The key to love according to Pope Francis
Not since “Frozen” and Anna’s self-sacrificing love have we been feted to a surprising, lively and penetrating insight on true love as when Pope Francis spoke on his reflections at the University of Santo Tomas.
The most important subject we have to learn in life, even in the university, said the Pope, is to learn how to love. Then he gave a disconcerting thought. What is important in true love, lo importante, is not loving, but dejarse amar por Dios, allowing ourselves to be loved by God. This is radical, revolutionary thinking which we have to unpack if we are to benefit from Francis the Reformer.
Why is love the most important subject in life? Simply because the Designer of the universe is Love, and he made us in his image. To enjoy life to the fullest, love is the one secret. It alone unites us with God. Loving God above all, and loving others for God, is the bottom line: Jesus’ one thing necessary. It is the only question God will ask us when we die. It determines the quality of our life, not only in that all-important, definitive zone called eternity, but also in the twists and turns of this earth. That’s Harvard’s stunning five-word conclusion to its longest study:
Happiness is love. Full stop.
To bring about a civilization of love, of “willing the good of the other,” the Pope gave us a “seven-point program” that includes caring for the poor, weeping with those who suffer, and combating the roots of inequality and injustice; the challenge of integrity and the rejection of corruption; protecting the beauty of the family from contraception and same-sex marriage and clarifying to the young confusing presentations of sexuality and marriage; caring for the environment; and loving the Church and evangelizing the world.
But the key to love, this most important virtue, said the Vicar of Christ, is not our activity. It is the activity of the greatest, and the source, of all the powers in the universe: God’s. The strategic point is God’s grace. It “alone can bring wholeness and healing to our broken world.” This is based on
Jesus’ solid truth, “Without me, you can do nothing,” and his Church’s catechism, “Without the Creator, the creature vanishes.” Only by being one with God, who is Truth and Good, can we be an instrument of true reform. If not, we merely sow our own disorder.
The great lie is to think we created our own existence and, in the Pope’s words, that we are “self-sufficient.” Here he strikes at the historic roots of our modern-day miasma. The disaster of Luther’s individual interpretation of God’s Word, Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” and the US Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” It is the disaster of Adam’s wanting to be God without God.
More than a theology, the Pope’s deep insight on what theologians call the primacy of receiving is the result of a deep personal experience. He was on his way to a celebration to propose to a girl, when he passed by a chapel. There, “I felt like someone grabbed me from the inside and took me to the confessional.” He met God’s mercy.
That fond memory lingers on: “True love is being open to the love that comes to you. The love that surprises us. Love surprises because it opens a dialogue of loving and being loved. God is a God of surprise because he loved us first.”
In the most important personal document yet in his papacy, “The Joy of the Gospel,” he focused on “the center of all efforts of Church renewal”: the kerygma. “Jesus loves you, he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you. … Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom filled” than this truth.
And so we can say to our foolish selves: It’s God’s love, stupid! It’s not ours that matters most. God’s love is at the center of all, breathing this meaning to everything that exists. “God loves us” is the three-word synthesis of all the wisdom of all the smartest philosophers and theologians. And it is wise to know we are at the receiving end.
How does Pope Francis, a genius of down-to-earth spirituality, bring this radical thinking into our daily lives? “Rest in God. You must make time each day for prayer… If we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all: God’s will for us. …It is so important to pray as a family!” By not allowing God to love us in prayer and in the sacraments, we might be driving fast, but in the wrong direction! “Become a beggar. Learn how to beg. Learn how to receive with humility. To learn to be evangelized by the poor, those we help.”
Dejarse amar is difficult, he said. Nothing worthwhile is easily achieved. So he gave us a challenge. An invitation to courage: a constant conversion, a nightly examination of conscience, a nightly dream of what is best for our family and our lives. Cast off materialism, worldliness, sin and the devil’s lying snares with an “appearance of sophistication.” Instead, remember our deepest identity: We are children of God, God’s family. The Pope assured us repeatedly that God never tires of forgiving us. It is we who tire in asking for forgiveness.
“Allow yourselves to be surprised by God. Don’t be afraid of surprises. They shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure. But they move us forward in the right direction.”
Raul Nidoy holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre and a degree in history from the University of the Philippines. He is director of formation in Parents for Education Foundation.