Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/George Lama
Stained glass window panel in a small church in western New York state.
By Marian Friedrichs (Jan 3, 2010)
"Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth/ How can I keep from singing?" The hymn is a popular one, but the words of the chorus might not always resonate. There are times when we could find it terribly easy to keep from singing. In fact, there are times when it seems like anyone who goes on singing must be, at best, out of touch with reality and, at worst, indifferent to what's happening to the people around them and to themselves. If we let it, right now could be one of those times.
In the fall of 2001, I was observing a ninth grade English class in Rochester, N.Y., when one of the school aides came in and told the classroom teacher that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. That afternoon, my fellow student teachers and I drove back to our campus through streets blaring with the sudden colors of waving newspapers and American flags.
Six years later, I headed off to teach my own seventh grade English classes in Ardsley, N.Y. The headlines were full of bin Laden's new video, and in my mind was his face, looking in the photos so gentle and serene, promising to kill us all if we ignored his invitation to embrace Islam.
Also in my mind, however, were the words of Jesus to St. Faustina that I had read in the Diary of St. Faustina that morning: "My daughter, I want to delight in the love of your heart, a pure love, virginal, unblemished, untarnished. The more you will come to love suffering, My daughter, the purer your love for Me will be" (Diary, 278). I'd often pondered the connection between suffering and love. Many of the saints I most looked up to had expressed an increased attraction for suffering as they grew in holiness. Why? Not everyone who suffers — even those who give their lives for what they believe — is right, is holy or even loving, as the date on the calendar jarringly reminded me.
And yet, I considered, perhaps suffering is intrinsically connected to love because in its untainted form it requires an absolute gift of self. Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins points out that our human brains are programmed to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. If our natural hard-wiring urges us not to suffer, then every time we choose to suffer for the sake of someone else we deny a strong basic instinct, dying a little so the other can have life more abundantly. That's love.
But there's another, utterly indispensable characteristic of love that exposes the reason why the sacrifices made by suicide bombers and the September 11 hijackers, however much they may have suffered and however much they may have believed that virtue was on their side, did not spring from love. Suffering can reflect love because it requires the gift of self, and a gift by definition is free. A lover doesn't require something in return for his love; he doesn't even require that his beloved accept the love he offers. He just loves. That's what Jesus did. He came as the Good News knowing that He is all we need to achieve happiness. Jesus offered Himself for our salvation, and yet even with this absolute knowledge, He didn't threaten our lives so that we would have an irresistible motivation to "repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). He simply told us the truth and left us free to choose whether we would believe it. If love is real, it won't come packaged any other way.
The terrorists, like all of us, were made in the image and likeness of God and therefore have an innate need to fulfill their lives by giving them away in love, but Satan exploits this core desire in us any way he can. He persuades us that giving our bodies to sexual unions degraded by the absence of marital vows or sterilized by artificial birth control will fill our need for love. He convinces us that loving ourselves — a scriptural mandate — involves turning a blind eye to the poor, killing our unborn children, or saturating our pleasure centers with drugs and alcohol. And in extreme conditions, he can convince us that we would do humankind a great service by ridding the world of all Jews or by destroying ourselves and others to proclaim that everyone must worship Allah or die.
But Love really is Lord of heaven and earth; sin itself is just a misguided quest to give and receive love. If everything vanished — our societies, the planet, the universe itself — what would be left is the Source of all life, which is Love. He had the first word, and He had the last: Jesus.
No matter how many distortions the Father of Lies tries to feed us in this life, our final conversation will be with Truth and Love. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The only logical choice, therefore, is to trust in Him and to exalt, "No storm can shake my inmost calm/ as to this Rock I'm clinging./ Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth/ How can I keep from singing?"
Marian Tascio is a writer who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.