Friday, December 26, 2014

Surprised by Love

This post has been a few weeks in the running, seeing as that I came home on the twelfth from school, and I have been busy with preparations for this celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity. Anyways.

Three semesters of college are now in the books for me, and the first two in some ways were a gentle glide academically. This past term was challenging for me, especially academically and spiritually. College professors will increase their expectations and the workload that will meet their expectations of our abilities and intelligence as one moves through school, and sometimes, one cannot anticipate what exactly the professor has in mind for development and growth when one sees only a twenty page syllabus with more assignments than seem feasible in the time allotted and beneficial to one’s academic life. However, St. Paul reminds us that the Lord gives the grace to make it through our trials and especially temptations, and it is up to us to cooperate with grace in a spirit of joy and humility. I cannot say I delivered on either count, but I certainly became more willing to go along with the program, and I definitely learned a great deal, so it will be odd to go on to the next class without this particular workload. Spiritual challenges: well, for fear of causing trouble or being passive-aggressive, I shall not leave any details or say anything that might lead little minds to wonder. I give this advice though. Go to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and turn to His Mother, for it is only through love and humility that one can conquer, that one can forgive, that one can love. One ought to thoroughly examine the conscience (do this if you pray Compline, right before the Pater noster said secreto and the Confiteor), but there are sometimes, one really isn’t it at fault, or one’s contributions are not as big as the others. But still, try to submit as best you can and to outdo in charity, not so you can be great here on earth but so that you can do the will of the Father and be one with Him at the end of time. And "where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more." 

It is amazing how horizons can open up once one is somewhat settled into what once was a new place filled with excitement and nervousness at the same time. I know someone who always wants to be everyone’s friend, and while I am not that generous, I can certainly say that with many people, once I meet them and learn about them (especially if they are friends with other friends of mine), I desire for them to be a close friend of mine, even if there is no possible way to be anything more than casual acquaintances or friends in the second or third bubble of friendship, if only for the sheer lack of time to spend considering one’s responsibilities (I actually do have classes to attend and studying to do, contrary to popular belief on the home front!) I have not finished St. Augustine’s Confessions, so I do not claim to have an extensive Christian philosophical treatment on friendship (or should Christian modify friendship). But what I can related is my own experience, or at the very least, something approximating it. I do not think you can share in exactly the same joy I felt when I ran across a friend across campus, particularly when I knew I would be able to see a friend at the same time on particular days, like when we would run across each other on the way to and from classes, or the joy of going to class with someone every class day at the same time. It is a joy that pulls the heart of itself, one that escapes words, one that registers in excited greetings and even hugs and the like, but honestly, our interactions probably register as bizarre and weird to the outside world… (For what it is worth, a recent survey showed Franciscan University to be the fifth-friendliest college in the country.)

There is a joy in sharing discussion, in trying to solve the problem of evil by dinnertime, or in attempting to find a vocabulary for describing God in his light and also his hidden darkness. There is a joy also in sharing jokes and stories and causing mild chaos, followed by coming together in prayer and thanksgiving through Mass and devotion to our blessed Lady in order that we might come to love others more and more, to conquer through love and banish sin, death and darkness from our lives through the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

To be sure, life in a dormitory setting is far from perfect. It’s loud, and when the going gets rough, we have to be careful to keep a little distance from each other’s throats, lest we become perpetually angry and bitter towards one another. When one sees another’s faults at close distance, it is easy to pounce on it in the midst of a bad time. But we wouldn’t trade it for anything, at least in part, since it ultimately forces us out of ourselves so that we grow in love. Our parents are our first teachers, but they cannot by definition teach us to love outside of our comfortable familial settings (I say comfortable because as difficult as family life can be, it’s a snap compared to moving into college hours away from home). 

At this point in the post, it seems as I am particularly wistful, as if I am graduating or leaving the school. No, I’m not, but as I will be abroad next spring and I met so many people and learned so much, I think it might as well be shared with those who I have learned from…

If C.S. Lewis was surprised by joy, then I am surprised by love, and considering what I have already said, I am somewhat aware that joy is a part of love (words fail to adequately describe joy and love). Surprised by people who decided to introduce themselves to me and let me come into their lives, to pray the Rosary with their household week after week. Surprised by their care for me and all of my troubles, as if taking care of others, who only weeks ago were complete strangers, was an easy part of their lives from the moment they could walk and talk. Surprised by others who continue to share their problems with me, and spend their time with me, even as I have just as many or more problems (well, maybe I shouldn’t quantify that, everyone has different problems). Surprised at learning to love, something that in its beginnings, is learning to let those we love be perfectly themselves. Only then can we through the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ become more fully alive, more fully ourselves.

I have deeply taken to heart the need for a man to be both gentle and strong at the same time. Strong like Our Lord and St. Joseph in bringing justice and protecting the innocent, but gentle like them with children, with the weak, and (to a degree) when correcting others, but especially like Our Lady, who is more mother than she is anything else, considering that her divine motherhood is the root of everything she is. She was in the fullness of time conceived without the stain of original sin in merits of the coming redemption of the world by Jesus Christ, her son and the Only-Begotten Son of God, in order that she might be the mother of God and so that she might crush the head of the serpent. To be strong, I have found one must also be vulnerable, so only then can we be open to love, only then can we take on the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.

I see that strength in others, in those who get up every Saturday morning to pray in front of the abortion clinic, in those who have been able to get to the Portiuncula more faithfully and at all hours of the night. So I am amazed by them, and I pray that they might endure and that I might do what I need to do to persevere and become holy, keeping complacency and laziness at bay.

I have been and will continued to be blessed with my friends at this university. God is good to us, to have placed one in the other’s life unexpectedly. The farewells were hard, since we really do care about one another, and if one does not know the next time when he will see the other, it is particularly emotional and sometimes bittersweet, when even good things were left unsaid. In A Severe Mercy, the memoir of Sheldon Vanauken and his wife’s “pagan love invaded by Christ,” he departs C.S. Lewis on the High Street of Oxford as Vanauken prepares to return to America, not knowing the next time he would see Lewis, who had become a close friend as the Vanaukens converted to Christianity (Anglicanism was Sheldon’s first stop), even though they promised one of them would make the crossing of the Atlantic. Lewis, after making his farewell, crosses the street, and bellows, “CHRISTIANS NEVER SAY GOOD-BYE!”

John Cuddeback, a professor at Christendom College, replied to this, arguing that this advice leads to people avoiding saying good-bye at all, out of fear or in only looking to the life eternal of all the ages, instead of taking advantage of departures. I never took it that way, instead taking it the way he suggests. It helps me to depart in peace from people, according to the Lord’s word, so that we might become truer lights to His people. It means I can take the time beforehand to hug and to say what needs to be said, and to listen to what I need to hear, and to laugh and to cry, so that when the time does come for one to actually leave, we can do it without sorrow, even if it is still hard and without knowing the next time we shall see each other. But these are friends I intend to love and keep not only in this life, but unto eternity. So yes, if fourteen days ago was the last time on this earth I might see someone from school, then it is consoling indeed that the Lord has given us the means of being brought back together in union with Him in the next life, but He has given us this life first, and I believe one ought to make the most of it. “The value of the middle,” as we discussed countless times this semester in the thought of the Church Fathers, has been hotly debated throughout Christian history considering the littleness of the world in comparison to life in Heaven and the eagerness to which we approach the end of time. When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we pray for the world to end and for Him to bring us into His everlasting Kingdom of Heaven. One could argue that as joyous as it will be to meet again, that is nothing in comparison to being with Our Lord and Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. That being said, I think the Anglicans got it right in 1662 when composing the General Thanksgiving for the office of the Book of Common Prayer: “We bless thee for our creation, our preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but most of all for the inestimable love in the redemption of the world by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the means of grace and the hope of glory.”

Mary, I am thine, and all I have is thine.
Mary, I am thine, and all I have is thine.
Mary, I am thine, and all I have is thine. 

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