“By loving the unlovable, You made me lovable.” This profound statement of Saint Augustine always stuck in my mind because it expresses what Christianity is. It expresses what made my life meaningful.
What saved me from running around in circles in a futile search for happiness was this love of God manifested in Jesus Christ. He loved me when I was bad and mean. He never despised me. He loved me a sinner. Everyone expected more from me – more effort, more virtue, more goodness… He no, He just loved me. Somehow He understood my deep pain and instead of demanding, He burdened himself with my wickedness.
In his book ‘The Magnificent Defeat’, Frederick Buechner, speaks about the four different loves that exist.
There is the love for equals – the kind of love a friend feels for a friend or a brother for a brother. The world smiles at this love.
Then there is the philanthropic love – to love the suffering, the poor, the sick. This is compassion and it touches the heart of the world.
There is yet another kind of love – to love those who succeed when we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, to love the rich when one is poor. This love bewilders the world.
“And then there is the love for the enemy – love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured one’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.” God loved me this way. God loves you this way.
Being loved by God, then everything becomes possible. Why? Because divine love unites us to God and makes us abide in Him as He abides in us.
A nurse on the pediatric ward, before listening to the little ones’ chests, would plug the stethoscope into their ears and let them listen to their own hearts. Their eyes would always light up with wonder, but she never got a reaction to equal five-year old Matthew’s statement.
Gently she placed the stethoscope into his ears and placed the disk over his heart and asked him to listen. “What do you suppose that is?”
He became very thoughtful and puzzled as if caught up in a mystery well beyond his age. Tap…tap…tap… deep down in his chest.
Then his face broke out in a wondrous grin and he uttered, “It must be Jesus inside me knocking!”
This is why He is able to do with us what would be simply impossible otherwise.
This is why Jesus can dare command us, ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’.
One might ask if love can be ‘commanded’. It is a valid question answered by Pope Benedict in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given.”
Friendship with God is all consuming. Divine love inserts us into God’s movement of love within the bosom of the Holy Trinity.
The consequences are enormous. Charity towards neighbor becomes the fruit of this divine dynamism within us. We stop using people. We see them for what they are – objects of God’s infinite love who merit nothing less from us.
In spite of their faults or annoyances we suddenly see in them the face of Jesus Christ, perhaps disfigured, but yet the face of God!
This is a formation we all need. We need to be educated to become Christ crucified, to love without calculating the cost, to react well when humbled… Many of us never receive this training into Christianity.
I kept this letter that appeared in a newspaper many years ago. The paper is faded and yet what it says is still fresh. The reporter published some counsels given him by his grandmother who had died some 60 years prior, and who had never attended school. She offered it printed on a slip of paper, accompanied by the words, “All the advice you’ll ever need to have a good life”. Here is what she wrote:
“Wash what is dirty. Water what is dry. Heal what is wounded. Warm what is cold. Guide what goes off the road. Love people who are least lovable, because they need it most.”
Enough days spent refreshing, healing, warming, guiding and loving will add up to a good life, meaningful and wortthwhile.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.