Wednesday, September 26, 2007

To love is to suffer, or passion=desire

It is certainly a cliché to write that we must be willing to suffer for that which we love. It is worthwhile, however, to unpack this truism a bit. We suffer in relation to our parents, who, for most of us, are the first people to whom we stand in relation in the world. I remember a conversation I had with my own mother ten years ago or so, during which, speaking about her relationship to her mother, she said: "At some point, we have to forgive our parents." This certainly made sense to me at the time, but only from the perspective of my need to forgive my parents. Now that I have been a parent myself for almost fourteen years, I still see the truth of her insight, but from a different perspective arising from my own experience.

While we have no need to forgive our Lord, we do need to stand willing to suffer for our love of Him who IS love made flesh, just as He suffered for love of us. This links back, at least in my mind, to yesterday's two hallmarks of authentic Christian witness: visible community and its link to authority. If to love means to stand willing to suffer, not for our love, which can all too easily become an abstraction, but for the people we love, then perhaps we have discovered another authentic hallmark of visible Christian community, along with its necessary link to authority. The need to endure in suffering manifests itself in several ways, first among which is by a willingness to forgive and to be reconciled. Put concretely, if we walk away from community, be it our spouse, our family, friends, a small intentional group of Christians, our parish, or the Church the first time our love is the cause of suffering, then the question poses itself as to the nature of our attachment. In other words, did we really love, or just experience some nice feelings? If we leave when the experience of the nice feelings is replaced by different, less enjoyable feelings, then the question about the nature of the attraction remains an open question.

"Our encounter with a vital Christian community or a Christian who is striking," observes Fr. Giussani, occurs "because he or she says something to us that we feel to be true, has an incomparable newness, freshness, and value" (The Journey to Truth Is an Experience 95). This constitutes, to translate it into a recognizable category, an "experience of an encounter". Such encounters are experiences "of freshness whose depth is proportional to our awareness of its being rooted in a long history" (95). The long history in which this uniquely Christian encounter, either in the form of a community or a person, if it is authentic, is rooted in tradition. "This is to say that the encounter with that community or that [person] brings us tidings that spring from a life lived through the centuries, through tradition" (95). Therefore, we have to "educate ourselves to love this past life that has moved through the centuries to reach us with the visage of our life today" (95). This education in the tradition constitutes the larger context of our community and relationships today. This education also prepares each of us to "become an 'encounter' for companions and friends" (95).

If the Buddha was right that to live is to suffer, then Christ brings us a deeper, more important, truth: to love is to suffer even more than merely to live. What is more important about the truth of Christ is that our suffering is not in vain, but for a purpose. This purpose is the very reason we exist, love. So, it is not the point of existence to rise above suffering by seeking to extinguish ourselves and enter into nirvana, but to become fully ourselves in relation to others through love, which is ultimate happiness both in this life and the next.


  1. I notice that you're posting from Journey to Truth again...

  2. Yes. Sometimes things happen that prompt me to reflect about and write on. Other times that occurs by reading. Either way, it is good to view life comprehensively. I seriously doubt that many people read my what I write, but it has a value in and of itself. If it didn't have that, I wouldn't do it.

    Giussani, as you well know, is kind of dense and difficult to unpack, especially for people who are just beginning to read hos writings. So, who knows?

  3. You have inspired me to add him to my long list of need-to-read books, so keep it up.

  4. I am glad to have been the cause for somebody reading Msgr. Giussani. Thank you for the encouragement!


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