Sunday, September 9, 2012

Love's higher motives

With the picture and the title to this post you probably thought you were going to read something modern and trendy; perhaps the latest study on marriages and relationships or something like that. Actually, the insight I have for you is an old one and it comes from religious source. But it is every bit as useful as a study or anything that a psychologist would write about. In fact, the advice St. Catherine gives and the witness of Blessed Mother Theresa detailed below, lends itself to the cure of unhappiness and even broken relationships. You just have to try it.

In April of 1376 St. Catherine of Sienna was asked a question by Frate Jeronio da Sienna of the Hermits of Saint Augustine. In so many words he asked her, "How do I know if my love for a person is imperfect? Or better yet, how do I know if I am not loving a person for God's sake?"

The Saint answered: "When you see that a person you love is somehow falling short of your expectations, when he or she isn't talking to you as usual or seems to you to be loving someone else more than you, if then you become resentful and slightly chagrined, slacking off in love that was there before, take it for certain that this love is still imperfect."

St. Catherine then recounted what God had told her about this perfect love of neighbor and what it might look like. The Lord said to her, "As long as one who loves sees that the beloved is living in sweet solid virtue- and if he or she feels no troubling pain even on seeing the beloved becoming somewhat distant or acting differently -then the love has not been selfish but for God." (The Letters of Catherine of Sienna Volume II)

This is a disinterested or selfless kind of love that changes souls, families, and communities. It comes from a Christian who sets his eye on God's honor while counting himself with indifference.

A friend of mine used to be a novice at the Sisters of Charity with Blessed Mother Theresa. She told me a story that she had the privilege of accompanying Mother Theresa to an AIDS hospice. As they were trying to minister to a patient, who happened to be angry at the world and filled with bitterness, he became hostile and started yelling at the Sisters of Charity. He then threw a container of his urine on Mother Theresa; it was dripping down her face. Instead of stomping away or retorting with unkind words, she asked him: "Why are you so unhappy?"

It was then that a change came over him. His ice cold heart melted and he poured his heart out to her. Afterwards, he received the Sacraments and died shortly afterwards. Yet, this never would have happened if her love for this man was dependent on how he treated her.

How many good things do we prevent from happening when we exercise an imperfect kind of love towards a family member, neighbor or even a stranger? No doubt, perfect love is hard work. But the desire to possess it is half the battle.