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My friend, Francis Pauc, author of the web blog Father at War recently sent me this letter to the editor of the local Catholic newspaper that he has not heard from. He said in his email “Maybe you will find some value in it.” Yes, I do need it and the greatest value I can find for it is to share it with everyone who reads the Diary of the Worm. In a few days I put it on Frank’s blog but for now here are some Easter blessings.
“All you need is love”, is what John Lennon sang over forty years ago. Even after all this time, his words have an enduring appeal. But, are they true? Are these words about love just some kind of hippie sentiment, or do they describe the human experience? Are they real?
It would be easy to dismiss the Beatles lyrics as being the relics of a more naive period of our history, but they also point to a deeper meaning. The words echo what we as Christians treasure most in our tradition. The Bible, especially the New Testament, testifies to the importance of love in the world. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians describes love beautifully, and Jesus spends much of the Gospels exhorting his disciples to love others. Pope Benedict, in his very first encyclical, proclaimed that “Deus Caritas Est”, that “God is Love”. Our faith is founded on that fact.
Unfortunately, there is much confusion as to what love really is. Perhaps part of the problem is that in English we use the word “love” to mean a variety of things. Quite often “love” is simply used as a synonym for “lust”; certainly, that is the definition that sells best. In many cases, the word “love” conjures up images of flowers or valentines, and generally feels warm and fuzzy.
Love very seldom is warm and fuzzy. Love is usually hard as hell. A friend of mine once explained to me that love and sacrifice are really the same thing. Love is more of a verb than a noun. Love is more often an act than a feeling. Love is a parent staying up all night with a child that is running a high fever. Love is when a husband or wife hangs tough with a spouse who is going through recovery for an addiction. Love is Jesus dying on the cross.
I don’t think that our society is comfortable with love. As Americans, we are fiercely independent, sometimes self-centered, and often outspoken. I think that we prefer the word “truth”. We admire the person who “tells it like it is”. We don’t like a subtlety or nuance.We want it all to be in black and white. We are encouraged by our religious leaders to fight for the “truth”. We are not shy about speaking our minds regardless of the consequences. If somebody’s feelings get hurt because of our words, we can always excuse it by saying, “Well, it was true!”
The pursuit of truth without love is an ugly thing. I have been to many protests and demonstrations over the years. Some of them were protests against abortion, and some were protests against the wars. Quite often, I found very little love among the people that were gathered. I could sense the anger and the bitterness in the crowd, but very seldom did I feel any compassion or understanding. Single-minded zeal, even for a noble cause, can be very destructive.
Truth and love are not separate entities. Edith Stein explained it very well when she said, “You cannot have truth without love or love without truth. One without the other becomes a destructive lie.” Our problem today is that we want truth without love. We want to be able to speak without listening. We want to judge others without showing compassion or empathy. We want to be right more than anything else. We seldom stop to ask the question that Pilate asked: “What is truth?”, before we fight for it.
The other part of Stein’s statement is also applicable to our times. We sometimes think that love is the same as complete tolerance, and that we can love others by turning a blind eye to the evil that they do. That is also an error. We are called to be prophets in our world, but we are called to be prophets with hearts that can understand the suffering in our fellow humans. We are called to correct and encourage; we have no right to condemn.
Love and truth both come from God, and both are found together in God. To truly serve God, I have to learn what love and truth really mean, and then I have to unite them and make them part of my life. That is what I have to do to be a Christian.