Love

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Trees Love Quietly.

That is what a bumper sticker on the little compact car in front of me said.  Trees love quietly?  What the heck does that mean?  I pondered this as I followed the little car with my Mommy mini-van onto the on-ramp and then onto the interstate.  Trees love quietly….  My theology-major brain kicked into gear.  My first thought was “Well, first of all, trees can’t love.  They are, well, trees, for goodness sakes!”  My second thought was, “Oh my goodness, are there people who really believe that trees can love?  And am I driving behind one?”

This was a somewhat sobering thought.  It had the potential to be very funny, given that to me, it seems ridiculous to even ponder if trees are capable of love, but instead it made me very sad.  Have we, as a culture, become so confused that we do not understand love?  I mean if someone somewhere (and we’re talking about grown ups here, not some little child who doesn’t know any better) actually thinks that trees are capable of caring for people, then Houston, we have a problem!   This train of thought led me to really start thinking about what our culture tells us about love.  It’s not very encouraging, and it is sorely lacking in one area: the Truth.

Ask yourself, what is Love?  And then look around for the answers we are supplied with by society:

Love is a warm fuzzy feeling.

Love is something that you just fall in and out of.

Love is sex.

Sex is Love.

Love can be bought.

Love is hugging a puppy.

Love is always feeling happy.

Love is physical.

Spray on this perfume and you’ll feel loved.

A pint of ice cream can be substituted for Love.

Love is a crock.

Ahhhhh!  What ever happened to “Love is patient, Love is kind…” you know, from Corinthians?”  Oh that?  That is only read at weddings because it sounds pretty.  (Sigh.  Shaking my head.)  I think its time that we give our culture a refresher course on what Love truly is because it’s certainly not any of those things on that list that you read, and yet I can’t help but think that people wish it was one of those things – because that would make Love easy.   When I was a Youth Minister we used to ask the teens what Love was, and then we’d point to a Crucifix and say, There – THAT is Love.  It sounds simplistic but its truer than all that bumbo-jumbo written above.  Love is an action.  Love is from God.  God is Love.  Christ’s sacrifice for us – THAT was Love.  Love isn’t a feeling.  It’s not an easy thing.  Love is a decision. Love means putting the good of another before yourself.  Love means wanting good for another person.  Love is laying down your very life for  another.  Love involves sacrifice.  Love is not about self.  Perhaps that is the crux of our problem today.

It’s no secret that we live an age of “me me me.”  We Facebook and Twitter our way through the day (and I’m as guilty as the next with FB procrastination!!), we have drive-thrus for food, coffee, even desserts.  We have ATMs,  and credit cards. We are constantly looking for faster download times, we have our email sent to our mobile phones, we Tweet from anywhere and everywhere, even our technology is me-centric – iPhone, iTunes, iPod…. I, I, I.  Me, Me, Me.  All this can keep us focused on ourselves – and this kind of “me-first” focus is contrary to Love.  True Love is not about “me” – it’s about giving that Love away, to another person.  As a culture, we have lost sight of that.  Love is an act of the Will.  It can’t be demanded.  We can’t temper-tantrum our way into getting it.  We must give it.

Consider this beautiful excerpt from Deus Caritas Est, (God is Love, written by Pope Benedict XVI):

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, 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. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbour which the First Letter of John speaks of with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. (Pt I, section 18)

I find it so sad that there are so many people who are starved for love.  People truly do look for it in all the wrong places, because Love isn’t something you can acquire for yourself by force, by will, or by money.  You get love by giving love.  This seems so counter-intuitive, and yet its true.  Love, when given, multiplies!  Just look at the Trinity!  The Love of the Father and Son spirated the Holy Spirit – the Trinity is a perfect “Love Triangle” if you will – the Father Loving the Son, who Loves the Father so intensely that the third Person of the Trinity proceeds from them both.  St. Athanasius put it this way, “The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.”   In a marriage, a husband and a wife love each other so intensely that, with God’s permission, a new person is created!  Love is meant to be given, and to quote an old, but good prayer, “It is in giving that we receive.”

How then, do we shift the shallow perceptions of Love that have invaded our cultural psyche?  I believe the answer is actually quite simple: Love.  I mean it, Love.  Jesus gave us the answer over two thousand years ago when He commanded us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  How do we love all these ‘neighbors’ of ours enough to change the culture?  Mother Teresa of Calcutta showed us that we do so by loving one person at a time.    We must be willing to sacrifice for others.  Small acts of love – like giving up a seat in a crowded room.  Like picking up something a stranger dropped on the floor.  Refilling the coffee maker at work.  Smiling.  Stopping to pray with a homeless person, and giving them your lunch.  Being extra kind to the co-worker that seems to hate you.  Letting your spouse sleep in – again.  Not losing your temper with your children, and playing with them instead.  Showing compassion to someone in need.  Putting your own needs second to your friends and family.  These are small, and seemingly pointless acts.  But if they are done out of Love, then they absolutely are not small or pointless.  Remember, the nature of Love is to multiply – the more Love you give, the more Love you receive, and the more Love there is to go around.  Love, that five letter word, has the Power to change our culture, because it is a Supernatural Gift from God – Who is the very Essence of Love.

That is the other side of it.  You will not be able to Love, truly Love, unless you receive that Love which you are to give away from the Father.  Ask for it.  When you feel run down, when you feel burnt out, when your family or friends or coworkers are driving you up the wall and you have no desire to Love them and feel like you can’t, ask. Ask God to give you the Love you are lacking, so that you can, in turn, love.  He will never ever NOT give you the love you ask for.  In fact, He will give you more than you ask for.  God, Our Loving Father, delights in giving us gifts, and one of His absolute favorites is Love.  Ask Him for a few drops of Love to share and He will send you a tsunami.

I know this all sounds so simple.  I also know that it’s not always that easy to love.  It’s not easy to Love when you feel hurt.  It’s not easy to Love when you may not feel loved in return.  It’s hard to Love when you might get ridiculed for it.  It’s hard to Love when that very Love requires you to make someone unhappy for their own good.  This is when Love is heroic.  Heroic Love is when you truly die to yourself out of Love for another.  Christ’s death on the Cross was the most Heroic Act of Love every committed, and since we as Christians are called to imitate Christ, we too are called to heroic acts of Love.   Here’s the thing though.  As we practice Loving, as we ask for more and more Love to give away, we begin to learn how to Love more and more perfectly.  We learn how to begin to love heroically.  God never asks us to Love beyond our ability, He just increases our capacity for Love – if we let Him.   Sometimes it will feel uncomfortable.  That’s OK.  God never promised that Loving the way He loves would feel good all the time.  That is what Heaven is for!  That’s what we have to look forward to!  Down here on earth we have to imitate Christ’s example of Love – and I can tell you for sure that the cross was far from comfortable!   There is a quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that is one of my favorites, “To enjoy you must Love, and to Love you must sacrifice.”  Doesn’t that just sum up everything I have been trying to say?

“To enjoy you must Love, and to Love, you must sacrifice.”  How amazing the Resurrection of Christ must have been – the joy that His disciples must have felt.  They never would have felt it if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross.  We would never know the joy of Heaven if Jesus had’t made Eternal Life with Him available to us by His death –  if He hadn’t surrendered to the Father in a Supreme Act of Love.  “To enjoy you must love, and to love you must sacrifice.”  There is a Divine Order of things that Mother Seton put so simply.  First comes the sacrifice, then the Love, and then joy!  If only our society understood this!   Could you imagine a world where everyone was willing to sacrifice for one another?  If everyone was willing to put the good of others before themselves?  What an abundance of Love there would be – what joy!  It is not entirely impossible on this earth.  Your families are called to be such places – little oases of Love and Joy in a love-deprived culture.  God wants you to bring His Love to everyone you meet.  We  are given opportunities for heroic love every day – these are opportunities to literally change our culture – to change the world.  You don’t need a mega-phone.  You don’t need to make a big production of it.  Love.  Simply Love.

Trees most certainly cannot “Love Quietly”.  But we can.

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