Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Love, Loss, and Gain

From The Four Loves:
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it. What I know about love and believe about love and giving ones heart began in this.
 First, this lines up with Ratzinger's more theological definition of Hell, which one will find in Introduction to Christianity, in the sections on "He descended into Hell" and "He will come to judge the living and the dead." And it's remarkable that both these men explain it thus. I place it in light of twentieth-century philosophy, namely existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, for whom "Hell is other people." Goodness, no. Hell is, as Steven Greydanus (of Decent Films and the National Catholic Register) puts it, "Hell is other people."

Lewis and Ratzinger both went to great lengths to tell us that love is not self-sufficient, that it is utterly dependent on others.  It is about connecting to others, coming out of ourselves. Love is revealing ourselves through those connections, stripping ourselves to display all our faults and imperfections and allowing the other to accept them, so that by the grace of God we might grow in faith and hope and love, the greatest of these being love, so that, after the course of our earthly lives, we might share in the perfect love and goodness that is the life of the Holy Trinity.
My use of the word "connect" comes from Sheldon Vanauken, the author whose memoir A Severe Mercy (originally subtitled A Pagan Love Invaded by Christ) moved me deeply when I first read it this past spring. Love might appear perfect, impenetrable, but by the very fact one has established it to be perfect, this "shining barrier" to all others must collapse. It must reveal its imperfections so that they might be stripped away, or at least recognized in the end of it all. As Lewis points out, one cannot truly lock love away, not at least until they are judged by the Almighty. Otherwise, the atheist would rid himself of doubt and would be able to place his unbelief above the belief persisting through doubt of the believer. (Again, I borrow from Ratzinger.) Otherwise, we would not suffer.

 Love is centered on sacrifice. Our Lord tells his apostles, "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends." We must in time recognize that not only must we lift up our hearts and minds to the Lord, our wills must be immolated and replaced with the loving and merciful will of Our Lord. Not only must we offer them, we must immolate them. This means to destroy and replace (perhaps a calmer way to phrase it is complete conformity to the point where our will is His). It is a part of sacrifice, and of course to achieve this by frequenting the sacraments, especially that of the perfect and unbloody Sacrifice.

Ecce ancilla Domine. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. In order to become more like Christ, we must be like Our Lady throughout the course of her life, from the Annunciation to the foot of the Cross, following her son, whose will was obedient to the will of the Father, even unto death, death on a Cross! So ours as members of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ must be completely conformed to the will of the Spirit. It is as Our Lord prays in the Garden: "My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." And just as we pray admonished by His saving precepts and by divine instruction, "Our Father, Who art in Heaven...Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven." I note the use of the word chalice, for it signifies the collection of the Blood offered for our redemption, the Blood that opened up grace and mercy, and to which we are washed in as our wills are cleansed, offered, and immolated.

When this happens, we realize how little we love the Lord, compared to how much we should love Him Who has been waiting in the tabernacle for twenty centuries, to paraphrase St. Josemaria Escriva. Others are placed above God, and we place barriers to them loving God. We fear God will lead them to push us out of their lives, when in truth we should rejoice that they love God more than us, and that one's love will be evermore perfected in this light.

A blogger has a fascinating set of letters from Vanauken written after his conversion to Catholicism, from where I have borrowed his point about connections. Do read A Severe Mercy. That will illuminate the points I just made.

I believe this is an adequate return to what I started on abandonment, which takes more forms than I was thinking of at the time. Indeed, that was about neglecting friends by circumstance. Now it is about loss and gain. It is also a continuation about what I wrote about the suffering of Christ. That was about impending death, when we have no longer any tangible grasp or power to influence someone's conversion, when they are at the point where we know only that he is under the mercy.

I do not believe heartbreak is always synonymous with rejection, in the sense that the person has tried one and found him or her wanting. Yes, sometimes, it is because people are immature or because people have come to not like the other person. Sometimes it is for the good of the persons involved, when it becomes clear that the Lord has other plans, other people for them laying in the shadows yet unseen. But the latter does not imply rejection on the basis of quality. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. The other is too good for the beloved one who must end things.

And then we in time will come to rest in His Merciful and Sacred Heart, sometimes, and beautifully, with the aid of another human person who has come to love us through the graces of sacrament of matrimony and through the mutual love towards one's family. Or sometimes with the grace of holy orders. But we must persevere unto the end. And by His grace alone we shall.

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