Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Love Divine/Love Excelling

Father John J. Lombardi .

I just ran into Mt St Mary's President Dr Thomas Powell, and Vice President Malewicki, Treasurer (a good guy to hang with) in the hall and asked them, kinda' jokingly (!) if they got the "Pope's Letter." I was inspired and impressed with their responses "on the run." President Powell immediately said, "God is Love." Yes, he was right-on! ("Deus Caritas Est" for you Latin scholars or neophytes). Vice President Malewicki then joined in without blinking: "God is love. And those who abide in Him abide in God, and God in them" (I Jn 4:16).

It is one of the most beautiful, important verses of the Bible, and the lead sentence of Pope Benedict XVI's first Encyclical Letter. Whom or what do you Love? Love is the most vibrant passion in life. It sells toothpaste (a sexy smile); it binds people together (in holy marriage); it moves the stars (according to the Italian poet Dante). We may know this, but do you really think about love-it's many forms and expressions in life, Eternal Life? This was a "surprise letter" from the Pope for he is one of the brightest men in the world. He was the chief doctrinal defender of Catholic Faith; he was an intellectual teacher and theologian, and he chooses to write on the eternal-ethereal theme of love (!). Perhaps you didn't receive the Letter-via Internet or email or, old "snail-mail" or yet, by a pigeon.

So these next weeks we excerpt some of the highlights of the Encyclical Letter-the most important level of teaching for the Pope. The first part of his Letter is theoretical, discussing and discerning the meanings of love, secular and sacred, the challenges upon it, Catholic-Christian teachings, and how God loves us. The second part discusses how personal and ecclesial-church love manifests in daily action and in the world. The Encyclical is for the most part accessible and inspiring-so read it yourself and be inspired! I just met with a pilgrim and asked her what was a grace she has received in life. She responded, "The ability to feel, to feel intensely." Knowing her, that meant love. Love is a grace, something freely given from above (cf. Jn. 3:30)-"Every good gift comes from above." We all need to pray for more of this grace, this most important virtue-love. For some people live more by the head, by the intellect and thinking, and either neglect or reject the heart, love. We need both, of course. One of life's biggest challenges, and the Pope's major concern, is forging a union between head and heart, eros (feeling-passion) and agape (sacrificial-choosing love). So, let's explore Pope Benedict's inspiration and wisdom. His words below are in italics and quotes, with the paragraph number of the Encyclical included, and this Chaplin's comments follow the ellipses (…).

"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16). I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others."…Memorize the above Bible verse. It is one of the most unique Scripture verses ever. Love is what God is. Unlike creatures, God doesn't have to "work" at love, to earn or gain it-He possesses it perfectly by His uncreated nature and diffuses it to us--bonum diffusim est: the old Latin maxim means Good is diffusive of itself. God radiates Himself. So: Nestle in God thru the Sacraments and prayer and loving. Receive His love and then spread it to all. The prayer, "Radiating Jesus," is a beautiful way to incarnate this: "Dear Jesus: help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life. Shine thru us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your Presence in our souls…" God lavishes His love upon us (cf. I Jn. 3:1) by His nature. He "overflows," and some theologians say "boils over" with Love pouring out. I just met a man who is adopting a baby from China. He said, simply, at middle age, he still has more love to give. Do you? Or Will you?! God always has more love to give, for love is His very essence. You've perhaps heard the slogan, "Be like Mike"--the basketball star Michael Jordan. Well, we should say, Be Like God! and give more love away.

"Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness."…Love between a man and a woman, or any kind of pure love, is a foretaste of Heaven: so, love. This kind of love between persons is called consummation-union. Married couples especially, do you cultivate and enkindle love in your relationship? How can you do this more? Single persons, do you seek and embrace this legitimate love of the "other" in purity?

"That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks. Let us note straight away that the Greek Old Testament uses the word eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use it at all" (#3)… Love impels and "fires" us; "drives us to the brink." It is an energy within which we must sublimate and channel properly. We are made for love, for union with another person-it is "in our blood." The New Testament, though, focuses on the sacrificial love (agape) for others, while not excluding passionate love. Do you have this balance between eros and agape in your life? Mother Seton, our "heroine of Mary's Mountain," had both kinds of love, for she was married and had children, and was later celibate and thereby sublimated desire thru her love of the poor and her Daughters of Charity (Religious Order). She shows all of us-married, single, religious-how to progress from, and balance, eros and agape beautifully.

"In the critique of Christianity which began with the Enlightenment and grew progressively more radical, this new element was seen as something thoroughly negative. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice." (#3)…Hmmm. Essentially, the Pope critiques wrongful interpretations of Christianity; namely, his fellow German Fredierich Nietzsche, who in this case, thought that the Christian Religion had subverted the eros-passion person as only instinctual and willful into a wrongful way of life. This error of interpretation of the human person has led to communism, fascism, materialism, hedonism and many other errors of "love" and being in-the-world. Don't make that mistake! Eros is only part of our makeup and Christianity, despite all the attacks upon it, is the Real Deal. We are not animals or instinctual mammals only, but spiritual pilgrims body-and-soul, animated with eternal principles within! Will-to-power, and persons-as-manipulatable tools or objects are common errors today because they fail to see the person as a supernatural creature.

"The Greeks-not unlike other cultures-considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a "divine madness" which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness" (#4)…)…Love-as-eros, in a natural, un-supernatural way, points, kinda', to supernaturalism. Ever hear of "falling in love," or "head over heels" or "carried away by his passions"? We have all had some sense of this, and have all gone on wrong paths. St Augustine, the "Doctor of Love," felt many illicit loves in his life: for women, philosophies, and thrills that carried him far from God. But they (illicit loves) taught him these passions must lead somewhere. Eventually they led him to God, Who is the "Ultimate Recipient" of passions and love, and, also, the "Ultimate Lover." But eros cannot be left to itself. We are not passions only, we are more-we have a mind and virtues to help us. The driving desire of eros-love can be a holy energy-if we correct and project it the right way.

"But it in no way rejected eros as such; rather, it declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it." (4)…Counterfeit Divinization-a great phrase. This may equal for some today drugs, materialism, alcohol, denigrating sexuality, "retail therapy" (excessive shopping)-all forms by which people seek "highs" and pleasures that will never ultimately satisfy. Only the Infinite will fulfill us ultimately, so, stop searching! Beware of "warping" and "stripping" your dignity and personhood thru false promises and, oppositely, align your human will to the Divine Will of God. I just saw a fast food sign/billboard: "must.eat.now." Hmmm. Upon reflection, after detecting the creative visceral delection this sign appeals to… doesn't this treat us pilgrims of Heaven and holiness as things, dehumanizing us? There is no subject or person in the advertisement sentence; it is pure sentience (feeling) without personhood; it is as though the individual is just pure sensation and desire without any choice or control. Decoded--"Must"= a kind of determinism where we have no free will; "eat" = pure consumptionism; "now" means give in to your whim-don't wait. We are not machines or homo consumers-man as consumer, but dignified persons seeking and embracing True Divinization.

"An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in "ecstasy" towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns" (#4). Our hearts, passions and desires must be "trained" and "corrected" and "anchored" by the head-intellect-mind. It's like the passions running wild (stallions) and we need a wise, virtuous charioteer (head) to guide the chariot towards its goal by directing the passions (stallions). Are your horses running wild within?

"Divine love promises infinity, eternity-a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence (#5). Think of that quote On Valentine's Day and still give some flowers away! Remind those you love, with words or by example, in and thru your human love, of the Love of God and the Virtuous Way. St Valentine (+269) was a priest and physician who was beheaded for the Faith. ("The custom of sending Valentines on this day stemmed from the medieval belief that birds began to pair on that day" - Dictionary of the Saints" by J. Delaney). So, even creation may be in and under the sway of Love! St Valentine helped some Christians by his heroic love, by dying for them. He showed The Way of human and divine love-and so imitated Jesus Christ. Follow his example in your way and life.

More Papabilie Wisdom next Week-On Sacramental Mysticism Q. Why go to Mass? A. (from the Holy Father) "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The sacramental "mysticism," grounded in God's condescension towards us, operates at a radically different level and lifts us to far greater heights than anything that any human mystical elevation could ever accomplish."

The Mass Readings/Gospel: Jesus heals a man of an unclean spirit (St. Mk. 1:21-28) …This past week alone I met, believe it or not, a witch who was seeking spiritual direction); talked to a pilgrim whose friend communicates with the dead (necromancy); and met another pilgrim who is under attack by pagan-Satan worshippers. Unique, yes, even for this priest, but the occult is on the rise and we need to be on guard. "Watch out, your adversary the Devil is on the prowl, looking for someone to devour" (I Pt. 5:8). I heard a preacher once who spoke about this Gospel in fine fashion (we need to cleanse ourselves of our own bad spirits), yet he avoided the conclusion that there are evil spirits outside us and that Jesus was actually an Exorcist. This modern "wincing" at evil neglects the realm of a good and bad supernatural world of spirits (Light-filled and fallen angels) and the seeking of such spirits for resting places (our "resident right shoulder"-Guardian Angels); or amidst our residue of sin and uncleanness, bad spirits finding refuge in our own darkness.

Jesus describes the nature of unclean spirits seeking resting places and "unswept rooms" in our souls (Lk. 11:24), and the continual need for protection and purification. After the above encounters I realized that: 1) I was "in over my head;" and 2) I am sometimes ignorant or neglectful of the "spirit-supernatural world," and so 3) I consulted an expert, a sometime exorcist-priest who gave the following advice: Ask seekers what are the "openings" for evil-past history of occult, sorcery, family history, fear, serious sin, etc. He added: seek the sacraments (Confession and Communion which, respectively, empty the soul of filth and fill it with Light and Divinity); and embrace sacramentals (the St Michael prayer, holy water, crucifix, short prayers mentioning the Holy Name of Jesus Christ, etc.). He also said: encourage those attacked to not be fearful. The Evil one seeks this and manipulates fear to his advantage. Rather, remember and practice: "Perfect love casts out fear" (I Jn). Always believe in the existence of both the Divinity and the Devil, but recall the power of the Victory of the Divine Lord over the Devil!

St Paul to the Corinthians and as the Second Vatican Council decreed, and the Church has always taught - Holiness is for all. God gives you the sufficient grace in your state of life to become holy, a saint. St Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians to become focused on the Lord and that celibacy is a way to become more fixed on Him. This does not mean celibacy is better, only that it is more direct. A celibate priest can get to holiness or Heaven or Hell just as readily as you. It is, then, a matter of how one cooperates with the Grace God gives to each person. So: maximize the graces given to you to focus as much as possible on doing what Jesus did-saving souls!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi