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Friday, 4 May 2012

On Love and the Answer to Socialism--Part One

This is a follow-up on both my series on perfection, which is not finished, and my rants against socialism, especially those written yesterday-three-which I posted. Also, these meditations begin to reveal why socialist leaders hate the Church, the family and Christian marriage. The sources of love are the sources of real charity and selflessness, not any governmental policy or political ideology. This is not utopianism, but hard work.

I am re-reading and re-studying Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, in order to build up a case for the restructuring of a society which cares for its young, old, sick, poor, which the socialists say they do and don't. The Catholic Church has always had a viable alternative to socialism, which those who are godless hate, and those who are greedy do not believe is worthy of attention. The Catholic Church's political or governmental or civic position on the organization of charity lies in the teachings of Christ and all His followers on the need for the Christian community. In Deus Caritas Est, the Pope, I think, radically re-defined, or at least clarified, the classical definition of eros, in order to bridge the gap between so-called sexual, or at least, married love, and the love of friends and brothers and sisters in Christ in the Church.

That the Church on the local levels of the parishes has failed in this regard, with people changing the definition of love to exclude agape, and in people placing their hopes on bloated governments instead of their own call to agape, is one of the tragedies of modern times.

In the encyclical, which is brilliant, of course, the Pope sets out the argument that eros has been misunderstood and too easily relegated to the sexual sphere. Here are some sections which are relevant to my discussion. These are from Part I

Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love —eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.

Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

In other words, we do not love unless the body and the soul are engaged (no pun intended) in a movement of the heart and will to love. Eros brings us to God. I know this, personally, as do many other people, including some who read this blog. However, the message is lost in the world of selfishness and pleasure-seeking activities.

Again, the Pope,this time on the Hebrew definitions of love, found in Scripture:

First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabĂ , which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.

This searching is sometimes unrequited love, which roams seeking the beloved, not being able to see or find him or her. The searching love is from God, as a spark, to find the fulfillment of love, either in the person sought and found, or in the community, as we shall see. This dodim is a gift, as is ahaba. All real love is a gift from God. The Pope is amazingly clear, as well as deep. looks to the eternal. Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels (cf. Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk9:24; Jn 12:25). In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself.

Now, some of you are shaking your heads and thinking, what does all this have to do with the Church's anti-socialist stand. Be patient. Already, we see a huge break in the invocation of the Passion of Christ and the idea of self-giving. It is not about ME, or the State, but about the other. I find the encyclical exciting. Here is more..

Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf.Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).

Now, for those of you who have been following my ideas and those of the great spiritual writers I have been quoting on perfection, will begin to make the connections. The giving and the receiving, even in the mystical life, which I believe is absolutely necessary and wanted by God for all of us, leads to real charity, real agape. St. John of the Cross knew this, as did SS. Teresa the Great, and Therese the Little Flower.

The Pope states and this is a key sentence,  that biblical faith does not set up a parallel universe.

Love is real, tangible, as well as ecstasy, great emotion, and peace. The Bible gives us pictures of all these types of love, and the list of personages, including, of course, Our Lady, who exhibit real love, both physical and spiritual, centered on God and His People, are the crowd of witnesses.

I venture at this point that some do not experience God at the eros level because they limit their own experiences as either bad or good, puritanical, or zealous. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese the Little Flower understood and experienced no boundaries in love.

In fact, St. Francis said once, "My God never says 'Enough'."  That is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. and that is my God.

The encyclical continues:

The history of the love-relationship between God and Israel consists, at the deepest level, in the fact that he gives her the Torah, thereby opening Israel's eyes to man's true nature and showing her the path leading to true humanism. It consists in the fact that man, through a life of fidelity to the one God, comes to experience himself as loved by God, and discovers joy in truth and in righteousness—a joy in God which becomes his essential happiness: “Whom do I have in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you ... for me it is good to be near God” (Ps 73 [72]:25, 28).

We have seen that God's eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God's love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed “adultery” and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! ... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hos 11:8-9). God's passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

Now, the people come into perspective. A people, a community of Faith, as my old pastor Father Rory used to say, reflect God's Love for them. But, but, but, only if those in that community do not run away from the eros of God, which is, as the Pope writes above, totally agape.

Simply put in the negative, the community agape fails, or does not even begin, if those in that community are not open to real Love, Who Is a Person. Unless one gives one's self over to Christ completely, one cannot accept God's eros which is totally agape. This is not only astounding, but the teaching of the Church from the earliest days. My boldface type...on my comment stresses this importance. No love accepted from God, no transcendent love, no ascending love. Without this, Christianity fails at the local level, as it has failed in the heart of each man and woman in that community.

The Pope continues: the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape. We can thus see how the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God's relation to man and man's relation to God. Thus the Song of Songs became, both in Christian and Jewish literature, a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical faith: that man can indeed enter into union with God—his primordial aspiration. But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says: “He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17).

Priests, the Church, the community is your Bride. People, God is your Lover. How cool is this dynamic of love, faith, hope, energy, the gifts? How blessed are we to be asked into this Heart of Christ, into His Mystery with the passion of true love? The wow factor could not be greater and the transformation of our own souls means that the community will, or could be, transformed.

While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become “complete”. The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
Two aspects of this are important. First, eros is somehow rooted in man's very nature; Adam is a seeker, who “abandons his mother and father” in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become “one flesh”. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love. This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.

Can there be a clearer more dear call to holiness and perfection than that from Love Himself? And, the type of married love which grows to a maturity of complete selflessness, is what each Church community is called to live....I dedicate this to Anita and M., my siblings in Christ. More to come.......