Monday, November 23, 2015

Love: Agape, Offer for Others, Mercy, Friends, Family of Friends

The oblate cross given to each
Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate
at their oblation (vows) for life.
At the heart of the Catholic way of Jesus for us is love. Jesus Himself embodies love humanly. He personifies mercy humanly. This is evident in the bible and in the liturgy and in Church teaching. This is evident in His family of friends, the saints of heaven and purgatory and earth, past, present, future, especially His Mary and Joseph. This is the need of our heart and conscience and every misery.

Reading St. Thomas leads to his focus on love as offer of self for others, and, if faced with the misery of the others, mercy. In 1956, my third-year theology second semester at the Gregorian, my choice of a class in preparation for the written paper needed to obtain a license in theology was Bernard Lonergan on gratia operans in St. Thomas. Lonergan was my favorite teacher and Thomas my favorite theologian; that determined my choice easily. In studying gratia operans in the Summa, love in the context of grace attracted me, particularly I II, q. 110, a. 1, utrum gratia ponit aliquid in anima. To say God loves us means He makes us good, He makes us friends. The paper became "The Mystery of Grace and the Love of God." Love offers self for others. Love does not use others for self.

Some years later, in the wake of Vatican II and during my mission to Sweden as an OMI priest, my personal study on the side into Swedish Lutheran theology led me to discover Luther in the Heidelberg dispute of 1518 holding much like Thomas that God's love differs from our love, His love makes us good. My personal exploration into Swedish theology led me further to Anders Nygren and his Agape and Eros. Nygren's view distinguished agape, new testament christian love (lutheran love) as opposed to caritas  (catholic love), a compromise between christian and hellenistic love. Caritas brings to the fore mutual love of friends, dependent on grace changing our human hearts and lives and history. This intrigued me.

Later, pursuing a doctoral degree at the Angelicum, my choice for the dissertation was a comparison and contrast between Thomas and Luther and then between between Anders Nygren and Bernard Lonergan. This became "The Christian Meaning of Love, A Study of the Thought of Anders Nygren" (1976). My conclusion after reflecting on Nygren's Lutheran thesis of agape and his antithesis between Lutheran agape and Catholic caritas is to suggest a new lutheran catholic position. Love makes us good, love makes us friends. The love of God makes us good, makes us friends. Our love, graced by His love, makes us brothers and sisters good, makes us friends. His offer of self for us mercifully in our misery makes us offer self for others mercifully in their misery to His image and likeness. His grace changes us, transforms us, turning us from enemies to friends, from sinners to saints. His grace does not merely pass through us, does not merely cover us, but truly converts us, makes us anew, trustful and believing and hoping and helpful and loving justly and chastely--to be sure, always struggling to stay and grow so in our life and history.

Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Paris,
cornerstone by Cardinal Guibert, O.M.I., of Paris.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Nygren also contrasts more radically Martin Luther and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), lutheran agape vs. atheist nihilist (humanistic relativistic) eros. He interprets Nietzsche (Ecce Homo, The Antichrist [1888]) as advocating a re-evaluation of all values, love of self against love of others, eros against agape. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, my religious congregation, celebrated the 150th anniversary of their papal approval and naming in 1976. Our founder St. Eugene (1782-1861), who lived during the french revolution and the napoleonic empire and their aftermath, is often likened to the bishop merciful to Jean Valjean in Les Miserables of Victor Hugo. For Nietzsche, misery was due to mercy and called for cruelty. The superman is cruel and so human, the human weakling is merciful and so inhuman. For Eugene, misery was due to cruelty and called for mercy. Cruelty uses the other for self. Mercy offers self for the other in misery. This was another impetus to my reflection on love as offer of self for others, as mercy for the miserable.

Love relates self to the other. Love that uses other for self is eros. Love that offers self for the other is agape. Love that offers self for the other in misery is mercy. Mutual love that offers self for the other makes friends and family of friends. One in mind and heart of two or three or more persons makes one community, a family of friends (Acts 2). One soul in two or three or more bodies makes a family of friends (the classical Greek description of friends: mia psyche en duo somasin). Caritas joins two or three or more persons as a community, a family of friends cherished and beloved.

Benedict XVI in Deus caritas est (2005) suggests erotic agape (passionate love). Jesus and His friends, especially Mary and Joseph, love and offer self for the others, especially in their misery, passionately and playfully and happily. This is their desire, their drive, their yearning to be gift, oblation, offering for our merciful Father, our Lover, and our beloved brothers and sisters by His Holy Breath, His Holy Love, with and like and through His Child, His Beloved Word, our Jesus of Mary and Joseph in His pierced Heart.
"Ecce Homo," by
Joaquín Martínez de la Vega (1845-1905),
via Wikimedia Commons

We meet Jesus wonderfully in the Gospels of Luke and of John and in the first letter of the latter. Jesus the good samaritan stops to help us robbed and beaten and half dead by the roadside (Luke 10). He comes to set us on fire with His merciful love (Luke 12). He hands over His body for us and pours out His blood for us (Luke 22).

Jesus thirsts for us in our thirst as we meet at the well of life and history (John 4). He gives us His new commandment to love our brothers and sisters together and singly as He loves us, to wash their feet in their need to be served (John 13). He wants us to be friends (John 15). He makes us one as He and His Father and His Breath are one, as He and Mary and Joseph are one, His family of friends to the image and likeness of His Family of Friends (John 17).

God is love, passionate offering of self for others. Our merciful Father sends His Child Jesus to us and through Him sends His Holy Breath in us who are miserable to make us His family of friends to Their image and likeness (1 John 4). Ecce Homo. We behold the man Jesus (John 19). He is our merciful burnt-up offering of self for us His miserable brothers and sisters. He is our way to be radically and fully human.
Father Don

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