by Father Christopher Heanue
In his book “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis describes different forms of love: affection, friendship, eros (“sensual love”), and charity. The English writer notes that by the standards of modern society, romantic love finds its completion in eros. However, he defends the Christian view that love must be rooted in charity to be truly lasting and full-hearted.
In “The Four Loves,” Lewis writes: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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.”
Why does Lewis say that love makes us vulnerable? Whenever we love someone, we want to demonstrate it. We do this consciously and unconsciously, through our actions, our body language, and our words. This communication is inherently risky. We may be misunderstood, rejected, or disappointed. All forms of love require self-sacrifice, and our fallen human nature tends to make us close in on ourselves. We can start to think that avoiding love is the safer course in life. C.S. Lewis reminds us that this way of thinking leads only to damnation.
To love, we must be willing and able to forgive. Our readings at Mass this Sunday have much to say about forgiveness. Oftentimes, we find it harder to forgive someone closer to us than to forgive a stranger. Yet it is precisely our love for another that must spur us on to forgiveness.
Msgr. Philip Halfacre’s book “Genuine Friendship” has great insights about the nature of forgiveness. He writes: “Forgiveness is the conscious decision to willfully abandon resentment, including all that goes along with it and attempt to respond to the offender with beneficence. Forgiveness is a moral gift. People who harm us may not deserve to be forgiven. In some cases, they clearly do not deserve to be forgiven. But I can choose to forgive them anyway. And I forgive them for my sake, not for theirs. It is the nature of a gift that can be given freely. Something I owe to another cannot be given as a gift.”
The Lord Jesus freely offers us the gift of His grace every day, especially in the Sacraments. In the Sacrament of Baptism, He frees us from original sin and pours His sanctifying grace into our souls. In Holy Communion, He nourishes us with His Body and Blood and allows us to partake in His sacrifice. In the Sacrament of Penance, He forgives our sins and restores us to spiritual life and health.
Since He forgives us, we can and must forgive one another. Since He loves us, we can and must love one another.
Readings for Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Father Heanue is the administrator of the Holy Child Jesus – St Benedict Joseph Labre parish, Richmond Hill.