#96 – The Proof of Love
After the Incarnation, the Cross of Jesus is the greatest proof of His love for man. Similarly, mortification, which is suffering eagerly accepted for the love of God, is one of the greatest proofs of love that we can give Him. It means freely giving up a satisfaction or a pleasure in order to impose on ourselves, for love of God, something which is contrary to our own natural inclinations; we thus prove that we prefer to satisfy God rather than ourselves. Every act of voluntary mortification, whether physical or moral, says to God, “Lord, I love You more than myself!” And since a soul in love has an ardent desire to give proof of its love, it is very vigilant not to miss a single opportunity for renunciation.
Suffering. Mortification. These are the terms which cause a lot of sour faces and misunderstanding. Why on earth would anyone want to suffer? Why would we want to suffer for a God who wants us to prove our love for Him by suffering? To those who ask those questions I’d have to say “Yeah, I agree with you.”
But that’s not what we’re talking about. Or at least I’m not…not today.
We all suffer. At varying degrees and in different ways. It is a part of our human experience to suffer. We learn from it. We can grow from it. Or we can whine about it and pout about it. No one wants to suffer. I sure don’t. But I worship a God who suffered for me. A God who loved me so, so much that he created me and the universe and then died for me. The last sentence in the above excerpt is key I think.
And since a soul in love has an ardent desire to give proof of its love, it is very vigilant not to miss a single opportunity for renunciation.
What father or mother wouldn’t take a bullet for their child or shove them out of the way of an oncoming car and take the hit themselves because of their deep love for that child? What husband wouldn’t wish to take the cancer ravaging his wife’s body onto himself so that she could be free from the pain? Our children and our spouses do not ask us to prove our love for them, yet we wouldn’t hesitate in a selfless act of love and devotion to perform such actions on their behalf.
We didn’t ask God to prove His love for us. Yet he did. And if He would do what he did for me in accepting torture, abandonment, persecution and death on my behalf, why wouldn’t I offer Him as an act of love in return something so trivial as the pain I feel from the blister on the back of my heel? Or the annoyance I feel when cut off during my commute by a thoughtless driver? Or giving up the amazing bacon-cheddar scones on Fridays that I usually pick up first thing in the morning because it’s a) Lent, and b) bacon! Big chunky chunks of BACON! (Trust me on this one. It is a Lenten sacrifice for sure.)
Isn’t that the least…the very least…I can do?
…what must never be limited is the love, the spirit of generosity with which we perform each act of sacrifice. From this point of view, a slight mortification done with all the love of which a soul is capable has greater value than a painful penance performed in a material way, with no interior spirit.
I think where those who misunderstand what we mean by offering up our sufferings is in the way they’ve seen it modeled by those who, to quote Ash Wednesday’s reading from the Gospel, “perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.” There are those who draw attention to themselves through their suffering, as if to say “Look at me! Look at what a great Christian I am. Better than you, even, in my trials. Whoa is me!” These are the hypocrites that Jesus was referring to in Mathew 6:1-6, 16-18. The people who “look gloomy like the hypocrites” and “neglect their appearance” to draw attention to themselves. They are many, and unfortunately they are the models upon which too many base their perception of suffering.
We want to avoid a “mere mechanical performance of the act that has little or no value.” We don’t suffer in order to go through the motions as if we were mindless robots. If you do that you likely aren’t really suffering anyhow. It’s hollow. An act.
Suffering is when we live our lives in imitation of Christ and suffer the slings and arrows of whatever is persecuting us at that time and drawing ourselves ever closer into Him. Because He’s been there. He knows. He is the Great Comforter.
Today’s colloquy: O Lord, dispose of me according to Your will, for I am content with everything if only I am following You on the road to Calvary. The more thorns there are on this road and the heavier the Cross is, the more consoled shall I be, for I desire to love You with an effective love, with a patient love, with a love which is dead to self and entirely surrendered to You. May I too have such strong, true and ardent love! Grant it to me, You who can give me all things, and who can, in one instant, transform this dry, cold heart into a furnace of charity. Amen.
For Lent I’m taking a daily walk through Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen. It is a book of meditations steeped in Carmelite spirituality and has been a favorite of mine for over a decade.