Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Pursuit of Pleasure or Sacrifice
Which will you choose?

Father John J. Lombardi

"We thus see how the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God's relation to man and man's relation to God. Thus the Song of Songs became both in Christian and Jewish literature a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical faith; that man can indeed enter into union with God-His primordial aspiration." --Pope Benedict/"God is Love"

We all have a deep-down desire to fill a "hole" within us, an "urge to merge." Some seek this in possessions, or thru pleasures or persons: What is the sonar of your soul seeking? Are you seeking "mystical knowledge" or human wisdom?

Question: What do "The boys of summer," Romeo and Juliet soldiers in Iraq and Pope Benedict all have in common? The desire for love and sacrifice. The "Boys of Summer"-baseball players now training in Florida, for instance, learn "the sacrifice bunt"-giving up self and an at-bat for the sake of advancing the runner on base and to help the team score runs. Romeo and Juliet-you know, they sacrificed their families and external opinions for love and union. Solders in Iraq lay down life, family pleasures and homeland-for the sake of a "noble cause." Ditto for the Pope

Pope Benedict is helping us to love. He wrote an Encyclical Letter-"God is Love" (I Jn 4:16) and teaches us the various and higher Ways of Love. (We continue this series of reflections on this Encyclical; see past Bulletins for other Reflections). Thru eros-love we seek an-other person, and hopefully, rightly direct our love toward that person. Eros is usually described as self-fulfilling-seeking love. It is neither right nor wrong but can become so depending upon our motives and goals: True love or lust. Meanwhile, the Pope explains, agape love sacrifices; it seeks not self-fulfillment but, rather, the good of an-other, esp. thru charity and "laying down one's life." We all seek union and to fill that "heart-shaped hole" within. Thing is: the desire or incomplete-love within us is not always right or helpful or harmonized with God's Plan. Eros goes awry. In his Letter the Pope writes that thru the Holy Bible and esp. thru Jesus Christ Himself we can learn True Love, because God first loved us-He shows us the Way.

We can see within each of us a "process of love" in three stages: Seeking, Shearing, and Singularity. Seeking: we have an "urge to merge" with another person; we seek to "fill a hole" within us by means of other persons, possessions or pleasure-experiences. We humans are seekers by definition.

Stripping/shearing: as we gradually love (a person) more, we desire our own "exposure" to the other and for transparence-- deeper love ensues to reveal our inside. Singularity is the state of union, completion, where "the two become one."

Pope Benedict explains eros-love and union in its proper nature: "Two aspects…are important. First, eros is somehow rooted in man's very nature: Adam is a seeker who abandons his mother and father in order to find woman, only together do the two represent complete humanity and become 'one flesh.' The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique, definitive and thus only does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is a monogamous marriage. Marriage is based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and visa versa" (#11).

St. Thomas Aquinas says that the Lover (of God or another person) wants to enter into "the interior of the Beloved." As this is true with the human, so it is with the Divine. Romeo and Juliet, and husband and wife first seek the other. Then they must expose deeper parts of self and soul to each other (the "real self"); outer garments must be unveiled to manifest the interior of the self to give to the other. Then comes the union--oneness. Remember the biblical principle the Pope reminds us of above: human love mirrors and imitates Divine love.

God does this with us humans. Remember God's love for us, as expressed in this Sunday's Gospel: "For God so loved the world He gave us His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). We have phrases for this type of experience, such as "over the top," "can't miss it" and "make no mistake about it" to denote the explicitness of human interactions, and these, too, fit the Divine experience of God revealing Himself to us: "He gave us His only begotten Son…!" Some people, unfortunately, "just don't get it" as we say.

We humans need to love and to be loved. Pope Benedict implies it is in our blood-that's the way God designed us: we can choose right ways or wrong, harmful ways. In this first stage eros and agape drives direct love towards an-other-the soul goes towards God and the wife and husband seek one another. Secondly, to love more deeply we must let go of old self/selfishness, outer garments, and give each to other, first in the will (desire or choice making faculty of the powers of our soul) and then in inner union, consummation toward one another-the inner selves give way, let go, release, manifest; surge--as when the wife and husband grow toward one another and the soul toward God. The third stage is the completion, union. Because of great love-eros + agape-in right order, the two become one. Remember: we must go and grow from the external (appearances, looks, perceptions) to the internal-the real self, the person, the whole individual, or God-as-He-Really-Is. As with the human so with the spiritual. Even God Himself does this: He first picks Israel out of all the peoples of the Earth, He gradually reveals Himself thru the Prophets and Commandments and miracles and eventually thru Jesus Christ: His "inner nature" is then fully revealed-"God is love," and gives us union thru the Indwelling Trinity, thru the Eucharist and prayer. Remember: eros-driving-desiring-love must be trained and tempered by agape love for it to be True Love.

The Pope writes: "In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love. Earlier we spoke of the process of purification and maturation by which eros comes fully into its own, becomes love in the full meaning of the word. It is characteristic of mature love that it calls into play all man's potentialities; it engages the whole man, so to speak. The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God's will increasingly coincide: God's will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self- abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy."

We must, then, strengthen our resolve to love what God wants, in the way He wants, and not let it just be our topsy-turvy wills and wanton desires carrying us here and there to wrongful things. Our wills must bind with God's to a point of fusion to avoid confusion. We humans, with passions and emotions, sometimes seek physical beauty alone because we are fallen, fleshly, earthy/earthly seekers swayed by all this. But hopefully we realize then that metaphysical beauty (or the internal beauty of the person, or of God) will outlast all others' attractions. Just as the lover and beloved (wife and husband, or two true friends in chaste love) do not want merely to look at the other, they want to enter into the other's life, personhood and core essence by leaving self and selfish pursuits behind (stripping of self, outer garments), so, too, the spiritual seeking soul wants (is designed to enter into the Lord Himself, the enveloping Trinity), participation in the Divine Nature (II Pt. 1:4). And this is where and what our truest, fullest hope and pleasure is.

Perhaps this is why love is so popular, because it images and imitates Divine Love, a mirror of God's spiritual love: earth reflects heaven, man imitates God. Thing is: our passions (eros) sometimes possess us-we get carried away by the outer looks, the book cover of the delightful (their looks) instead of being intrigued by "the book" (their whole personality), and we wrongly treat the other as a thing, a kind of commodification, for our illicit usage. We must possess our passions or else we will be possessed by them, and we will sin and form inordinate attachments/addictions to them and become enslaved by wrongful desires. We sometimes seek pleasure and delight because it is more sensual, visceral, emotional and immediate. But we must not rest in these. The bride and groom first seek each other (eros love), lose self and strip outer garments, consummate and, the honeymoon is… over? N0! Here comes true/er love: sacrifice (agape love). We must not rest in pleasure, just as the Lord Himself did not. As St. John says: "The way we came to know love is this, He laid down His life for us and so we must do" (I Jn 4). The bride and groom must continue Jesus' saving action in their love for each other, marriage, and for their children (see St Paul's analogy between divine and human love, marriage, in Eph 5).

Pursuit of pleasure for pleasure's sake is bound to fail: we will never reach enough pleasure, only God can give this to us. He is Ultimate Delight and all encompassing being; our beings seek union with the ultimate Being, God, for Whom we are designed. When we keep seeking and attaching to pleasure, good feelings, and delightful emotions only for themselves, this blocks us of our true calling, union with the Divine and one another thru true love.

So, remember, amidst all the pulsating passions: the intellect must direct the affect: right knowledge (the head) must direct the heart; not the heart alone directing the head, not passions controlling the person, or else we will have a commotion of emotion and be swayed awry by wrongful desires (lust, same sex unions, cohabitation, and fornication).

Are you seeking the core essence of God (God Himself vs. His feel-good gifts and consolations)? Are you embracing the Gift Giver or only the gifts)? Are you searching for another human as an object, just attracted by the person's externals, or by their inner being in purity?

We have a tendency of treating the "other" as an "object" for our own selfish purposes and so must learn to conform our innate drive for union by proper ways of loving: you love the person, not just the book cover (lust); you love and sacrifice for the inner essence of the person and not just use the person. Some of the essential elements of both human and divine love include passion, pursuit, pleasure, union, ecstasy (coming out of self) en-stacy (being in the other self), sacrifice, and selflessness. So, you see, human love and divine love reflect one another!

We need, therefore, right knowledge of love, and Grace: life of God and mystical theology, "stretching of the soul into God by desire of love." We need good holy role models of love (think of the Virgin Mary and St Joseph); we need purification of our desires; we need Jesus' example before us of combining eros (His love of the Beloved Disciple) and agape (Sacrifice on the Cross), guiding our love to it's God-designed end." +St Bonaventure.

Bible Readings: Chr 36:14-23; Eph 2:4-10; -Jn 3:14-21.

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Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi