Captain’s excellent post earlier this week, about love, got me thinking about what true love is really all about.
It’s fair to say that “love” is a much maligned and abused word in our modern culture.
Often the word “love” is wrongly substituted for the word “lust” or “sex”.
At other times love is wrongly presented as nothing more than feeling good about something or someone.
But most often of all, love is wrongly used as a substitute for the words “blind tolerance”.
Such misconceptions, even though they are usually subconscious and not even thought about by the person doing the substituting, often lead to serious errors in thought, word and deed.
As St Thomas Aquinas once said “a small error in the beginning is a great error in the end”.
If we don’t have a proper understanding of love then the chances are high that we will get one heck of a lot of things wrong in our lives.
Because love is the greatest of all the virtues, it is the very reason that we were created and exist, and it should underpin and guide everything that we do in life.
But if we don’t understand what true love really is then we end up leading ourselves down some rather strange paths indeed.
Let me explain how little misconceptions can lead to very large misconceptions.
Captain talked about St Francis, so I’ll mention him here as well becasue he is an excellent example of an often misunderstood and misrepresented Saint.
People often have this image of St Francis as this placid, animal loving guy with brown robes and a perfect beard, who was always playing the guitar and singing “brother sister, let me serve you” – a kind of very early predecessor to the 1960’s hippy (thanks largely to Franco Zeffirelli’s film; “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”) but in actual fact, the real St Francis couldn’t be further from this picture
In fact I believe that he would challenge, frighten and offend the living daylights out of most of us on this blog if he was still alive on earth today.
Let me give you an example from the writings of St Francis himself:
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin
Happy those She finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.
Now imagine if that appeared on this blog as a comment!
St Francis wrote his very own Office Office of the Passion and he promoted art, prayer and meditation on Christ’s suffering.
St Francis was the second man in the history of the church to experience the stigmata (the physical wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion) and he regularly practised acts of corporal mortification.
St Francis even went to the Holy Land to preach the Gospel and convert the Muslims (shock horror, he tried to convert Muslims!) During this period of the Crusades, he fully expected to become a martyr in his quest to bring the word of God to an Islamic sultan.
He left with a small group of brothers, and was captured and beaten. Eventually he found himself in Cairo, there he entered into vigorous theological debates with Islamic scholars (even more shock horror – he engaged in theological debates!) The Islamic sultan was so impressed with St Francis’ example and words that he even rewarded him with a gift.
And St Francis wrote the following about the fate of those who die in a state of mortal sin:
“The devil tears his soul from his body with so much anguish and tribulation”
“Worms eat the body; and so perishes body and soul in that brief life span and he shall go to hell.”
How would you feel if that statement appeared on this blog?
My point is that just like we can have misconceptions about St Francis, we can also have misconceptions about true love that lead us to believe that it means that we must ignore sin and tolerate every idea as if all ideas are all equally valid and equally true.
But this is not true love and it is definitely not the example of St Francis, or the example of Jesus.
St Francis shows us that true love is about BOTH words and actions – but both must be motivated by love of Christ which leads to love of our neighbour.
Often people misquote the Gospel passage where Christ calls us to “love your neighbour as yourself” – but they forget the first part of that passage where Jesus states that the greatest commandment of all is to “love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul” and that the commandment to love your neighbour is second on the list.
Often we allow our misconceptions to turn our love of neighbour into blind tolerance, and then we mistakenly put love of man before love of God.
This usually turns into a desire to please and appease, rather then to tell the truth no matter what it might cost us or how unpopular that might make us.
Jesus lived and breathed true love, and because of this he wasn’t a people pleasing jellyfish.
How would we feel if we saw someone smashing the sales table at the back of our Church with a whip?
Or if someone on this post began claiming that they “hadn’t come to bring peace, but a sword”, or they told another blog-poster to “get behind me Satan”?
If these things make us feel uncomfortable then we need to have another, more careful read of the Gospels, because Christ did all of these things during his time here on earth.
We also need to take another look at the lives of the saints, because their love for Christ wasn’t just about looking holy and giving out Jesus flavoured hugs.
Their love was deep, it was heroic and it was truly challenging, because it was the love of Christ.
It placed God, His Church and his commands above anything else in their lives, and that love was guided totally by all of these things.
That love was challenging because it loved others in a manner that put their eternal happiness and salvation ahead of their feelings, or feeling good in this life.
Love is a virtue, not just a mere value.
A value is subjective and can change on a whim, but a virtue is objective, clearly defined and unchanging.
True love for our fellow man is always motivated by placing love of God first, and the needs of our fellow man well ahead of the wants and desires of our fellow man.
True love is beautiful like a rose, but just like a rose, true love is sometimes thorny and uncomfortable because it proclaims the truth no matter what – and often people find the truth a very thorny and uncomfortable thing to handle.
When we read this blog are we made uncomfortable by the words being written, or by the the truths those words are talking about? (the truths that make us just a little uncomfortable about our own ideas, actions and ways of living.)
True love is not about external actions without words, just as much as it is not about discussion without external actions.
True love is about words and actions TOGETHER, that are motivated by love and framed in prayer.
If we look to our ultimate example; Christ, we see him engaging in regular theological debates, charitable acts and most importantly of all; prayer.
We aren’t called to be mere social workers who go to Mass.
We are called to BE Christ, and to BE Christ requires us to imitate all the aspects of his earthly life and ministry – not just the acts of justice he did, or the theological debates and discussions, or the bits we like best.
Christ engaged in theological discussions, he prayed and he did practical works.
True love doesn’t seek to separate these three for a more palatable/marketable Christianity; true love seeks to do ALL three, no matter what the cost may be.
Let me finish by leaving you with St Francis’ “Prayer before the Crucifix”, which I believe nicely sums up our call to action that is guided by moral truth and motivated by prayer:
Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out Your holy and true command.
Ps – I would also like to take this opportunity to say sorry to all concerned for the moments over the past week or so when I let my emotions get the better of me, and then manifest themselves in acts of uncharitable speech on this blog.