In the film Moonstruck, Loretta’s mother Rose questions her daughter about her fiance. Their attachment is lukewarm and has an air of convenience and inevitability:
Rose: You’re not going to marry him…Do you love him, Loretta?
Rose: Good. When you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can.
By the end of the movie, this fiance has been over thrown for his brother and Rose questions her daughter once more:
Rose: Do you love him, Loretta?
Loretta: Aw, ma, I love him awful.
Rose: Oh, God, that’s too bad.
When I first watched this film, I did not understand why Rose’s ironic sympathy aroused such joy in me. If love is pain, if marriage is misery, why go through with it? Why celebrate it? Is it not something to weep over? Perhaps it is.
But, there is a secret which only the lover knows
This secret often remains impossibly hidden because all the glory and goodness of love has been confined to the experience of ‘being-in-love’ and to ‘being-loved’.
And truly, there is not enough that can be said about such experience. The Gospel is itself the proclamation of God’s unstoppable, irrevocable love for us–a love which is the beginning, the middle, and the end, and without which everything I am about to say is perhaps immaterial.
But it is as if we have come to believe that all the agony of love is only in not being loved, and that all the goodness of love lies in the being loved. This is how many films approach the subject, and it is what many of the impulses of my own heart tell me. But such is not the only, or even the last word; it is barely the first act of a very great drama.
The mystery of God’s love is such that He is not satisfied in simply loving, but teaches our own hearts to love. Might it be that being made in the image of God means that we are made for and to Love? I will not labor to unite reason with love in this post (a most worthwhile labor). I simply want to affirm that to be man, a rational animal, might at its core actually mean something very unexpected!
Man will in no way find himself if he does not learn to be loved, but also to love.¹
Lest I seem to exaggerate the possibility of such human love, consider the significance of Peter’s restoration. After denying his Lord three times, he meets the risen savior face to face. Jesus does not say, “why did you not trust me,” or “now you need to really believe in me.” No. He asks him whether he loves him (John 21:15-18).
What else can Christ intend by this but to awaken a grief in Peter, but a grief which grieves him unto gladness. Is not it grief to have betrayed the one we love? But is it also not gladness to find in such grief the proof of our love?
It is as if Christ ratified his Lordship over Peter by ratifying or confirming the love which Peter had for him. He did not so much question as he did ratify his disciple’s love. Yet at the same time, he showed Peter that which is consequent to such love: If you love me, feed my sheep (John 21:17). Emotional or psychological ratification is not enough, love must bear fruit. Love itself longs to bear fruit–perhaps such is the nature of love
The secret glory of love is hid from us, its mystery obscured, when we are convinced that its only glory and happiness lies in being loved. In this manner, we remain adolescents, selfish, inward, and twisted away from the full reality of the gift–from the full reality of what it means to be made in the image of God.
Often, we demand that our beloved not shame us, or that our beloved be worthy of our affection and service, or simply that they reciprocate, and so we attempt to force the beloved to become our lover. Thus the secret is hid from us.
But one day, the grace of God awakens us and reminds us that He was not ashamed of us; that rejected by us, he felt no need to abandon us. It was God’s glory, his freedom, his divine privilege to love–a privilege which neither Satan nor Sin has the power to revoke from Him.
What every true lover comes to know, that is every true parent, every true, spouse, every true friend, is that neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can force us to abandon those we love. Though like Peter we stumble, we fail, we even betray our bonds, yet Christ has won for us an irrevocable freedom, and for freedom we have been set free.
The great joy of the lover who has discovered this freedom, who has cast aside the shame, the demanding, and the fear is a joy which we were made for, and without which we can in no way rest satisfied. We are so constituted that until we learn to love in this manner, until we learn what it rightly is to suffer for love, we remain pools of standing water; we remain dissatisfied in others because we are dissatisfied in ourselves; we hold everyone under a law which we ourselves will not fulfill.
When such love has failed us, and it will, when we have failed ourselves and those around us, and we will, we may yet find that Christ is all the more ready to restore us. It is not that he is finally ready to love us as we have always desired. God is not such that he changes. Rather, he will slowly turn us inside out. He will slowly teach us to love and serve and perhaps to suffer for others. And in the mystery of this restoration by fire in which human love is transfigured by divine, we find how richly he has indeed loved us all along, and how wonderful a thing it is to learn again from the beginning to love. In so doing, the love of God is truly and most perfectly confirmed in us.
¹Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself (from Hope and Love, II.24, by John Paul II).