We know that we are in need of a Love that is greater even than the love which ushered us into the world.
Let’s say that you have never heard of Jesus before, but when you pick up the Gospels, this is the first thing you come across: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me (the Gospel for this weekend). That’s a pretty outlandish demand. We might guess it’s uttered by some kind of narcissist or else someone not in his right mind.
From love to life
And then, upon further analysis, we discover that at this stage in the Gospels, Jesus himself has not actually spoken the words I love you to his disciples. Yet this man all the same expects us to love him with a love that exceeds the love we bear toward the people who gave us our very life, i.e., pretty much the most sacrosanct and “definitive” love we have known. The outrageous expectation makes sense only if in loving Jesus more than our parents, Jesus will give us even greater, more abundant life.
The insistence that we love Jesus is not directed toward a need of Jesus but rather toward our own need. Our hearts are made for love … and not for any love that is finite or created. Our hearts are made for the infinite. And we don’t need to be a believer to be frustrated by this dilemma. As the 19th-century French poet Lautreamont expressed it: “It appears from what I have been told that I am the offspring of a man and a woman. I find this quite astonishing! I thought I was more than that.” We know that we are in need of a Love that is greater even than the love which ushered us into the world.
The Love we long for is not a sentiment but a Person. The One who made our heart to be “more than that” is the One who is inviting us today to love him utterly. God is love. The young St. Thérèse of Lisieux discovered something vital as she discerned her vocation:
When my youthful heart was afire with the flame we call love, … you alone, O Jesus, could satisfy my soul, for boundless was my need of loving you.
From background to foreground
But we might contend that we do love Jesus … that this Gospel summons is not for us. Spiritual writer Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer (+2009) helps us come to terms with our delusions:
Isn’t there a kind of drama going on in my life so that You, Lord, are actually pushed to the background of my thoughts and actions? You are only in the background, not in the forefront. I push You far away from me. I may be doing something for You, but in fact I am not very much interested in You. You are always second, third, or even tenth in my scale of importance. After all, I have so many friends, members of my family, so many urgent matters. If I work it out, will I say You are seventeenth? So this makes You very much in the background.
A moving prayer that helps keep our love for Jesus in the foreground of our life is offered by St. Gregory Nazianzen:
If I were not yours, my Christ,
I would feel a finite creature.
Numberless are the desires and torments that assail me.
I enjoy the sunlight and the fruits of the earth;
but I die and my flesh will crumble into dust,
like that of the animals who have not sinned.
What more have I than they?
Nothing more, if not God.
If I were not yours, my Christ,
I would feel a dead creature.
If we dare to love Jesus Christ more than we love our mother and father, that love will perfect our ability to love so that we can love mother and father, and sister and brother, and everyone else the way they deserve to be loved: with the very love of Jesus Christ. The Imitation of Christ gives us this good counsel:
Those who love Jesus for his own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if he should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise him and wish always to give him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus — love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!