Defining Love

‘Bearing of the Cross’ by Mikhail Nesterov

These past few weeks, we have been enriched by so many parables in the Gospels, speaking to us about the importance of bearing fruit in our Christian lives, by learning what it means to “love”.  

Later on, this week, we will be bringing out to the center of the Church the ultimate symbol of love…the precious and life-giving cross. Bowing down before its presence, we will no doubt gaze in awe of its beauty, and think to ourselves:  How can we possibly measure up to the love of the Cross?   

I recently had some time to myself in a long drive to Philadelphia where I had the opportunity to listen to C.S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”.  There is an amazing chapter in that book that talks about the difference between the emotion of love, and love which is eternal and unconditional.  

Lewis used the image of marriage as his example, saying that it is the emotion of love that leads couples to a lifelong commitment of fidelity.  Anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship, knows the emotion of love quite well.  When we come across a person that we are falling for, our stomach gets butterflies, we have a hard time eating and sleeping, and our day to day focus seems clouded as all of our thoughts and energies go towards that one person.  

While all of these emotions are necessary to start a long relationship…this is most definitely not true love.  The true test is seeing what happens over time, when those emotions become less frequent.  What happens in a marriage where a couple has a moment where they simply do not like each other… maybe after a blow up or an argument.  After the disagreement, is love still there?  Is there a longing for repentance after all of the anger subsides? Does it feel unnatural for a married couple to remain apart for too long?  

C.S. Lewis beautiful stated that part of a Christian Marriage is asking God for the grace to always have unconditional love for their spouse, especially in the difficult moments when they do not like each other.  

I bring all of this up to you brothers and sisters in Christ, not because I am an expert on love…but because understanding how love works is exceedingly important, not just for our marriages and families, but for our spiritual life and our relationship with God.  

Our Love for God is very similar to that of a marriage.  When we start off as new Christians, or when we take part in a beautiful Liturgy or a Confession, we have this emotion of love that we offer to God.  For those moments, God takes precedent over everything else in our lives. It’s easy to pray, the Liturgies are beautiful, we can’t wait to be back in the Church and to see His face!  Everything in our personal lives seems clear!  

But over time, those emotions become less frequent, and after a few weeks or months in the same routine, we become hard hearted.  In prayer, we become easily distracted.  And when that feeling of emptiness sweeps over us, we once again begin to search for the emotional love that caused us to want to pray in the first place.   

‘Crucifixion’ by Mikhail Nesterov

I was watching a video this past week about life at Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia, and the abbot was talking about how so many men come to the monastery with that emotional high of a Love for God.  After a time, however, it fades.  “But”, he said, “real spiritual growth takes place only when our prayer is dry, when it is difficult to stand in services, and when we can’t possibly keep our mind focused.  This process is something that affects all of us, but we must learn to fight through it…to continue to get up and say: “no matter how I am feeling today, I’m going to continue to pray, I’m going to continue to get up. I’m going to continue to grow closer to God even when it is hard and dry.”

“This is the life that transforms us”.  

If we take a deep look at our spiritual lives, we have all failed to be transformed by the unconditional love that we have received from God.  Each one of us today can point to a time in our own lives where we had fallen away from the Church to some degree.  Maybe it was because a tragedy occurred, or maybe it was because there was a time when we felt like we weren’t “getting anything” from prayer.  Anytime we put an emphasis on something in this life overreciprocating the Love that God unconditionally offers us…we fail in our marriage to the creator.  

“Is my love for God emotional…or unconditional?”  

This is the question that we must ask ourselves, as we are reminded this week of God’s love for mankind through the cross.  We have to get to a point, where when the cross is brought out before us, it isn’t just another Feast Day.  Next week isn’t just another Sunday where we sing something different than “Holy God”. The cross isn’t just something pretty to look at, or simply a decoration that we put in the center of the Church. Somehow, in our weakness this week, we have to enter into a state of mind where that cross is EVERYTHING.  The love that the Cross represents needs to be our ENTIRE LIFE, and the only way to get to that point, is to learn what true and unconditional love for God really is. 

For too long, we have lived our lives as the ungrateful spouse in our relationship with God.  We can ill afford to think that we have done enough in this life to warrant Love from the creator.  It is dangerous for us to continue to have the “what have you done for me lately” attitude with the Father.  Cultivating true love for the Father in our own lives needs to start now…at the foot of the Cross…wrapped in a cloak of humility as we say: “Without You Lord…I am nothing.”

Spend some time in quiet contemplation this week and try to assess where you are in your relationship with God.  The beauty of our faith is that regardless of what type of Love we have shown Him throughout our lives, we are still able to look upon His Precious Cross and see first-hand, the eternal and unconditional Love that he has for all of His Creation.  

May the Lord Give us Love for Him, and for Each Other…Amen.

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