Friday, November 12, 2010

Love: The Alpha and Omega of Life

Today's readings from Mass speak of "beginnings" and "endings." In the first reading from the second letter of John, the author reminds his audience to return to the "beginning" of Gospel life: loving one another (2 John 4-9). In the Gospel of Luke (17:26-37), Jesus is telling his disciples about the signs that will accompany the end of time. Toward the end of today's Gospel, Jesus issues a teaching in the form of a paradox that is the sine qua non (an indispensable, non-negotiable action) of Christian life and being prepared "to go before the light": "whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it."

The whole of the Christian life and Christian spirituality, the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, is reducible to the above teachings about love. This may seem easy enough, but in a culture that is so conflicted and communicates such mixed messages about what it means to love (usually focusing on the sensual and sappy :), what are we to make of the real "business" of loving implied by these two axioms?

To get to the heart of what Christian or God-like/Christ-like love implies, let's "unpack" a bit more Jesus' paradoxical, sine qua non teaching mentioned above. In talking about preserving and losing one's life, Jesus is really referring to what it means to love as God. Love implies self-gift: coming to "possession" of the gift that God first gave us in the form of our lives (a life-long process) and than "returning" this gift to God by giving the whole of ourselves to others (also a life-long process). Such a gift is, of course, not something that we wrap up in shiny, cellophane paper with a bow and a tag; rather, it implies a commitment to the well-being and life of others (especially those most vulnerable, weak, and least-loved).

The "other side" of the coin of Jesus' teaching is that if we lose ourselves by loving others, we will paradoxically save ourselves. This paradox can shed some very important light on the nature of love. The gift of one's self is not something that exists in a relational vacuum. We only come into possession of this gift by being dynamically and interdependently related to others. In other words, the gift of our "self" is received when it is reflected in the eyes and hearts of those who have loved us into being and loved us into becoming who God hopes for us to be. Think, for example, of a parent who raises a child in a wholesome environment where that child can grow to the full potential that he or she has. In a very real sense, the parent makes sacrifices even to the point of "losing themselves" for the sake of their son or daughter. In making such a sacrifice by parenting well, however, the parent doesn't only "lose themselves" in their child but "gains themselves" in a new, fuller way by seeing the child grow, flourish, and raise children of his or her own.

In a similar way, when we strive to commit ourselves to the well-being of others, we receive ourselves anew by sharing in the new life that the other experiences. This dynamic of life-begetting-life and love-begetting-love is a foretaste of the eternal "banquet" of life and love that we hope to share in the "new heavens and new earth." This is where Jesus' teaching in today's Gospel gets even better!

Seated at the "banquet table" with innumerable others, we will fully share and "feast" in the "harvest of life and love" that will be the fullness of the gift of ourselves interwoven in perfect communion with the gift of everyone else. The gift of love that we give will be radically eclipsed by the gift of love that we are to receive! Pat, TOR