“Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.”

Version 2

While in Assis I came across a quote from Santa Chiara (St. Clare) that I had never heard before. Immediately I was struck by the quote as it had a way of succinctly summing up something so very true and important in just a few simple words. It was inscribed somewhere in the Basilica of St. Clare and it was given to me by a friend just a few days before my trip to Assisi. On my way home I began to look for it again on the Internet in order to reflect on it further.

Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.

This quote has continued to return to me several times over this last week. Maybe the first thing that comes to me ask reflect upon it is how much it is both based upon the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ and how much it continues to point back to that same love. It is enriched by Christ’s great and sacrificial love and it illuminates the depths of His great love for God the Father and for us, His brothers and sisters. No one, not even Jesus, loves suffering or death that comes as a result of such great suffering. So why then would God desire to suffer in such a way as He did in Jesus the Son? Why would He endure such horrible suffering in the passion and the cross? For Love. For the sake of His beloved. For the Father, whom He abides with always in loving communion and for us His beloved ones. He would go through such great suffering for our sake and for the sake of the whole world to see us live, to see us free!

I am reminded of a similar and helpful saying attributed to St. Francis that I read years ago and continue to reflect upon over and over again.

The cross is pure joy.

When I first read this many years ago, I didn’t understand a thing about it, yet, even then, there was something that rang true in my heart when those words first entered therein. Years of reflecting upon those words have brought slow insight into the wisdom they express… Similar to St. Clare’s quote, the wisdom is likewise rooted in the person and love of Christ – especially as it is revealed through His cross. How can there be any joy in suffering? In the cross of all things? It is not the instrument or source of torture that animates ones joy it is the love for whom one gladly suffers that does so! Love of God and live of neighbor to the end! This is the charity of Christ! Is is the definition of love – of God who is love! Love that is total, free and faithful! It is this love that is fruitful and fills us and others with joy! It is this love that gives life even to the dead!

So called love, love that is unwilling to suffer, is exposed as selfishness instead. This easily becomes clear when one considers a so-called love that is unwilling to help, sacrifice, suffer for or even with another person – with the so called beloved. It is evident in this distortion of love, that the person who is unwilling to suffer, is only there for themselves – sadly I think tha this also expresses their unwillingness to suffer even for themselves – to live with discipline where it is good for them to do so.

Going back to the original quote, and to St. Clare and St. Francis: I think that they lived this love in such a profound way. First and foremost towards God as both of them willingly and even joyfully suffered and sacrificed much for the sake of Christ and His gospel. It was also their profound love for God that purified and transformed their love so that they, like and with God, were able to love others too. They did not love only a single person totally but all people and even all of creation! They endured and sacrified much for the love of others too. Think of St. Francis binding up and wounds of the lepers and begging on their behalf in for them to be able to eat or of St. Clare washing daily the feet of her sisters (they went barefoot by the way) as an expression of her love for them. These are profound expressions not only of true love but I would dare say truly happy people, full of not only the love of God but the joy of the Lord as well.


“Constant Thanks”

The saint is first and foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having loved or let God love.

Erasmo Leiva

I am using this quote to guide my homily today since as it helps me to articulate what is more subtly expressed in todays gospel. It is thanksgiving weekend after all and the theme of thanksgiving might not be readily drawn out from the readings or from the Lord’s teaching on what is needed in order to enter, as He says, “the kingdom of God.”

The teaching in question comes from an encounter that Jesus has with a rich man who is said to have had “many possessions.” He seeks, and it seems sincerely so, to get an answer from Jesus regarding what he must do to inherit eternal life – to receive eternal life as an inheritance from God. He seems implicitly, or at least by his language, to understand that to receive such from God, he must live as a son. Maybe this point will become more poignant as we look a little more closely at the response given by the only begotten Son of God; by Jesus. He, as the Son, knows what is necessary and He always gives complete thanksgiving to God.

The man asks a sincere question of Jesus and we must assume that he does so to get a good answer. Jesus seems to know him – as he knows everyone – and so he says to him, “you know the commandments…” The man affirms that he does know them by saying that he has “kept all these since [his] youth”. It is then that the striking and telling moment of encounter happens. Jesus, we are told, “looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” What a striking demand the Lord makes on this man. What to me is maybe most important is that the man does not recognize in this invitation from Jesus, that he is being offered a gift. It is almost as if the man, at that point (in his shock), says ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ This is also why he goes away grieving. It is as if he knows he is being offered and invited to something greater and profound but, because of his possessions, he cannot do it.

What does he fail to accept? God’s particular and deepest love for him. How do we know this – he is unwilling to give of himself, he will not trust God with any more or admit his indebtedness through gratitude there. He is, as a result, unable to give thanks to God with his whole life – some of it, he feels, he must keep for himself for his own glory – no thanks to God. He is unable to be truly poor in spirit, which is or course a challenge for all of us! Look then at the example of the disciples who have ‘left everything and followed” Jesus thereby making a complete gift of themselves to God! Is this not the deepest expression of thanksgiving?

When we are truly thankful for someone’s gift to us we make careful and considerate use of that gift in reference to the giver and to their intention. We cannot divide the gift from giver – especially the larger or more profound the gift. Do we not in a certain way acknowledge this connection when we are upset at someone when we have given them a gift and they have misused it? A few simple examples might suffice to demonstrate this. For instance, a simple one that immediately comes to mind for me is when I was ordained, one of my best friends growing up gave me a 30 year old bottle of port. It was a wonderful gift! Guess who I drank it with? I purposefully arranged a dinner with him and his wife so that I could share the gift with them. I understand now, looking back, that that was an important expression on my part of the thanksgiving and gratitude I had not only for the gift but for the giver of the gift as well. Another important place where this can been understood is in marriage. One’s fidelity or faithfulness to their spouse is deeply related to a recognition of the profound gift that they have personally received from their spouse (body and soul!). One’s faithfulness in body and soul towards their spouse is a way of expressing their gratitude towards their spouse and their recognition of the gravity of the gift that their spouse has given in giving their life. On top of all this, if a husband or wife is ungrateful for their spouse, the giver of such a gift and the gift of self that they have made, then he or she will also not be willing to give of themselves either, to offer their own body and soul as a gift to their spouse. How beautiful when gratitude exists in every relationship! What happens is we make a gift of ourselves, sharing our heart with another and, if they receive us in gratitude, what we share with them, they will respect the gift plus the one from whom it came – the giver. By their gratitude they will also sincerely and gently give back to me myself and be moved to give of themselves in return – to reciprocate. Notice what Jesus expresses of those who have given up everything for the sake of Christ – if, in gratitude you have given up everything to follow Jesus, guess what? you will receive a hundredfold! from God in return.

Jesus is the fullest and most complete embodiment of this reality. It is He, the only begotten Son, who has made a complete gift of self to the Father in thanksgiving. Jesus, by doing so, expresses the greatest of gratitude towards God the Father – fully acknowledging God’s goodness and the profound generosity of the giver. Jesus also, in living faithfully and generously towards the Father, not only abides in the Father’s great love but He also respects the gift(s) that the Father has bestowed upon Him and is considerate of the Father who gives them!

To me, this is one of the striking differences in the gospel today – Jesus attempts to lead the rich man to a greater recognition and appreciation of God’s love for him but he is unwilling or unable to express gratitude for what he has received as gift and from whom he has received. What is the result? Grieving. Sadness. The rich man is unable to be open to the generous love of God for him and to fully be gracious and thankful for that love. He will receive no more than what he has because he is closed to anything more – closed to the invitation of Jesus, to a greater treasure.

It is no accident I think that as our society has become wealthier we have moved further from God’s love and the gratitude and thankfulness that would follow from an honest recognition of the profound generosity of God. It is almost as if people know implicitly that if I acknowledge God’s goodness and generosity, for all that I have and all that I am in my life, that I will realize there is a subsequent invitation to acknowledge through how I use these gifts and respect the intention and love of the giver. It might be easier to avoid this and be ungrateful – but it is also a source of misery for us. Gratitude is a source of great joy for us and yet it demands that we acknowledge, through our living, that we owe everything to God. The crazy thing is that we would rather stop the exchange, take what we have been given and run from the one who has given it – never to have to acknowledge their generosity but also never to receive fully from them again. How isolating and sad a reality is that? Especially when Jesus, like with the rich man, invites us to be open to receiving even more through God’s abounding love and generosity.

I return to the opening quote again. “The Saint is first stand foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having been loved or let God love.” This is the beautiful life: The one lived in trusting and generous relationship with the Father of all good gifts! This is the life of joy and intimacy whereby we can never to outdo God in His generosity!

Love and Vulnerability

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even 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. To love is to be vulnerable.

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I was reminded of this quote again recently and I thought I should post it, especially in the context of the coming Solemnity of Christmas. After reading the quote I cannot help but think of how the coming of Jesus, in total vulnerability as a baby, reinforces and clarifies the great love of God. The love of the God who is love! The Father gives us His heart in the Son (if I can actually speak that way!). God the Father gives us His love, His only begotten Son, knowing full well that His heart will be wrung with the sins against His love – with the death of love dying for loves sake. But, love never ends…. This seems no more true than in reflecting on the life and love of God the Father embodied and given in Jesus the Son, living eternally raised from death, and the ever present and eternally loving Holy Spirit.

Jesus also embodies the opposite of a carefully protected, selfish heart, described by Lewis – He had no hobbies and luxuries. He didn’t even have a place to lay His head! Who could ever be more entangled with the knots of human sin than Jesus our Lord who became sin? The Sacred Heart of Jesus is eternally vulnerable – crowned with thorns and pierced through – but always loving. The Heart of Jesus is never safe, always exposed, and therefore is always alive with the burning fire of love. Though it accept and buffer every blow of death levelled at it, it will never die.

We lose nothing

“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict

I was putting together my homily for this upcoming Sunday (Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time) and I couldn’t help but be reminded of this quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict. It is a truly amazing and moving quote for me. I believe it s such because of the way that it resonates with the truth of our faith, the truth that I know and have experienced. Does this quote not strike at the heart of the gospel and at our fear to embrace it? I think we know that this is such an important choice. I think we know that there is a lot at stake with this choice. I think this is why this choice is so hard to make it. My friends, I invite you to make it. If you have already made it, make it again. Renew you choice for Him. I will today make it with you. Lord, I am afraid! Lord, I choose you. I invite you fully into every aspect of my life. I choose you Lord and I give myself to you. I choose true life! Lord, give me the confidence that you had in the Father when you went to the cross, and my salvation will be assured.

God loved us first

God loved us first so we, having received and accepted love from God, are also called to love others first – to forgive others first. As such we should not fight over the head of the table but rather to fight over the towel.

This is a paraphrase from one of the catechetical sessions given us by a Cardinal during  World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was amazed at the image this created for me, especially having read this again after last weekends readings on humility where Jesus reminds us to humble ourselves rather than exalt ourselves. It is only the one who knows (experiences) that they are loved first that can freely, and without qualification, love others first.

An evening prayer

In the morning let me know your love for I put my trust in you. Make mew know the way I should walk: to you I lift up my soul.

– Psalm 143

I think this is such a beautiful prayer for the evening. It is wonderful way to dedicate, even before it has begun, one’s next day and to begin hope and pledge that one might begin that day with trust God’s love. I love you Lord, may every morning you give me start with an acknowledgement of your unconditional and abounding love!

St. Faustina on prayer

There is no soul which is not bound to pray, for every single grace comes to the soul through prayer.

– Diary of St. Faustina (146)

Kind of suggests the importance of prayer doesn’t it? This makes sense to me, especially since all of the sacraments, which we refer to as sources of God’s graces, are supposed to be instances of profound prayer whereby we personally encounter  Jesus Christ. The importance of daily time set aside every day for prayer should be obvious then. Without prayer how can we receive or accept the grace we need to do the will or God; to do the Good?