Can we control love? I am not talking about how to win friends and influence people in the sense of Dale Carnegie’s book. Nor am I talking about any sort of romantic relationship. I’m talking about the heroic type of love, such as the love a parent has for his or her own child or the type of love it takes to risk your own life or freedom to protect someone else. I’m talking about sacrificial love such as a wife who stays in a marriage when her husband comes back from the battle front and is missing a hand, or a leg or his personality. The type of love that a stranger shows when he stops his car and plunges into rushing water to try and save another stranger who appears to be drowning.
People don’t talk about unconditional or sacrificial love as much as they used to. We don’t see it as much as we used to. When we see it now, it is highlighted as 90 second news segment instead of the common story in our neighborhood, family or home.
This leads me to conclude that we can control love. Unfortunately, the only control we can exert on it is to suppress it or ignore it. In our culture, we starve the heroic love to death by pursuing primarily erotic, romantic and idolatrous love. We hijack unconditional love by filling our minds with distractions or worse yet, lies and filth. We rob our society of love by misleading our children about the truth that is the basis of authentic love and handing them nothing more than the surplus love we have left at the end of our day, if there is any left at all. Most of all, we bankrupt our children by allowing them to believe that the highest and best love, is love of self.
Our savior taught us that the highest and greatest love is love of God the Father and that there is one other love like it, love of neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). Christ spent three years teaching us about these two great loves, and then he showed us how to combine these loves into the flawless and divine. 2000 years later, we have corrupted that teaching and polluted that example. Our culture now lives and celebrates a distorted and ugly mischaracterization of the love that most of our parents were raised to know. It is even further from the love that our grandparents lived and experienced. But it hasn’t always been that way.
For thousands of years, the world had a very immature and incomplete understanding of love. The result was a series of cultures that placed a very low value on life. Brutality was common. Women and children were mistreated and disrespected. Slavery was accepted and wars raged. Their God was a God of fury and wrath, one who punished transgressions with fire and flood. It was an unpleasant and difficult chapter in world history. Then a child was born. The child was named Jesus Christ and eventually, he set out to teach people that there was a better way to live. He taught that His Father was the God of Love and that we were all created in the likeness and image of God.
After Christ was tortured, mocked and nailed to a cross to die, the greatest revolution in the history of the world rolled across the land. Twelve men set out to spread the things that Christ had taught them in word and deed. They changed the hearts and minds of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then hundreds of billions since that Pentecost. Their message? Sacrificial, authentic, unselfish, love.
It has been nearly 2000 years since the Pentecost of A.D. 33, and although the truth of Christ’s message is perfect, we aren’t. Even though great and holy saints have taught the perfect message of Christ through the lives of St. Stephen, St. Thomas More, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. John Paul II, we still haven’t gotten it right.
Now, we live in a world with a very immature and incomplete understanding of love. The result is a culture that place a very low value on life. Brutality is common. Women and children are mistreated and disrespected. Slavery is accepted and wars rage. People believe God is a God of fury and wrath, one who punished transgressions with tragedy. Some believe God is dead. Ours is an unpleasant and difficult chapter in world history.
I think it is time to get back to the basics. The love that is written on our hearts has always been there. It is still inside of us, waiting for us to simply say yes to the difficult and sometimes extremely unpleasant struggle that authentic love can require. A love that is not capable of sacrifice is not authentic love. A love that requires reciprocation or even more, a bountiful reward, is not authentic love. A love that focuses on passion and ignores compassion is not the love that Christ taught us in the Gospel, at the pillar and on the cross.
At the moment of our physical death, our romance, passion, possessions and emotions will mean absolutely nothing. These things will be gone forever and we will only be left with the authentic love for God and neighbor that we accepted as our obligation on earth. If we show up with less authentic love than God created us to carry, we won’t even recognize God. We will only see ourselves and because of that, we will not merit heaven. And if we don’t merit heaven, we fall into two categories, the group that merits eternal suffering and separation from God and the group that has enough authentic love to merit further purification and eventually heaven. One is unbearably bad and the other is terribly disappointing.
Have you ever set about to complete a very difficult and unpleasant task only to learn upon completion that you have not actually completed it and that you have a lot more to do only it is more difficult and unpleasant now? My guess is that purgatory is something like that, multiplied by a billion or so. Imagine being forced to run up a hill carrying a 25lb bag of sand. When you get to the top, you learn that you missed the required time by a few seconds, so you have to go to the bottom of the hill and try again, only with a 30lb bag of sand on your shoulders. You can do it, but it is going to be really difficult. Maybe that is what purgatory is like.
If you want to avoid that, you need to accept Christ’s version of love and forget the version the world is trying to feed to us today. The love taught by Christ does not happen by accident, nor can we navigate solely on our feelings or desires. The only way to follow Christ is to surrender ourselves to God as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42). Up until that time, Christ Himself taught about authentic love, but it was in the Garden of Gethsemane that he surrendered to the will of His Father and lived the sacrificial and heroic love that he had described and taught for the previous three years.
The purest and perfect love is love of God. St. Theresa of Avila teaches us that we can have some idea of how much we love God by the love we show for our neighbor here on earth. Christ taught us that our love for our neighbors is nearly as noble as our love for God. Then Christ showed us how to get to the authentic love that he taught us about by surrendering His will to that of His Father as he prayed on the night of his betrayal by Judas. Then Christ showed us the purity of love for neighbor and for His Father by his extreme torture, humiliation, suffering and death.
This is authentic love. There is nothing erotic about it. There is no physical pleasure in it. There is no emotional satisfaction involved. It is purely sacrificial.
Luckily we have the gift of many other forms of love as we live on earth. We have the gift of friendship, siblings, parents, children, spouse, arts and entertainment, food, travel, natural wonders, quiet, romance, eros, physical senses and a multitude of passions which range from physical to cerebral. All of these have a place in the world as long as they don’t surpass the authentic love of the Gospel. These are all gifts from God because we can never fully participate in the perfect love of Christ to the same extent as Christ does. We can participate, but because of our own lack of divinity, we would fall short of the perfection that Christ achieved. As humans we need many, if not all of these other forms of love in order to exist and fulfill God’s specific, personalized plan for us on earth.
Unfortunately, our culture has little interest in authentic love anymore. Close friendships are distorted into physical relationships whether they are same-sex or not. Love is a feeling or an emotion instead of a lasting commitment which often requires sacrifice. Modern love is impatient, selfish and unforgiving in a manner very contrary to 1 Corinthians 13:4.
We’ve got it all wrong folks. Until we return to the basics and build on authentic love, people will continue to react to the truth of authentic love with a misunderstood belief of hate. When we defend the family, talk about marriage as God has designed it and urge people to reject the empty promises of a morally bankrupt generation, confused people will recoil and shout that we are full of hate. But they don’t understand love, so they could never understand hate. In fact, they fail to see that they are living the deepest and most destructive hate that the world has to offer and that is the hate of dishonesty and manipulation.
Allowing someone to follow a path that will lead them to harm without lifting a finger to redirect them is hate. Encouraging someone to follow you on a path to destruction is a special kind of hate that is nearly impossible to surpass. But standing to the side and encouraging them that they are going to be fine as you quietly watch them walk to their own ruin is the kind of hate that can only come from Satan himself. Remember that in the Garden of Eden, the serpent did not dine with Adam and Eve, he only encouraged them to eat of the apple.
Our culture is worse than the blind leading the blind because Satan is leading so many of those who are blind to the truth of Christ. The result is ignorance of authentic love a misunderstanding of hate and a culture strolling down the path of destruction.
So in the end, I believe we can control love in one way only, and that is to suppress it. Love is written on our hearts, so we can’t create it or will it into being. It is already there. The only way to impact the love that is written on our hearts is to cooperate with it and accept it or to misuse it, misinterpret it and suppress it and that my friend, is hate.