He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Love it to Death: The Extravagance of Love

I like to give gifts to those I love, though admittedly I'm not always good at it.  And I am certainly not alone in that.  Many of us are happy to give gifts to those we love, whether we give them our time and compassion, food and drink, money and education, or many other kinds of gifts.  And generally, the more potent our love for those we love, the more extravagant gifts we give to them.

We want to make sure that those we love have an environment which reminds them of how precious they are to us.  When we create a home for our beloved, we fill it with warmth and beauty which reflects the depth of our love for them.  And it is not just our beloved who can walk through the home and discern from every room that they are loved, but also that any guest who enters the home will be able to see that this is a space designed for the sake of love.

Even a burglar who enters the home of our beloved by force to steal whatever items they might be able to resell will know, if they but stop for a moment, that this home is a place of love.  Every picture of our family and friends on the walls and shelves of the home will speak of the love which abides there.  The hand-knitted blanket on the couch, the well-worn stuffed animals on a child's bed, and the pillows placed neatly in the chair will all tell even the intruder that this is a home where love is given and received.

In the home we have built out of love for all those we love, the warmth and quiet joy is palpable to our guests.  In the home filled by our love, each room and hallway tells part of the story of our love for our family and friends.  In the home of love, every inch of the home and all within it are a chorus of signs and symbols of our love.

In the home of love, our beloved is surrounded by the extravagance of our love, constantly embraced by all the gifts of time, and talent, and treasure which went into creating a home for the love we share with our beloved.  In the home of love, our beloved cannot help but be aware of the fact that we have poured out so much of our life so our beloved might have a life full of love.  In the home of love, our beloved can be sure that we have oriented our life to accomplishing the highest good for them, certain that we have given our beloved the best of our time, talent, and treasure.

The deepest love always manifests itself in part by the extravagance with which the lover gives of their life to their beloved.  No metal is too precious for the wedding band on the finger of our beloved.  No work is too difficult when it is done for the good of our beloved.  No risk is too great when it is taken to preserve the life of our beloved.

To the one who does not love those we love, it easy to judge the extravagance of our love as wasteful.  Why do we not knit every blanket for the poor who have not the means to get their own, instead knitting blankets for our beloved first?  Why do we not sell our child's stuffed animals and give the money to a charitable cause?  Is not the extravagance of our love for those to whom we are closest a neglect of all others?

But it is precisely the extravagance of our love for family and friends which builds a habit of selfless generosity, a habit which enables us to reach out in love to the poor and vulnerable just as we have learned to reach out to our friends and family in those moments in which they are poor and vulnerable.  It is precisely the extravagance of love which led a woman to bathe the feet of Christ in her tears, wash them with her hair, and anoint them with perfume.

This is the same extravagance of love I see every time I walk into magnificent church.  The stained glass pictures, the carefully painted icons, and the statues of Christ and the Saints who followed in his footsteps are reminders of our heavenly family whom we love dearly.  The marble high altar, the iconostasis with gold inlay, and the chalices of silver and gold are all works of the extravagant love of those who love God.  In building the home of love for God, we give the best of our time, talent, and treasure to our beloved Lord, ensuring that guests or even intruders will know that this is a home in which love is given and received.

In loving extravagantly, we reciprocate to the extent we are able the extravagant love our God has shown us by entering the world in which we have fallen so that we might be lifted up into the life of divine love.  In loving extravagantly, we follow the example He set by His sacrifice on the cross, giving all that we are for the good of others.  In loving extravagantly, we love to death all that keeps us from being filled with love, pushing out of our hearts by the force of love all that is not of love.

Thus it is the extravagance of selfless love which enables us to pour our lives out for our beloved, thereby ending the selfish love of extravagance which keeps us from loving fully.  It is the extravagance of love which burns away all those parts of us which cannot partake in divine love, allowing us to ever grow in love and grow closer to the God who is Love.

By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42184402

Note: The above image is of the Church of the Society of Jesus in Ecuador.

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