We are called to participate in the Divine Life. This means that God calls us to enter into the love of the Triune Persons and to radiate that love outward towards others. St. Thomas Aquinas said: “Charity makes man tend to God by uniting his affection to God in such a way that man no longer lives for himself, but for God” (ST IIa IIae, q.17, a.6, ad3). This charity is a supernatural virtue that God gives to us so that through the infusion of this gift, we can learn to love Him above all else and to love our neighbor as He loves.
Love and intimacy with God come about through a willingness on our part to enter into the communion of the Divine Persons in our daily lives. It is always God who calls us first to enter into this intimate union with Him. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene explains:
“It is a created participation in the charity, the infinite love with which God loves Himself, that is, the love with which the Father loves the Son, with which the Son loves the Father, and by which each loves the other in the Holy Spirit. Through charity we are called to enter into this divine current, into this circle of eternal love which unites the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity to one another…Charity plunges us into the very center of God’s intimate life; it enables us to share in the infinite love of the three divine Persons: in the intimate love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father; it enables us to love the Father and the Son in the love of the Holy Spirit.”
This invitation to enter into the love of God and the demands it places upon us are a constant source of struggle for each one of us in our Fallen state. In order to love God to such an extent that we are willing to surrender our entire lives to Him, we must learn how to love as He loves. This begins in prayer where we learn to love Him, but then He calls us outward towards others. The clearest expression of how God loves is through Christ Crucified on the Cross. It is this kenotic (self-emptying) love that is a reflection of how the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity love.
How do we learn to no longer live for ourselves and to love as Christ loves?
We do so by seeking to give ourselves away, even to the point of loving people who hurt us, betray us, reject us, and persecute us. Christ forgave those who were crucifying Him from the Cross. That is the same love we are called to. It is the same love that is reflected in the lives of the saints. We are able to answer this high calling in our lives because it is God who loved us first (1 John 4:19). It is this love that God has given to us that leads us to be able to love others, even in our weaknesses and failings.
One of the quickest and most effective ways to learn how to love as Christ loves is to seek to offer sacrifices, penances, mortifications, and sufferings for the sake of those who hurt us. Not only does suffering for a person who has hurt us teach us how to love and forgive, it also unleashes tremendous spiritual graces in the life of the other person in a way we may only fully realize in the next life.
This practice is not easy, especially when we experience deep pain and betrayal at the hands of those we love the most; or on the other end of the spectrum, those who persecute us. Oftentimes, when we are hurt or betrayed by our spouse, parents, children, friends, priests, bishops, and others, we would rather hold onto our righteous anger. We have a right to be angry when people hurt us, but we can’t stay in that anger for very long or it will begin to destroy charity within us. Anger always runs the risk of turning into resentment and a desire for vengeance.
Anger also has a tendency to blind us, which is why when we have been deeply hurt or betrayed by another person, we often need time to allow the emotions within us to settle in order for reason to return. It is then that we are able to consider how to move forward from the pain that has been caused and seek to forgive as Christ has forgiven us for our own sins, which are numerous.
Willing the good of another
Even when a loved one hurts us, we still love them. This means that we still desire their good. For that is what it means to love another person. Fr. Gabriel again:
“To love a person is to desire his well-being. We understand, therefore, that the essence of love is in the act of the will by which we wish good. This does not take away from the fact that the act may often be accompanied by sensible affection, making our love both an act of the will and of the sensibility. Nevertheless, it is clear that the substance of real love is not to be found in the emotions but in the act of the will. Charity does not change our manner of loving, but penetrates it, supernaturalists it, making the will and the sensibility capable of loving God.”
To love another is to desire their good even after they have inflicted harm upon us. Our love is not dependent upon our emotions. It is an act of the will. Love is a choice.
As Catholics, we are called to supernatural love through which we seek to love as God loves, which means forgiving those who hurt us and continuing to seek their good. There are times when seeking another’s good means making reparations for what they have done against us. This is especially true for our loved ones who are trapped in habitual serious sins or those who are unrepentant. Our sacrifices and prayers—despite our own personal pain—are necessary in willing the other person’s good. God will use those sacrifices for the sanctification of the other person and for our own sanctification.
There will come times in our lives when we must love others more than they love us or we must love them enough to seek their salvation even if they are indifferent or hostile towards us. I recently heard a seminarian say that a priest told him and his fellow seminarians that: “every priest needs a woman in his life who loves his vocation more than he does.” I was struck by this because of God’s calling in my own life to minister to priests and seminarians, but it also applies in all of our relationships.
There will be times when wives and husbands must seek to love the other’s call to become a saint more than their spouse and to sacrifice for them despite the pain that is experienced. Parents must seek to teach holiness to their children even when they wander far from the path. Friends will often need to love another’s immortal soul and the gift of salvation for another more than they do. Priests must love their flock and the souls entrusted to their care despite the indifference or hostility they may face. There may come a day when we must seek to love someone who is persecuting us and to will their good despite our own suffering. We are called to pour ourselves out in total self-emptying love as Christ did on the Cross, in a manner that images the love of the Holy Trinity.
This life is our training ground for learning to love as the Holy Trinity loves. God invites us into the love shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He infuses us with the gift of charity so that we can seek to love Him above all else. Part of learning to love Him above all else is to seek to give ourselves away and to love our neighbor despite the sufferings it may cause us. It is to seek their good. The ultimate good that we can will for another is eternal life. When we love God above all else and we live for Him, then we will seek to surrender ourselves fully in love for others, including to the point of suffering in love for those who hurt us.