Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Loving to the End

"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...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

This quote from Lewis' The Four Loves is brutal but it's so beautiful. It's probably my favorite quote because it just shakes with truth. And I'm all about the truth. A surefire way to experience pain is to love anyone. As Lewis writes, it can even be an animal. In that act of loving, you become really and truly vulnerable. In loving anyone- family, friends, co-workers, lovers- you guarantee yourself pain. Even if the object of your love returns that love consistently and with near-perfection, your heart can still be decimated by separation, illness, death, racked by misunderstandings, miscommunication, and doubt. There is no surety in love, other than the inevitability of pain. And no one loves perfectly except Christ and His Mother. We're all flawed, we're all afflicted with selfishness, and we hurt each other, again and again, with our sin. The absence of love is sin, and in the act of loving- true, pure loving- it's impossible to sin. In striving to love, we also aim to refrain from sinning.

Love hurts and even the most beautiful, selfless love brings pain. But we do it anyway. We love. We're made to love. We do it imperfectly, often selfishly, but we can't help it. Lewis' point isn't to caution people to lock up their hearts, protect themselves from the anguish of love, and resign themselves to hell as they do so. It's to expose the nature of love in a shocking way that is also undeniable. Who hasn't been exposed to the torture of love? And who experienced this torture more acutely than Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ? In his Gospel, John writes Christ " loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end" (John 13:1). He loved us unto death. John also writes in one of the most well-known verses of all time: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (John 3:16). The love that Christ had for the world lead Him to experience the worst pain possible; aside from the physically excruciating pain of Passion and Death, He also experienced utter rejection from the people He loved (including betrayal by Judas, denial by St. Peter). And His Blessed Mother, who never sinned and never ceased to love, suffered with the incredible pain of watching her innocent son, who she loved so perfectly, suffer and die ("And you yourself a sword will pierce" Luke 2:34).

That's what love is. And we'll love, and we'll suffer, or we'll resign ourselves to hell. We'll expose ourselves to rejection, to grief and separation, we'll sign up to willingly experience the imperfections of human love, and hopefully, we'll be wise enough to realize that human love will never be enough, and we'll let ourselves be loved by our Redeemer and King. We'll let Him take our hearts, wounded by sin, and make them whole. We'll admit our flaws and weakness but not resign ourselves to it, and we will love Him in return, with all we have.