Living a Life of Sacrificial Love for God and Others

Living a Life of Sacrificial Love for God and Others

There’s a revolution going on.

The revolution is called the Theology of the Body. It is a gift and legacy given to the Church and the world by Saint John Paul the Great. Centuries from now people will look back on it as a turning point in our understanding of what it means to be human, a unity of body and soul.  The Theology of the Body (TOB) is a large body of theology. As Pope, John Paul laid it out over the course of 129 lectures spanning five years. We use TOB as a framework to teach 6-12 graders about sexuality, chastity, vocation, what it means to be created male and female and, above all, what it means to be made in the image of God.

It’s more than a glorified “abstinence talk.” TOB is an anthropology that gives us keys to approaching some of life’s biggest questions. What is the meaning of life? Why are we made the way we are? What were we made for? Where do evil and suffering come from? What is the ultimate end of all this? The short answer is this: we are made in the image of God, which means we are made in the image of Love. We are made by Love, in the image of Love, and our purpose is to love and be loved. Jesus showed us what love is by His suffering and death. He showed us that love isn’t a cozy feeling. His heart wasn’t warmed by the thought of His passion, but filled with sorrow even to the point of death. His love for the Father meant obedience to His Will.

We were created to love—to make a gift of self. Saint Maximilian Kolbe has two incredible quotations on the nature of love. “Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving. Without sacrifice, there is no love.” The second is even simpler and sums up what it means to love quite plainly: “The cross is the school of love.”  Everything we need to know about how we are to love, we can find in contemplating the cross. On the cross, Jesus was poured out completely for the sake of the same people who put him there, including you and me (Philippians 2:5-8). His sacrifice was freely given and required nothing from us (John 10:17-18, Romans 5:8). The ultimate act of love is given for us and will not be withdrawn or canceled (Revelation 21:3). And the cross is more than an act to inspire us—it brought us salvation (1 Peter 2:24) and defeated death in the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus gave us the Greatest Commandment in two parts. First, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The second is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And the example of what this love looks like is the cross. It is obedience to the will of God. It is sacrificial love given totally, freely, without condition or an expiration date, and desiring the good of the other for their own sake. It isn’t always emotionally rewarding and it is often the last thing we feel like doing. This kind of love isn’t hard; it’s impossible, without God.

That is why love is called a theological virtue. It comes from God. The unambiguous instruction to love God and love your neighbor is an opportunity to participate in the love of Christ. He shares with us His divine nature, which is love, and we return it by our love for Him and others. This cycle of self-gift, which begins for us here on Earth, is Heaven. It is the end for which we were made and it is nothing short of revolutionary.

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The Big Cuppers

The Big Cuppers

Does God love some people more than others? In one sense, no, He doesn’t. After all, God is love. When we love each other we are actually participating in God’s love. Because of this we can choose to participate in that love more or less or even not at all. But God is infinite and God is love. Saying God loves one person more than another makes no sense because His love is already infinite. Infinity plus one is still infinity.

On the other hand, God seems to make more of His infinite love available to some people. There are some people who feel a near constant awareness of God’s love for them and many who don’t. Saint Therese made an analogy to explain this. Even though she was talking about the different glories that await each of us in Heaven, I (hopefully with the Little Flower’s blessing) want to paraphrase her here. Imagine a large cup and next to it is a thimble. They’re both filled  to the brim with water. They hold different amounts but it would be impossible to add anything to either container. Our capacity to experience God’s love is like that. Some of us have big cups, some have thimbles. Some have oceans, some have eye droppers. But all are full. So what is the secret that the big cuppers hold?

I don’t think the secret is trying to get God to love you more. That’s impossible. Our list of accomplishments, merits, awards, talents, important jobs, good grades, the number of friends we have, big paychecks, good deeds—none of it can increase God’s love for us, which is already infinite. Jesus gives us the secret to having a greater capacity to be loved by Him with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In the parable Jesus tells us about two men praying in the temple: a self-righteous Pharisee who thanks God for making him better than everyone else and a humble tax collector who asks God for mercy. The Pharisee falls short not just because he is judgmental and dismissive of the tax collector. If we get caught up on the “judge not” message alone we will miss something hugely important. Yes, the Pharisee is wrong to judge, but he misses the mark even further by thinking he has earned God’s love by his tithing, fasting and self-righteousness. He is completely blind to his unworthiness and closed off to mercy. We can often be like the Pharisee in this second sense. True, we tend not to judge the “tax collectors” in our lives because we are good and decent people. But we can fall into the trap of believing that everything is ok. That we don’t need Jesus’ mercy every hour of every day. That crying out to God is for other people, people with problems. Not us. We too can be closed off to mercy.

The tax collector, aware of his brokenness, is open to receive mercy. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” is the motto of the big cuppers. The saints (just a fancy word for big cuppers) all had in common a profound awareness of their own sin and brokenness. From the outside this can look like hand-wringing guilt, but nothing could be further from the truth. Declarations like “Lord I need You!” and “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” are the secret to experiencing the fullness of God’s love and the freedom from anxiety, abundant joy and peace that only Christ can give.