All We Need Is Love?
I have been ruminating about Courage and Encourage for the last month or so. This morning, I woke up singing the Beatles’ anthem to myself and wondering how much truth there is in it.
My initial response as I woke up was, “Yes, but …” “Yes, but” is just a polite way of saying, “No,” and I bristle when I hear someone say this to me in confession or spiritual conversation. We seem to be “kicking against the goads” (Acts 26:14) when we both agree and disagree with a dawning insight.
Yes, love is our origin, our sustenance, and our destiny. “God is love, and all who abide in love, abide in God, and God in them” (1 Jn 4:16). This is the essence of the gospel message. God is infinite love and pure mercy. He created us because He loved us, and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God loves us so much that the Son became human so that we could become divine, a maxim of the fathers that is embedded in the prayer said as water is mixed with wine at the Offertory. Every human being was designed by God for an eternal marriage to Him, and our hope is in our Bridegroom that He will complete “the good work” He has begun in us (Phil 1:6). The Hindu expression “satchitananda” reflects our desire for infinite being, infinite understanding, and infinite joy–what we call “the Beatific Vision,” a consummation of love that never ends.
Love is soul food for us on our pilgrimage. We must feast on love or we will die by the wayside.
Yes. But love is a notoriously complex reality, and it is a battlefield that has been drenched in blood over these two millenia and especially in the last forty or fifty years in our culture. People disagree passionately, sincerely, and hopelessly about the nature and meaning of love in our day.
As a chaplain for Courage and Encourage, I feel that I am called to uphold the Church’s understanding of love, both divine and human. I find myself chanting the words of Inigo Montoya in “Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Our culture advocates “unconditional love” in a way that counterfeits and falsifies the gospel message. Yes, God’s love for us is uncaused by anything that we say or do. It is sheer gift. “All is grace” (Dorothy Day, interpreting Catherine of Sienna). We can never merit God’s love. We cannot stand on our own works and get God in a headlock so that we can force Him to love us. The Pelagian heresy was condemned long ago, but it is a weed that springs up spontaneously in our hearts and that threatens the fruitfulness of the good seed that has been planted in our hearts. I meditated daily on love when I was going through a bout of depression in the 1990s:
I am a man of God.
I am a man of the Church.
I am full of grace.
I am a masterpiece of grace.
I am God’s handiwork.
I am a child of God.
I am a son of the Father.
I am a brother of Jesus.
I am a spouse of the Holy Spirit.
I am beautiful because I am loved.
I am beautiful as I am because I am loved as I am.
I am beautiful now because I am loved now.
God loves me totally.
God loves me now.
Love requires love. God does not want robots or machines that are compelled to act as if they loved Him. He wants sons and daughters who give themselves as freely and fully to Him as He gives Himself freely and fully to us. I have heard it said, “God does not take hostages.” He gives us invitations, and waits to see whether we will co-operate with His initiative in our lives. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). The fact that God loves me first and that He loves me now does not mean that I have “life to the full” (Jn 10:10); it means that I am on the path that leads in that direction.
We cannot accept love and reject love at the same time. All of us must repent of our sins and learn to let love transform us into authentic lovers. Like the Israelites on their Exodus from Egypt, we have to give up our idols and let the living God be our true God.
Jesus commands us to forgive “seventy times seven times” (Mt 18:22). This implies that we may need to repent seventy times seventy times ourselves as well as being patient with those whom we love as they learn how to be God’s partners in love. We need to be as gentle with our brothers and sisters in Courage and Encourage as God is with us. He does not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoldering wick (Mt 12:20)–neither should we.
Perfectionism breeds depression. Puritanism is another weed in the garden of love that chokes the life of grace. In my work with Courage and Encourage, I strive to uphold the full gospel message, but not brutally. Joy matters. Happiness makes all the difference in the world to us. I aim for the serenity of Jesus Himself when He told the woman caught in adultery that He did not condemn her but that He wanted her to “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11). That thought consoles and strengthens me as I deal with my own sins and shortcomings. I hope and pray that it will also console and strengthen my brothers and sisters in their journey to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of Divine Love.
Patricia Hershwitzky Ed.S.
Father Moleski. You had me nodding all the way to your “perfectionism breeds depression” and “puritanism is another weed in the garden of love that chokes the life of grace.” I agree that “brutal perfectionism” can be defeating and even unloving. Yet, as the mother of a young man about to further entrench himself in the SSA lifestyle by secular legalism, I also cannot accept that “happiness makes all the difference in the world to us” — or should –because this “world” is temporal, and what we embrace as bringing us happiness is too often eternally deadly pleasure.
Randy Gage, Ph. D.
Hello Father, “All you need is love”, was a another in the midst of a string of one hit after the other in the 60s when I was a young boy. Another, perhaps more aptly conceived hit by the same group was written a few years earlier entitled, “Can’t buy me love”. Your piece got me thinking once again that the focus here at Courage is to dampen SSA and the embracing of alternate gender identities. The virtue of “chastity” is promulgated continually by Courage. Ironically, we don’t hear much about other virtues here. The onslaught of lopsided ecclesiastical correction of tendencies toward a highly socially undesirable form of iniquity, or an incomprehensible bent to adopt the identity of a gender unassigned at birth is easy, like floating on an inner tube down a meandering river somewhere. Scores of [not all of whom are heterosexual] dissenting priests and religious simply deride what has been historically regarded as vile, disgusting, laughable, and sometimes infuriating. What exactly is so courageous about that? I am not picking on you Father. You are simply going along with mainstream Catholic-speak. You and the very vast majority of Courage ministers, guest celebrities, and other sanctioned and vetted ‘in-leaguers’ are pounding home the same message.
I am, by far, no Catholic expert, Father, but I am certain that there are other Catholic virtues. Virtues other than those involving sexual orientation, identity and preference. Virtues which we may all embody which are not involved directly with sexuality or gender identity.
It would be helpful, Father, to have leaders in Chastity who are also leaders in courage, humility, honesty, integrity, and perseverance. Many of our churches take in considerable sums of money, property, and any variety of other donations and gifts. I don’t know you, so I may be conveying a message to someone who doesn’t need to hear it. But I’ve encountered far more than much share of priests who hail from exceedingly well financed [you could say mighty Blessed], cohesive, loving families largely free of family dysfunction. Yet, Christ, the Head, was poor, he relied solely on support from others around Him who frequently had little to offer. He didn’t preach in His very own marble castle to the masses.
I wonder if by way of just one example among many, priests and religious might make more headway correcting SSA men like me, and gender identity discordant people from a perch on which they fully recognize their own sinfulness, you know, as regards mammon, and the sinfulness of their ‘pet’ parishioners who so dutifully fill the front row pews and always drop their handsome sums into the basket. I am not a priest. I am not the smartest sinner you’ll ever meet, and sinner I am. But I am smart enough to know that I “can’t buy me love”. What about you and the scores of other clergy? Are you buying love with your carefully aimed corrections? Are you honestly looking at ALL of the virtues and ALL of the people falling short? Those are rhetorical questions, Father. I truly wish, though, that all Courage chaplains put at least half as much emphasis on correcting these disorders of attachment, these failures of complying with the Greatest and New Commandments, as they do on people who are so queerly disordered as me.