Tag Archives: Books

Quotable: On love and authenticity

This summer I’ve set out to read a great stack of books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. First on the list: C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, which I’ve started several times but never finished. From the little I’ve read so far, I can already say it’s an exceptionally wise and valuable book. I suppose I never got through it because in the past, its profound explorations of love and authenticity in loving never rang quite as true as they do for me now. I’ve concluded that there must have been certain lessons I needed to learn, certain instances of love and friendship that I had to experience first, in order for me to really understand what Lewis was trying to say.

I’m sure I’ll have more reflections to offer once I’m done with the book, but for now I wanted to share a contemporary take on the same subject: Jonathan Franzen’s op-ed in the NY Times called “Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.” It seems as though Franzen sets out to rehash a popular criticism of social media: that in a world that is becoming increasingly materialistic and permeated by technology, people are in more danger than ever of defining themselves by the (often inauthentic) persona they present in social media like Facebook and (eek!) personal blogs. I’ve heard this take before, and it has made me cautious – and I hope, more prudent – about the way I use such technology; however, I have not heard anyone go quite as far as Franzen does in this piece regarding the consequences of such behavior.

The real danger, he says, in all of this technology, is that it can (and often does) stunt the growth of real love in us – not by isolating us and making face-to-face contact with others less frequent (though, sadly, this is often the case), but rather by turning us into narcissists who prefer liking and being superficially liked by everyone to loving and being truly loved by specific people.

“The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

“Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made … Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

“There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.”

This is why, I would add, real love – true Christian charity – is the antidote to our vanities and arrogance and egotism: it makes us vulnerable and shows us, in a way that we cannot deny, who we really are. It reminds us that we are far from perfect, that we need divine assistance if we wish to truly love others as they are (and allow them to love us as we are), faults and all.

Pretty perceptive stuff for an op-ed column, especially one written by someone who seems to be coming from a purely secular point of view. You can read the whole column here – it’s really quite good.

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“For Your love to me has been great…”

JPII election photo

Pope John Paul II greets the faithful after he is elected pope in 1978.

What a glorious day! What a JOY and a grace to celebrate both the Feast of God’s Mercy – my second-favorite day of the year (after Easter Sunday) – and the beatification of Pope John Paul II, one of my dearest friends in Heaven. My first thought this morning was of these words that we pray so often at Compline:

I will praise You, Lord my God, with all my heart
and glorify Your name forever;
for Your love to me has been great:
You have saved me from the depths of the grave.

(Psalm 86:12-13)

Last year, I started reading St. Faustina’s Diary on Divine Mercy Sunday. That book is so spiritually rich and so profound that it took me an entire year to finish it – and what a journey it’s been. I don’t think any other book (except maybe Story of a Soul) has done so much to deepen my faith and to transform the way I pray.

Perhaps the most important and most beautiful thing I’ve learned from the Diary is this: devotion to the Divine Mercy isn’t just about the mercy and forgiveness we receive from God – it’s about His mercy remaining in us and flowing through us. When we truly accept God’s mercy, it grows in us, transforms us from within and teaches us to believe, to hope, to love. We see this in the optional prayer (taken from the Diary) that can be said at the end of the Divine Mercy Chaplet:

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless, and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us, and increase Your mercy in us

Pope John Paul II echoed this sentiment in the homily he gave at St. Faustina’s canonization:

It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self. This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God’s love. Looking at him, being one with His fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness. All this is mercy!

All this is mercy! (So much like Thérèse’s “All is grace!”) Sometimes, I am just astounded by God’s goodness, particularly by the gift of His saints and the light they are to the Church. JPII did a great deal during his papacy to spread the message of the Divine Mercy – he wrote his second encyclical letter, Dives in misericordia, about God’s Mercy, canonized St. Faustina, and instituted the Feast that we celebrate today – but more importantly, he lived this message of mercy and unshakeable faith in God’s goodness.

Immediately following his death, Pope John Paul II became, together with St. Thérèse and Mother Teresa, one of my “big 3” intercessors in Heaven. I can’t really explain it, but I just know that I owe those three an incredible debt of gratitude for the graces I’ve experienced in my discernment. I have no doubt that they’ve been with me, praying for me every step of the way. Their friendship has been a truly precious gift, straight from the merciful Heart of the Father!

What a glorious day! What a joy and a grace to have so much to celebrate!

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us! St. Faustina, pray for us!

Recommended Reading:

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On the Calendar: St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

“Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”

St. John of the Cross

As you may have noticed, it was St. John of the Cross who inspired the title of this blog. He has so much to teach those who are discerning their vocation! Over the years, he has had a tremendous influence on my prayer, and during my discernment journey, his poetry has often been the source of great consolation. Perhaps most importantly, he has taught me the true meaning of holy detachment: I seek to empty my heart not for emptiness’ sake, but rather for the sake of Christ, that He might have a dwelling place in me. I strive to love Christ alone not in order to deny my love to others, but rather in order to love them more fully in Christ. I desire to possess nothing – ¡nada! – because of an even greater desire to possess the Beloved.

If you’re interested in becoming a student of this great Doctor of the Church, be sure to begin with a good introduction to his work. Too many well-meaning people begin reading St. John without being introduced to him in the proper way, and without the necessary background, they often misunderstand his most crucial teachings. For starters, I would recommend the following books:

  • The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross by Iain Matthew (This book definitely has a place in my Top 10 Books for Spiritual Reading. Like Story of a Soul and Happy Are You Poor, it really did change my life!)
  • Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM (All of Fr. Dubay’s books are fantastic, but this one is particularly helpful as a school of contemplative prayer.)
  • The Poems of St. John of the Cross translated by W. Barnstone (I love how this volume presents the Spanish and English on facing pages. The sound and feeling of St. John’s Spanish is practically impossible to translate, but Barnstone has made an impressive attempt to capture the sense of the original poems.)

St. John of the Cross, pray for us!

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