In the book Get Us Out of Here! the late Austrian mystic Maria Simma is quoted as saying that “Love without a Cross is empty; the Cross without Love is too heavy!” This phrase certainly illustrates the intimate and inherent link between Love and suffering that all of us should accept and embrace.
We should all be painfully aware of our imperfect and weak humanity. Each of us is tangled in a constant struggle between the most heroic nobility and the most shameful cowardice. Most often, our greatest consistency is our maddening inconsistency. God is all too aware of this imperfection and the suffering it etches on our daily lives. Yet, in His Divine Mercy, God provides us with the means to turn that suffering into triumph and realization of our potential. There is no better model of this transformation than the Cross, whereby Christ atoned for our imperfection by turning suffering into salvation.
Love in the Midst of Imperfect Humanity
We are each called to love as Christ loved. We know that Christ loved, and loves, imperfect human beings despite our disloyalty and sin. To love on this earth is to love among, and despite, the utter frailty that surrounds us. Let us consider the example of Mother Teresa, who immersed herself in the most abject poverty, filth, and stench to bring love to those who need it most. The call to follow Christ is not a whimsical journey through a fairy tale land of cookies and candy. Rather, it is a hard struggle through a minefield of heartbreak, frustration, and betrayal to ultimate sacrifice of self in the love of God and others. Whether we like it or not, all the true love we give on this earth comes with the price of self-denial in the face of selfless giving. Anything else is fantasy love steeped in superficiality and selfishness.
Love Turns on The Light
It is not simply a play on words to say that love turns on the light. For one thing, love carries us from the darkness of our own selfishness to the light of selfless sacrifice for God and others. Secondly, love is the ultimate assistant helping us to carry the crosses we face in this imperfect world. It lightens the load by providing us with broader shoulders on which to carry that load. The American author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. once wrote that “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.” Our traditional Act of Contrition reminds us that we should hate sin more because it hurts God than because we fear its consequences. Beyond this, love gives us the strength to continue through adversity and betrayal. It provides us with the reason for the struggle and ultimate goal all rolled up into one. For the Christian, God is that goal and love is the road map to that goal.
True love is forged in the flames of adversity, struggle, and sacrifice. It is best tested by the heat of suffering since only true love can survive such suffering. We have not truly loved someone until that love has survived suffering with and because of that person. This is why love without a Cross is empty. The crosses of this world turn love from a fleeting, overused word into a shield from the storms we all face. Likewise, only true love can give meaning and purpose to suffering. Any cross we face will be too much to bear unless love is present to motivate, inspire, and transcend us from that cross.
To truly love another is to be all in on that person, willing to sacrifice and give for their good. Parents know what this means and exhibit this true love on a daily basis. Christ is the ultimate model is this love and we are called to model ourselves in his name and example. True love exposes us to pain and heartache yet provides us with the reason to overcome this suffering as well. The musician Bob Marley once wrote that “Everyone is going to hurt you…You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” For the true Christian, God and others are surely worth the love, and the struggle, along the way.