We had to do it sometime: We need to talk about love.
“Love” as a topic is covered in far too many other places, especially in youth and young adult ministries, for us to focus on it too long. Then again, it does appear twice in our Mission objectives:
- To make people aware of their humanity: their human need to be known and loved
[- To make people aware that these are also the immediate needs of those around them]
- To make people aware that these needs spring from God's thirst to be known and loved.
We included that middle one because it implies that others around us need to be known and loved, so that counts in this discussion.
For our purposes, throughout the entire body of Mission of Saint Thorlak material, print and multimedia, retreats and readings, exercises and encounters: the “love” to which we refer is CARITAS: Love which is rooted in goodwill, justice and sincerely caring about the others around us.
We could spend hours exploring degrees and types of love. We do not want to take up too much time discussing and partitioning characteristics of agape, philia, pragma and ludus as pertaining to friendship (… did you even realize there were that many forms of friendship-love?) We also want to make it very clear that we do not include or discuss erotic and romantic love simply because those concepts are specific and highly subjective, personal forms of love that tend to overwhelm people, on or off the autism spectrum, and are best rooted in caritas in the first place.
To us, caritas is the term that most fully embraces the manner of love we are seeking to tap: a measure each of brotherly/sisterly love, motherly/fatherly love, loving friendship and loving kindness, extended by us to those who meet the criteria of being human.
Does that concept of love qualify in our future discussions of God’s thirst to be loved? Yes. St. Thomas Aquinas covers this in Question 23 of his Summa Theologiae as he explains caritas as humankind’s seeking a deep friendship with God, reflected both in love of God and love of neighbor.
Why are we choosing to use the Latin word caritas instead of its English translation, “charity”? We could use either word interchangeably, but we know there are many connotations that go along with “charity” which blur our intentions. We want our motives as Missionaries of Saint Thorlak to be completely spontaneous, voluntary and rooted in a sincere desire to get to know the people around us. We think of the work we do as rallying around the delight that gaining a new friend brings to us. There is simply too great a chance that our functioning as a missionary apostolate might lead us to confuse “charity” with its popularized meaning, “giving to others from what we have plentifully.” No; in fact, we approach others in our spiritual poverty, hoping they will give their friendship to us from THEIR plenty!
Okay, then… back to our thought of the week: Love makes impossible tasks possible.
Hmm. Love… caritas... Do goodwill, justice and sincerity make impossible tasks possible?
Let’s do just one more test, to make sure this concept of caritas is the one we are looking for.
“LOVE makes impossible tasks possible.”
We all know, from poets to pop music, cartoons to epic romances, that falling-in-love drives people to do things they would normally never do. So, that works.
We also know that parents extend themselves way past the borders of comfort in every direction when it comes to caring for and helping their children. Familial, maternal and paternal love all work.
How does caritas make impossible tasks possible?
By leveling the playing field between humans. We need what you need. You need what we need. Let’s help each other, and accomplish both.
Becoming a Missionary of Saint Thorlak requires one to actively cultivate a spirit of caritas toward the people around us through contemplation, giving us a purpose we would not ordinarily have: to deliberately feed the spiritually hungry with our own need to be fed.
Okay… (thinking about that)…
To feed the spiritually hungry with our own need to be fed?
That’s absurd. It doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it’s impossible.
Unless… caritas really does make impossible tasks possible.
The progression of our Missionary Thoughts so far goes like this:
1) Friendship’s Secret Superweapon: Asking others to be OUR friend is more powerful than asking others if we can be THEIR friend, because in asking, we come from need (spiritual poverty). This draws people to us by soliciting their talents, not imposing ours on them.
2) Humanity: The origin of this word stems from “consideration for others.” If you’re human, you arrive with the need to be known and loved as part of your humanity.
3) Spiritual Hunger: Every human carries some degree of spiritual hunger which is relieved by others knowing us and befriending us. As we engage others to assess and feed their spiritual needs, our own spiritual hunger is fed… because, where two or more gather in Christian friendship, Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, source of our True Spiritual Food, becomes present.
4) and 5) Sincerity is coming from a place of acknowledging our own needs, and is a crucial ingredient to feeding spiritual hunger.
6) When we fear our own needs, we create barriers.
Now, #7, a paradox: Others can be fed spiritually by our own hunger… if we seek and obtain in mutual caritas, making this impossible contradiction possible.
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If you’re feeling lost, don’t worry: next week we will explore this in much more concrete and familiar terms. For this week, consider the times when love, in any of its definitions and forms, has made the impossible possible in your life.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak