Tag Archives: Love

This Is That Love

Out of all the religions, what makes authentic Christianity unique is that, from the beginning of time, God seeks us. It’s not about adopting a set of moral values and principles…it’s about knowing God, the person of Jesus Christ, intimately. So intimately, in fact, that an eternal, physical AND spiritual union between God and His creatures takes place.

You know that love that everyone yearns for in the deepest places of their hearts? This is it.

Self

Self awareness is good. I must pay attention to my body, my thoughts and my soul. I must know myself and know how I may be affecting myself and those around me for better or for worse.

Self care is good. My body, my mind and my soul are gifts given to me. I must take good care of these gifts and not neglect them or abuse them.

Self control is good. I am responsible for managing my emotions and for choosing my thoughts and my actions. No one else can do this for me.

Self-centeredness is not good. I am not the center of all things; God is. My life must revolve around God. God is love. Love includes self, but love is not centered on self. Love must ultimately be centered on others.

Fear

It is good when fear motivates us to jump away from a coiling snake or to wear our seat belts.  These are examples of God-given reflexes and reason.  It is not good when fear motivates us to sin.  Much sin is rooted in fear.  It stems from a lack of trust in God.  Our fears are exploited by the powers of darkness and used to tempt us away from love and toward sin.  I am reminded of the line from the classic movie Poltergeist, “It knows what scares you.”

Virtually any sin we can think of can be traced back to some fear.  Virtually any fear can result in some type of sin.

We Americans like to talk about rights and justice.  Seldom do we get to the heart of the matter.  When we violate God’s moral or natural laws we are usually motivated by fears which fuel our lack of trust in God.  We also like to use the word “love,” but we fail to understand the word.  We think love is simply another pleasant emotion instead of a courageous, selfless act of the will.

We are taught that courage is a virtue and that fear is a weakness.  So, instead of admitting that we have sinned because we are afraid, we mask our sins under the cover of “rights” and “justice.”  This makes us seem courageous, but often it is just like Adam and Eve hiding from God and wearing “fig leaves” to cover their shame.  So, the first step is to recognize sin for what it is and choose God’s love instead (even when it’s really, really hard).  Otherwise we remain stuck in the circular rationalization of our sins.

Next, we must ask ourselves what we are afraid of.  When we acknowledge our fears we are better able to see how they pave the way for sin.  Is our sin rooted in a fear of what we might miss out on (some pleasure, perhaps)?  Is it rooted in a fear of increased responsibility?  Is it a financial fear?  Is it a health related fear?  Whatever the fear, there is likely a lack of trust in God that accompanies it.  So, we choose our way instead of God’s way, and we sin.  We violate God’s moral or natural law.  We choose fear over love.

“God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2Tim 1:7)  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love castes out fear; because fear has torment.  He that fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1John 4:18)

What are your fears?  You may have to dig deep to find some of them.  Can you choose God’s ways in the face of them?  Will you let perfect love cast them out?  Or will you remain crouched behind your right to do things your way?

Love

People use the word “love” in various ways.  Usually, it has something to do with how they feel about someone or something.  “I love ice cream,” or “I love walks on the beach,” or “I love my boyfriend,” etc.  Love has been so thoroughly linked to feeling, emotion and romance that people tend to perceive it as being beyond their control.  “Falling” in love is like slipping on a banana peel.  It just “happens” to us and there is nothing we can do about it.

There is a higher form of love.  Although it may involve experiencing certain emotions, it is not, in and of itself, an emotion.  This higher form of love is a choice.  It is an act of the will.  It does not “just happen.”  It must be consciously chosen.  It must be chosen even when the feelings connected with it are unpleasant or undesirable.  Feelings cannot guide this kind of love.  It transcends feelings.

To really love someone is to will the highest good for that person regardless of one’s feelings toward that person.  This is why Jesus commands us to love our enemies.  He is calling us to the higher form of love that is not guided by emotion.  What good is it to only love your friends?  Even the worst people can do that because they are using the lowest form of “love” which is based on feelings rather than choice.  Anyone can fall in and out of love while riding the waves of emotion.  Higher love (godly love) demands that we make a choice and stick to it despite our feelings.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “There is a reason Jesus told us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies.  It is because they tend to be one in the same.”  When pressed for an answer to the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  These two commandments sum up all the rest of God’s laws.  Following this standard cannot be accomplished through the guidance of emotion.  Love is a choice, whether it is a choice to love God or to love our neighbors.  Feelings are secondary and must not derail true love.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” not “Like your enemies.”

To love another is to will the highest possible good for that person.  God is the highest possible good.  Therefore, to really love someone is to desire that they become intimately connected to and redeemed by God, the highest possible good.  Emotions are not the bottom line.  Desiring that people find their way to the highest possible good is the bottom line.  That is godly love.

Think about a person that you find the most emotionally difficult to love.  When you decide that you want the highest possible good for that person despite your feelings towards that person, then you are on the path of higher love.  When your will takes over for your emotions, then your words and actions can reflect authentic, godly love.  Look at a crucifix and you will see the highest good.  God is love.  The choice is ours.

Facebook And The Refrigerator

Yesterday I was on a men’s retreat at my parish.  During lunch break one of the guys was looking at his phone and scrolling away.  I asked him if he was looking at Facebook.  “Yeah,” he said, “just killing some time.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said, “Facebook is kind of like standing in front of the refrigerator.  You open it up and scan through it to see if anything looks good.”  I laughed in agreement.

His comment reminded me of a talk I once heard from a priest who was teaching a class on Catholicism.  The priest was introducing the idea that all of us have a built in longing for God, but we seek things other than God to appease that longing.  He quoted St. Augustine as saying that “our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in you.”  Then, he shared his own experience of something that is familiar to most of us.  It is the tendency to open the refrigerator door and stand there looking for something, even when we’re not really hungry.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “Every man who ever knocked on the door of a brothel was looking for God, but he just didn’t realize it.”  Whether it is the brothel door, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the log in page of Facebook or any number of endeavors, we all look for something besides God to appease our longing for God.  Actually, it’s not something but someone we are seeking.  It is a longing that can only be satisfied by a relationship with God, for only God can provide the pure, unconditional love that we crave.  If we seek that relationship in anything or anyone other than God, we will eventually find ourselves unfulfilled, frustrated or disappointed.  We may even find ourselves addicted, constantly returning to that which can never fully satisfy, and that which ultimately leaves us empty and restless.

Close the refrigerator door.  You’re letting all the cold air out.

Critical Thinking Versus Being Critical

I was taught to use critical thinking skills.  I’m not always good at it, but I do try to see all sides of issues, and I try to avoid being duped.  Critical thinkers should be able to step back and see potential problems within their own conclusions as well as the conclusions of others.  No one can be right about everything all of the time.  Nevertheless, we must make conclusions regarding values, principles and morality, especially if we claim to be Christian.  Such conclusions must be based on reason as well as faith.  Pope John Paul II said that faith and reason are the two wings on which the soul takes flight.  Hence, even Christians need critical thinking skills.  Being Christian is an intelligent choice as well as a choice of faith.  Being a critical thinker, however, is not the same as being a critical person, and many folks get the two confused.

Critical people tend to seek out and point out the faults of others.  They will look a person “up and down” in an attempt to spot a blemish or shortcoming.  They also tend to find ways to make “imperfections” known to others.  This is the attitude of the Pharisee whose prayer consisted of thanking God that he was not like the sinners around him.  It is an attitude of superiority which expresses contempt for others while “pumping up” one’s self.  Having a critical attitude is not the same thing as using critical thinking skills to arrive at different conclusions than others.

There are also people that, if disagreed with, will throw out accusations of hatred.  “Since you disagree with my conclusion, you must hate me.”  These people are dismissing the possibility that the conclusion that differs from theirs could have been arrived at through legitimate, critical thinking rather than through hatred.  Using critical thinking skills is not hatred.  In fact, it is a loving thing to do as it attempts to see all sides and operate justly rather than through pure emotion.

As Christians, we are compelled to use critical thinking skills but not to be critical people.   We are to be, as Scripture says, “Wise as serpents but harmless as doves.”  James tells us how difficult it is to “tame the tongue,” yet we must strive to “speak the truth in love.”  As soon as we use truth as a hammer to beat down or insult other human beings, we enter the realm of sin.  We must, at all times and with all people, act with charity (love).  Faith, hope and charity: the greatest of these is charity.  Think critically, but don’t be a critical person.  Critical people tend to attract other critical people, and that is not the mission of the Church.  Criticism doesn’t usually win people over.

Most of us are critical rather than loving at times.  That’s why we have the confessional.  And Jesus waits for us there, not to criticize us, but to love us and to help us think more critically about how we can be more like Him and bring others to Him.

“I Love You, But I’m Not In Love With You.” (Marriage and Eucharist)

“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”  I can’t count the number of times I have heard that phrase in my counseling office.  When someone says this to a spouse it typically means, “I no longer have those honeymoon feelings I used to have.”  There are occasions when a person is experiencing a genuine state of clinical depression and has lost the ability to experience feelings of happiness and appreciation.  However, more often these individuals are idolizing the god of subjectivity and have allowed feelings to become their master.  They have reduced the objective reality of their marriage to a subjective state.  They may not “feel” married, but they are still married.

The Church is the Bride of Christ and, as such, is married to the Bridegroom, Jesus.  The Eucharist is the marriage supper.  Hence, receiving Holy Communion is a joining together of Bride and Groom in an objective way.  It is a very real union that is not dependant on subjective feelings.  The fact that two people might “feel” married to each other does not make them objectively married.  Conversely, marriage is an objective reality regardless of the subjective feelings.  The Eucharist is not real because it “feels” real.  It is real.

Dr. Peter Kreeft points out that to regard the Lord’s Supper as merely symbolic is to reduce the relationship of a marriage to the level of a friendship.  Although a healthy marriage will include friendship between spouses (Jesus called His disciples friends), it is not the friendship that makes the relationship a marriage.  The marriage is created by the unique union of the body and soul of the bride and the groom.  That is the objective reality.  When the Eucharist is reduced to only the symbolic, all that remains is the subjective feeling.  In other words, when people receive the Lord’s Supper in non-Catholic churches, they may experience feelings about their relationship with Jesus, but there is no actual union taking place between Bride and Groom.  The relationship is subjective.  Communion becomes all about remembering what Jesus did and how believers “feel” about what He did.  The Catholic Eucharist includes the subjective remembering as well as the objective uniting of married partners.  Jesus is in our hearts, but He is also really united with our bodies and souls, like a bride and groom.

Think about how a vaccine works.  It is not a placebo.  It is not dependant on how the patient feels about receiving it, although the patient may be very happy and grateful.  The vaccine works by a very real process of interacting with the body of the patient.  It is an objective reality, not a subjective reality.  The Eucharist is not a placebo (nor are the other Sacraments).  It “works” by the power of Christ interacting with spirit and matter, not by the feelings of those receiving it.

The union of the Bride and the Groom is not dependant on “honeymoon” feelings, although such feelings may certainly be present.  Any experienced married couple will testify to the fact that honeymoon feelings do not sustain a healthy marriage.  Unless the honeymoon feelings grow into something much deeper, the marriage will suffer.  In counseling, the goal is not to take a couple back to their honeymoon days.  The goal is to bring the honeymoon forward to a deeper place.  Similarly, Dr. Kreeft says, “God does not want us to have a spiritual sweet tooth.”  God wants us objectively united with Him in the Eucharist, not just going by our feelings.  Feelings can become an idol of worship.  Feelings often become the cake instead of the icing on the cake (especially in America).

Moses did not feel good about God calling him to lead Israel.  Jonah did not feel good about preaching to Nineveh.  Jesus did not feel good about going to the cross.  Children do not feel good about getting the Polio vaccine or eating vegetables.  Married people do not always feel good about their spouses.  Catholics do not always feel their hearts “strangely warmed” or a “burning in the bosom” when receiving the Eucharist.  When it comes to love and obedience, feelings are not important.  Feelings come and go.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He invites us to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Will we come and dine out of love and obedience, or will we let our feelings be our god?  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:57)  “This is my body…this is my blood…” (Matt 26:26-28)  Jesus never asked the “therapist” question, “How does that make you feel?”  He simply said, “Take and eat.”