Sunday 23 February 2014

The erotic love of God

The readings of today (7th Sunday ordinary time of the A cycle) hang together in an extraordinary way. It becomes so clear that the word in Leviticus is addressed to the people of Israel: be holy as the Lord your God is holy, do not hate your brother and sister, love your neighbour, where brother, sister, neighbour mean fellow Israelite. And in that context the gospel: You have heard that it was said... But I say unto you: love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.

The model Jesus holds up for such impossible and even irrational behaviour is his heavenly Father himself: not the publican, not the pagan, but the heavenly Father, who makes his sun shine on good and bad alike, and his rain descend on honest and dishonest alike. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate, Be merciful (misericordioso) as your heavenly Father is merciful, in the version of Luke.

The thought has crossed my mind this week: love is patient, as Paul says in 1 Cor 13, but love is more than patience. Because it is possible to be patient, and yet not truly love. Love is kind and gentle, but love is more than kindness and gentleness. It is possible to be gentle without truly loving. And then it struck me, this morning, that this is what perhaps Benedict XVI was saying when he said, in Deus Caritas Est, that love is not just agape but also eros. Love, in other words, is not truly itself till it descends to the particularity, the singularity of the person. It is not enough to be patient; I have to be able to say to this person: How wonderful that you are! It is not enough to be gentle; I have to be able to say to this person, How wonderful that you exist!

People are certainly able to love in this way, but that kind of love - which we could easily refer to as 'erotic' - is usually restricted to one special person. Jesus of course is pushing us to love everyone in this way.

This is how God loves us, how God loves me: with a love that is not only agape but eros. He loves me, in my particularity, my singularity, my history, my moods, my sinfulness. To me he says what he said to Jesus: This is my beloved son, in whom I delight. Love, true love, involves delighting in persons. And that is - a challenge. Not enough to be kind, not enough to be gentle, though God knows how difficult that itself is. To be able to say to each one of my brothers and sisters: How wonderful that you are! Though sometimes I find myself saying: I will be patient, I will be gentle, but how I wish this person were not around!

It's worth reading Deus Caritas Est again. 

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