid! It goes with my body. How can it be embraced or possessed without my body? I am a foolish virgin. I am one of the foolish virgins. Why did you wake me? …
There they are again, those girls. Their faces are not even attentive. Are they really pure and noble, or is it just that they have fared better in life than I? …

Adam – The Bridegroom is coming. This is his precise hour. Oh, look – the wise virgins have just gone by, holding their freshly lighted lamps. Their light is bright, because they have cleaned the glass in the lanterns. They walk gaily, almost dancing as they walk. . . .

Anna – I went on looking. A man was walking, dressed in a light coat, he was not wearing a hat. I did not notice his face at first, because he walked lost in thought, his head lowered. On impulse I began to walk in his direction. But when he lifted his face, I nearly gave a shout! It seemed to me I clearly saw Stefan’s face. And I immediately withdrew ... I have seen the face I hate, and the face I ought to love. Why do you expose me to such a test?

Adam – In the Bridegroom’s face, each of us finds a similarity to the faces of those with whom love has entangled us on this side of life, of existence. They are all in him.

[Act Three - several years later, during which Anna had begun the process of healing her marriage]

Adam – That evening I saw Anna again. The memory of her encounter with the Bridegroom was still vivid to her. Anna had entered the road of complementary love. She had to complement, giving and taking in different proportions than before. The turning point occurred that night many years ago. At that time everything threatened destruction. A new love could begin only through a meeting with the Bridegroom. What Anna felt of it at first was only the suffering. In the course of time a gradual calm came. And something new that was growing, was still intangible, and, above all, did not “taste” of love. One day they may learn to relish the taste of that something new . . .

Excerpts from The Jeweler's Shop (1960), translated by Boleslaw Taborksi (1980)
In our exegesis of scripture, we know the Bridegroom to be Christ, and His Bride is the Church. In many parables, we are the guests at the wedding banquet or the virgins awaiting the Bridegroom's arrival. But although the Bride is the Church and we appear to be bystanders, who is the Church?

We the faithful make up the Church. We are the Bride. You are the Bride. "Oh, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves which fill our lives, there is Love! The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street! How am I to prove to you that you are the bride?" Each of us is the Bride that Jesus loves with such a fierce deep passion, if only we would realize it and accept it. “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love."

However, to be the Bride, one with Christ, means also to be one with His Passion. “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to . . . my suffering.” The spousal love of Jesus for us, and that we ought have for Him, passes through the Cross. But in that encounter of love comes not the death of love, but new life for our relationships of love with others. "A new love could begin only through a meeting with the Bridegroom."

At first, it may appear that there is only the suffering. But in the course of time, a transformation occurs, something new grows. At first, it may seem intangible and not have the “taste” of love that we are accustomed to. But in Him, in the Bridegroom, we can learn to relish the taste of that something new, the eternity and absolute of love.

(Cross-posted at Cinema Catechism)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Nature, Origin, and Cause of Love

(The following has been posted over at Cinema Catechism as a follow-up to an earlier post What is this thing called “love”? )

What is "love" and where does it come from?

Ultimately, love comes from God, who is Love, as do all things come from Him. But more immediately for the individual person, the question of "where" is illuminated by the question of "what." What is love? In its purest and truest and fullest, love is a gift, a gift of self, and it is something which is given unconditionally, without concern for whether the other "deserves" it, or what we may or may not receive in return, although it is a joy when it is reciprocated.

In recognizing that it is something selflessly given, not merely something experienced, we can also see that the immediate cause of love in us is our decision to give it. It is not something that overcomes us or is imposed upon us, or something that "just happens." That is, in the individual sense, love comes from our free choice of the will. And in choosing to love, in choosing to give of oneself, we ultimately are choosing to accept God, who is, after all, Love itself. Conversely, not loving is not something that "just happens," not loving is also a choice.

However, love in its fullest sense is not all about such agape love of noble self-sacrifice, which many might see as joyless duty, it is also about the brotherly, fraternal, friendship kind of love that is philia, as well as being about the love of purified eros, the thirsting kind of love that naturally seeks an “other,” a joyous, passionate, ascending, intimate kind of love, longing to be with the other.

And, as we have discussed in previous weeks and months, there is a spousal meaning in the human body, so we are all called to a spousal love that is both unitive and creative, as exemplified by husband and wife, God and Israel, Jesus and the Church, a loving communion of persons in one fruitful being. The fullness of love is, by its nature, dynamic and fertile, it bears fruit.

Still, in all of these, even in the attractive love of eros, there is an element of free choice. There is only one “love,” notwithstanding its multiple aspects and dimensions. And this is true whether it is love of a sweetheart or love of an enemy.
“Fundamentally, ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly.” – Deus Caritas Est
If love were merely a positive feeling, then how could we love our enemy, whom we do not even like?
“Love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love.” – Deus Caritas Est
The greatest gifts that God gave us in addition to our existence are reason, free will, and the capacity to love. We were created by God out of love, we were made through the Logos by an act of creative reason, and for love. Our purpose, the reason that we are here, is to love and be loved. Does it make sense that, in that area for which we are created, love, God would deprive us of those other gifts of reason and free choice of the will?

Love is not love if it is not freely given. Love is not love if it is not the fruit of a conscious decision. It may be suggested that love is a feeling, an emotion, an attraction, a desire for the other, a sense of fulfillment. And certainly these things often do accompany love, but they are not love in and of itself. Feelings come and go. Sentiments come and go. Attraction comes and goes. And yet love -- if it truly is love -- remains. Indeed, this is seen when Jesus tells us that we must love not only those close to us, but our neighbors, that is, total strangers we don’t even know, and even our enemies, people we don’t even like.

True love is not merely pleasure or sentiment. Love is more than just an emotional feeling, more than attraction and affection, and more than a desire for personal happiness or fulfillment. Love is a conscious, decisive choice of the other as the focus of affection, a commitment of the will to subordinate yourself, and to seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of yourself for the other’s benefit. In short, in all its aspects, love is a free choice.

And such a love is secure because it does not depend upon and is not contingent upon the other person -- it only depends on you.
“The ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given [by God]. Some people object and say that love cannot be commanded, that it is ultimately a feeling which is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will. However, God has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. In God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings.” – Deus Caritas Est
So, how do you love – truly love? You make a conscious decision, an act of the will, that you will love no matter what, freely and unconditionally. Love is a gift of self, accepting the person who is loved as they really are, without the merits of whether or not they “deserve” to be loved. And if you feel that you do not have that power within you, ask for a little help, which we call grace, from God.

The paradox of love. It is by having such a complete loving disposition toward gift of self that we are able to obtain a level of contentment and happiness that is permanent. It is another one of those curious paradoxes -- by sacrificing yourself, even your personal happiness and security, you gain an even greater happiness and security; by letting go of your self-centered ego, you find yourself; by emptying yourself, you become fulfilled. Agape and eros in one.

Such love is not all drudgery and duty, but leads to joy, real heart-soaring joy and contentment and fulfillment. The more that you are disposed to love, the better you are able to love and find love in male-female and other interpersonal relationships. The more you are disposed to love, the more you will be able to see the good qualities in others. These others become more physically attractive, more intelligent, more humorous, more enjoyable. Such a loving disposition is also something which approaches the divine.

Let us consider the love of God -- God is perfect; He is Truth itself. Therefore, the highest and most perfect and truest love is God’s love. And what kind of “love” is that? Deus caritas est. God is caritas; God’s love is love as caritas, charitable gift. God does not love us because we are attractive and pretty, funny and smart, or because we are so likeable. He loves us regardless of these things, and even in the absence of these things. He loves us, God gives Himself to us, even though we do not deserve it. He gives us His love because He seeks the good for us, because we need love. Love is life.

Indeed, if we were to honestly and justly consider the matter, we must concede that none of us "deserve" such love. After all, mankind has given God little more than rejection and infidelity throughout history. And yet, He continues to love us, fully, completely, and unconditionally. He refuses to stop loving us, even when we torture Him and murder Him. He continues to give.

But it is through the Cross that one attains the Resurrection. It is by and through the Lord's gift of self, first by becoming man, and then on the Cross, that "all things are made new." Love is by its very nature dynamic and fertile, it is life itself, and it is this fullness of love that has the power to transform dull and social lifelessness to a new life of authentic happiness, true ecstasy, and even bring new life into a love that which was once dead. But we, like He, must first choose to make that gift of self.

If we would have others love us, if we would seek to enjoy the joyous fruits of love for ourselves, we must love perfectly and truly as He loves. We must choose not to be selfishly focused on our own wants and desires by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, but must instead freely choose to eat from the Tree of Love.

See also the comment section below in What is this thing called “love”?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

We Are All Called To Be Saints Day

Everyone's Call to Be a Saint
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience of April 13, 2011
The whole of the Church’s history is marked by men and women who, with their faith, with their charity, and with their life, have been beacons for so many generations, as they are for us too. These saints expressed in various ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One. They let Jesus so totally overwhelm their life that they could say with St. Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Following their example, seeking their intercession, entering into communion with them, “brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom, as from their fountain and head, issue every grace and the life of the People of God itself.” (Lumen Gentium 50)

What does it mean for us to be saints (holy)? Who is called to be a saint (holy)?

Often it is thought that holiness is a goal reserved for a few chosen ones. St. Paul, however, speaks of God's great plan and affirms: "[God] chose us in Him [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him. In love He destined us." (Ephesians 1:4) And He was speaking about all of us. At the center of the divine design is Christ, in whom God shows His Face. The Mystery hidden in the centuries has been revealed in the fullness of the Word made flesh. . . .

Therefore, the whole of Christian life knows one supreme law, which St Paul expresses in a formula that recurs in all his holy writings: Jesus Christ. Holiness, the fullness of Christian life, does not consist in carrying out extraordinary enterprises, but in being united with Christ, in living His mysteries, in making our own His example, His thoughts, His behaviour. The measure of holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, inasmuch as, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on His. . . .

However, the question remains: How can we journey on the path of holiness, how can we respond to this call? Can I do so with my own strength?

The answer is clear: A holy life is not primarily the fruit of our own effort, of our actions, because it is God, the thrice Holy, who makes us saints, and the action of the Holy Spirit who encourages us from within; it is the life itself of the Risen Christ, which has been communicated to us and which transforms us. . . .

Holiness has its main root in baptismal grace, in being introduced into the paschal mystery of Christ, with which His Spirit is communicated to us, His life as the Risen One. . . . However, God always respects our liberty and asks that we accept this gift and that we live the demands it entails. He asks that we allow ourselves to be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, conforming our will to the will of God.

How can we make our way of thinking and our actions become thinking and acting with Christ and of Christ? What is the soul of holiness?

Once again the Second Vatican Council explains; it tells us that Christian holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.
“'God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.' (1 Jn 4:16) Now God has poured out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (cf. Rom 5:5); therefore the first and most necessary gift is charity, by which we love God above all things and our neighbour through love of Him. But if charity, like a good seed, is to grow and fructify in the soul, each of the faithful must willingly hear the word of God and carry out His will with deeds, with the help of His grace. He must frequently receive the sacraments, chiefly the Eucharist, and take part in the holy liturgy; he must constantly apply himself to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service and the exercise all the virtues. This is because love, as the bond of perfection and fullness of the law (cf. Col 3:14; Rom 13:10) governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification.” (Lumen Gentium 42)
Perhaps this language of the Second Vatican Council is a little too solemn for us, perhaps we should say things even more simply. What is the essential?

The essential means never leaving a Sunday without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an additional burden but is light for the whole week. It means never beginning and never ending a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, on the path of our life it means following the “signposts” that God has communicated to us in the Ten Commandments, interpreted with Christ, which are merely the explanation of what love is in specific situations. It seems to me that this is the true simplicity and greatness of a life of holiness: the encounter with the Risen One on Sunday; contact with God at the beginning and at the end of the day; following, in decisions, the “signposts” that God has communicated to us, which are but forms of charity.

"Hence the true disciple of Christ is marked by love both of God and of neighbor.” (Lumen Gentium 42) This is true simplicity, grandeur and profundity of the Christian life, of being saints. This is why St. Augustine, commenting on the fourth chapter of the First Letter of St. John can affirm an astonishing thing: "Dilige et fac quod vis" (Love and do as you will). And he continued:
"If you are silent, be silent out of love; if you speak, speak out of love; if you correct, correct out of love; if you forgive, forgive out of love, may the root of love be in you, because from this root nothing can come that is not good" (Homily 7, paragraph 8: PL 35).
He who lets himself be led by love, who lives charity fully is led by God, because God is love. This is what this great saying means: "Dilige et fac quod vis."

Perhaps we might ask ourselves: Can we, with our limitations, our weakness, reach so high? During the liturgical year, the Church invites us to recall a line-up of saints, who have lived charity fully, have been able to love and to follow Christ in their daily lives. In all the periods of the history of the Church, in every latitude of the geography of the world, the saints belong to all the ages and to all states of life; they are the concrete faces of all peoples, languages and nations. And they are very different among themselves.

In reality, I must say that also, according to my personal faith, many saints, not all, are true stars in the firmament of history. And I would like to add that for me not only the great saints that I love and know well are "road signs," but also the simple saints, that is, the good persons that I see in my life, who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, so to speak, without a visible heroism, but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of the faith. This goodness, which they have matured in the faith of the Church, is for me a sure defense of Christianity and the sign of where the truth is.

In the communion with saints, canonized or not canonized, which the Church lives thanks to Christ in all her members, we enjoy their presence and company and cultivate the firm hope of being able to imitate their way and share one day the same blessed life, eternal life.

Dear friends, how great and beautiful and also simple, is the Christian vocation seen from this light! We are all called to holiness: It is the very measure of the Christian life. . . .

I would like to invite you to open yourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms our life, to be, we also, pieces of the great mosaic of holiness that God is creating in history, so that the Face of Christ will shine in the fullness of its brilliance. Let us not be afraid to look on high, to the height of God; let us not be afraid that God will ask too much of us, but let us be guided in all our daily actions by His Word, even if we feel that we are poor, inadequate, sinners: He will be the one to transform us according to His love.

Solemnity of All Saints

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
St. Joseph, pray for us
St. Augustine, pray for us
St. Bernadette, pray for us
St. Brother Andre Bessette, pray for us
All you Holy Angels and Archangels, pray for us
All you Holy Patriarchs and Prophets, pray for us
All you holy Apostles and Evangelists, pray for us
All you holy Disciples of the Lord, pray for us
All you holy Martyrs, pray for us
All you holy Virgins and Widows, pray for us
All you holy Saints of God, pray for us +