Whenever I think about the mystery of loving and being loved, I think that to love is to make a self-gift, in some way to make yourself available to the one loved.
This can be as simple as opening a door or expressing gratitude or forgiveness, or it can be as profound and life-changing as making a life commitment to someone. In every instance, the lover is giving. In my image of love, giving predominates.
I suppose that I think that every act of love involves some type of sacrifice on the part of the lover. Therefore, when I read an essay by theologian Father Richard Viladesau in which he emphasized love as possession, I had to read very carefully what he was stating. I eventually agreed with his insights.
In his book, “The Word in and Out of Season: Homilies for the Sundays of Ordinary Time, Cycle A” (New York: Paulist Press, 1992, pp. 129), Father Viladesau writes the following:
“It comes as something of a shock, … to hear from St. Paul … that there need be no desire or competition, since everything is already ours: ‘All things are yours… the world, life, death, the present, the future: all these are yours.’
“Can this possibly be taken seriously?
“But St. Paul’s startling affirmation has a proviso: ‘All these are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.’ It is in giving ourselves radically to God – as Jesus did, even unto the loss of all in death – that we gain everything.
“An idea from St. Thomas may perhaps add light to what this means. Things most properly ‘belong,’ St. Thomas says, not necessarily to those who possess them physically, but rather to those who most love them. For something to be ‘yours,’ you need not have it or control it; you need only to love it. It is love that creates the deepest and most real relationship to both things and persons. When you love something, then it belongs to you – and you to it – in the most profound way.” (pp. 33-34)
I find Father Viladesau’s comments very provocative. The possession achieved through loving is different from what we ordinarily mean by possession. When we love someone, a unique union takes place. The lover and beloved – without losing their identity – form a special union. This union changes both the beloved and the lover.
In this notion of possession, we must exclude any notion of domination or manipulation on the part of the lover. What Father Viladesau is suggesting, I think, is that the self-gift that the lover makes forms a deep bond between the lover and whom or what is loved.
If we think of our love of Christ in terms of this notion of possession, I believe that it can lead us to a very deep and broad notion of love. The idea of both love and possession are enriched.
I think of the activity of loving as dynamic. Love anything, and you are taking a risk. Any act of love, even an act that may not seem very dramatic or dynamic, opens the lover to relationship. The goal of that openness, I believe, is ultimately God.
We have been created free and given the capacity to love so that we can freely love God. All loving involves a taste of God – an experience, however vague and seemingly small, is an experience, perhaps indirect, of God. Loving links us to God and is an imitation of God because God is love.
I think that this is one reason why so many contemporary Catholic theologians think that people have to be encouraged to ask serious questions about how they live, about what is important to them and about what values they have. Such reflection will almost necessarily raise questions about the existence or non-existence of God and about the identity of God.
Joined to Creation
When we love God directly we are joined to the rest of creation, even if we are not aware that this is happening. To love God is to love God’s creatures.
St. John’s indictment rings true: Anyone who says he loves God but hates his neighbor is a liar. St. Thomas Aquinas goes so far as to claim that it is possible to make an unselfish act of love of the material world.
In his reflection on the words of St. Paul, Father Viladesau presents a really exciting view of love. When we love, we are opening ourselves to God and to God’s creatures in the most marvelous way possible. It may lead to sacrifice on our part, but what is to be gained is merely everything.
Next week, Father Lauder shares his insights on Christian revelation and Christian faith.
Father Robert Lauder, philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, is the author of the recently published “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).