“I am asking you to love as I love.” These words echo in my mind frequently. They come to me when I am in sorrow. When the raging storm of doubt threatens to overtake me. I hear them when I do not understand the things Christ is asking of me or my path becomes lonely. These are the words that propel me on the Way of the Cross and that lead me to the transfiguring joy that only dying-to-self can bring. In the end, I have to choose love; we all do. The Resurrection can only come if we commit to a death like His in our own lives. It only comes if we surrender to His way, not our own.
These words are some of the clearest I have ever been given in prayer. During a time of a major testing, preparation, and trial they came through in a way that convicted me to surrender to God’s ways over my own. I remember the moment I heard them with the greatest love and tenderness in prayer. I was kayaking on my favorite lake in the area. It is there that I take my prayers and frustrations out on the water and seek the Most Holy Trinity in the wonders of Creation. As I paddled with all of my might, praying fervently to understand what God wanted from me, the words came to me in the way only a loving Father can give them to His struggling daughter. It is fitting that God met me on the water, since the Spirit hovers over the waters.
These words had tremendous power precisely because I was being called to agape. There was a depth to them I didn’t fully understand at the time, even as I surrendered. What these words mean for my path to holiness is still unfolding. God reveals things to us over time. I knew He was asking me to walk a new path. One that many would not understand and that was different from anyone else I know.
While I didn’t understand that path in the moment, at some deep level I at least grasped that Christ was inviting me into deeper intimacy with Him. He was giving me my mission and in order to do so I had to be tested, but I now see a few years later that tests of our fidelity to God increase in the measure of our willingness to go where we may not necessarily want to go. They come to demonstrate our willingness to surrender to Him and His will. They reveal to us how little or how great our love for God and others is at different points in our lives.
Love is a greatly misunderstood, over-sentimentalized, and superficial word in our culture. Even within the Church, there is a lot of confusion about what love means and what it requires. We have been brought up to believe that love is about how we feel and what we get out of it. We believe that love is something that is on our own terms. This is diametrically opposed to the Christian understanding of love. We are called to supernatural love, or agape.
While there are different forms of love based on our relationships with one another, there is one grounding force, which is the love of God poured out on the Cross. When I first heard the words in prayer, “I am asking you to love as I love,” I thought it meant that I needed to wage the battles He was asking of me and consent to the new path He was asking me to walk. This was the very basic meaning of these words, but what He was actually doing was inviting me to the Cross. It is where He is inviting all of us to go.
As we go through this Easter season and celebrate the joy of Christ’s triumph over sin and death, it’s important to always keep in mind that the Resurrection is impossible without the triumph of the Cross. So often in our lives we want resurrection without the sacrifices of the Cross. We want to love in safe, sentimental, and often superficial ways that do not challenge us. We want love to feel good all the time. If that is the case, then it isn’t love we are seeking; it is egoism. Love should pierce us to the deepest levels within our soul.
To love as Christ loves, we often must be broken open. Love requires that we have pierced hands and feet, wear a crown of thorns, are covered in lashes, and pierced by a lance. This is the path to glory. To live the depths of God’s love for us and to love our neighbor as He loves, we must be willing to embrace all of the agonies, disappointments, betrayals, rejections, and hardships of this life with an open heart. A heart that is willing to be hurt, but that still chooses to love.
We must forget our own wants, needs, and desires and continue to give of ourselves, even if it isn’t reciprocated or appreciated. Regardless of our vocation in life, all of us will experience repeated rejections in response to our love. In our current culture, much of what we offer will be rejected, but we must persevere in love remembering the great love Christ has for all people.
We are called to be faithful in loving as Christ loves. That doesn’t mean we will always be successful. It doesn’t even mean we will be successful most of the time. We will fail repeatedly, but we are called to continue to love. It is our faithfulness that ultimately matters.
A priest recently told me in Confession, guided by the Holy Spirit, that I must remain faithful in what God is asking of me. It is my fidelity that matters. He asked me to meditate on the faith of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28. She begs Our Lord to heal her daughter. Our Lord’s response is to essentially call her a dog. Nonplussed, the woman once more asks Our Lord to heal her daughter. A mother’s love knows no bounds. Our Lord responds by saying: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” He wanted to draw out her incredible faith through perseverance.
Christ is seeking our great faith and love with others. He rewards us based on our faith, hope, and charity. If we aren’t willing to persevere and suffer in love, then He will not be able to do great things through us. There will be times when we will have to endure being treated as if we are a dog. The call to love as a Christian disciple is contrary to our fallen nature and the world.
Love Like the Saints
The saints were often rejected by the very people Christ asked them to love and serve. It does no good to be sentimental about the saints. They endured tremendous hardships and did great violence to their own egos in order to allow God to purify and refine them so they could love with greater and greater freedom. They came to understand that true freedom can only come when we allow God to cut out our ego and put in place a heart of flesh that desires to be given away regardless of the cost. Love is not about me. It is about God and serving others.
In our fear, we grasp at our own ego, not wanting to let go of control and our own desires. The reality is, however, that the more we give ourselves away in love, especially through suffering in love for others, the more we are filled with the Divine Love. We find ourselves brimming over with love and we want to share that love with others. Our willingness to love as Christ loves awakens the deepest desires within those around us to do the same. This is why so often throughout Church history saints are found in clusters.
Christ tells us that the world will know we are His disciples by our love. He calls all of us to love as He loves. Can the world see our love? Do we seek to love fully as He loves? Our culture is starving for our authentic witness. Many in the Church who are overburdened, wounded, and struggling need our joyful witness. Resurrection people are also a crucified people. A people who seek to put others before themselves in the image of Christ. We must be conduits of His Divine Love in a broken world. This is how we live the joy of the Resurrection. To find the joy of Easter, we must be willing to die-to-self for the sake of others, no matter the personal cost.