Sunday, June 22, 2008

Let Not My Love Be Small

Sunday, June 22, 2008: Today's commemorated feasts and saints... 1st SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST — Tone 8. All Saints. Hieromartyr Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata (380). Martyrs Zeno and his servant, Zenas, of Philadelphia (304). Martyrs Galacteon, Juliana, and Saturninus, of Constantinople. St. Alban, Protomartyr of Britain (ca. 287). Hieromartyr Nicetas of Remesiana (414-420). Martyr Nicetas the Dacian (370-372). St. Grigorie Dascalu, Metropolitan of Walachia (Romania).

Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

(Mt `10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)

For St John Chrysostom (Homily XXXV) Jesus' command to us that we not love our family more than Him, are first and foremost words of great kindness. They speak to us "just at the point [in our life] where love is most tempted to hinder" us. For this reason Jesus counsels fathers "to greater gentleness and children greater freedom." For parents, and really anyone in authority, this gentleness of spirit is essential lest they "attempt what is impossible" by their unwise assumption "that their love of their children can be rightly compared with their [children's] love of God." Likewise, children (and all those under obedience) must take care lest they give to parents (or those in authority over them) the love that should be given to God alone. Again, as St John says, Jesus "instructs the children not to attempt what is impossible by seeking to make their love of parents greater than their love of God."

For children to love their parents as if they were God, or for parents to ask their children to love us as if they were God is more than simply offensive to God. In both cases, we desire either is to desire something that will frustrate us and will lead to the degradation of us and those we so imprudently love. Or, to use Chrysostom's word, it is to desire something which is simply "impossible." Contrary to what we might think it is impossible not because we cannot love each other rightly. No the real impossibility is our attempt to turn love against itself. To attempt this is to ruin "both the beloved himself, and the lover."

The thing about love is that it is not only an expression of my heart, love changes my heart. Simply put, I become like what I love AND I become how I love. Both the object of my love and the way in which I express my love shapes my character. For this reason is always tempting to love in small measures, to love in such a way that my heart is never change. It is always tempting for me to love today within the limits of how I loved yesterday, to keep my love small.

But a small love is a dying love. If I limit my love, I limit myself. In the final analysis, love that does not give everything, gives nothing. And so Jesus tells His disciples, "he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." And so, Chrysostom tells us in the sermon quoted above, Jesus tells us "not even simply to hate" our life. No He commands us "to expose it to war, and to battles, and to slaughters, and blood." In saying this Jesus tells us that discipleship requires from us "not merely that we must stand against death, but also against a violent death; and not violent only, but ignominious too."

Speaking of Peter's challenge to Jesus, Chrysostom (Homily LXIV) says Jesus "seems to me here to intimate also the persecutions. For since there were many instances both of fathers urging their sons to ungodliness, and wives their husbands; when they command these things, saith He, let them be neither wives nor parents, even as Paul likewise said, 'But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.'" ( 1 Cor. 7. 15) This theme of self-sacrifice and martyrdom is precisely what the Church puts before us in the hymnography for today's celebration of the Feast of All Saints. For example, we have the troparion for the day:

Clothed as in purple and fine linen with the blood of your Martyrs throughout the world, your Church cries out to you through them, Christ God: Send down your pity on your people; give peace to your commonwealth, and to our souls your great mercy.

The fact of the matter is, love will always require of me a willingness to embrace martyrdom. Why? While it is always I who love, while love is always a personal act, always really and truly mine, love is not mine alone. To love is not only bear witness to God, it is also to participate in the life of God. In human words and deeds, our love makes manifest the divine life and this always requires from me that I subordinate my life to God.

Among the fathers no one is more aware of what it means to love rightly than as St Augustine of Hippo. And there is no one among the fathers who is as aware of the harm of done by a disordered love. In one of his sermons (Sermon 65A.5), Augustine imagines the following bit of dialog:

Let a father say, "Love me." Let a mother say, "Love me." To these words I will say, "Be silent." But isn't what they are asking for just? Shouldn't I give back what I have received? The father says, "I fathered you." The mother says, "I bore you." The father says, "I educated you." The mother says. "I fed you." . . . Let us answer our father and mother when they justly say "love us." Let us answer, "I will love you in Christ, not instead of Christ. You will be with me in Him, but I will not be with you without Him." "But we don't care for Christ," they say. "And I care for Christ more than you. Should I obey the ones who raised me and lose the One Who created me?"

The challenge before us is to not without hold our love from others, but to learn to love one another rightly. This will, necessarily it seems, put us in conflict not only with the powerful in this life, but also with those with whom we are most intimate, and (in the final analysis) ourselves.

And yet there is no other way to love. To love someone simply according to my own desires or theirs, is to love not the person, but my own fantasy of the person. It is, in other words, to worship an idol of my own creation.

Their idols are silver and gold,

The work of men's hands.

They have mouths, but they do not speak;

Eyes they have, but they do not see;

They have ears, but they do not hear;

Noses they have, but they do not smell;

They have hands, but they do not handle;

Feet they have, but they do not walk;

Nor do they mutter through their throat.

Those who make them are like them;

So is everyone who trusts in them. (Psalm 115:4-8)

I said a moment ago, love is not only self-expressive, it forms us after the image of what we love. As David reminds us in the Psalms, if we love an idol, if we love the works of our own hands, then we will become dead things like them. Our love, if it is to be true and life giving, cannot be small in either its object or our commitment. And isn't this what Christ tells us is the greatest commandments of the Law: "So he answered and said, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27)

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Zemanta Pixie

Print this post