with the sinner,
But be firm in your refusal to condone sin.
Catholic Psychotherapy |
Spiritual Counsels |
The Mandate of Christianity |
Love is Hard Work |
Loves Opposite: Sin |
Forms of Love |
Desire Raised to the Divine: Real Love |
Sins Antidote |
When Love is Thwarted
Christianity is simple: love. Yet in this simplicity,
complicated problems can spring up like weeds, for we more often than not
use love as a mere excuse for
self-indulgence. In the modern world
especiallyalthough it has been a problem throughout Church historywe
commonly scorn real love. We scorn the suffering, self-sacrificial love with
which Christ loved us to save us from our sins. And even though Christ told
us to love each other as I have loved you, we scorn this love
because we have so perverted and eroticised the concept of love
that we even condone sin today in the name
Love is Hard
Some people claim that the Church
puts too much emphasis on the concept of sin, and
that, if parents didnt scare children with talk of sin and focused
more on love, the world would be a better place. This argument can
even lead to the idea that we should accept everything in the name
of Christian love, and that we lack charity and are being
judgmental merely to speak about sin.
Its offensive to anothers individuality, they claim,
to say that something that does not really hurt others
is morally wrong.
Well, its a great sadness
that most parents do not teach their
children how to love. Love is hard work, and most
parents shrink from that work. When children misbehave, for example, it’s far
easier to tell the children that they will go to hell because of their misbehavior
than it is to show them consistently, by example, that all behavior should be
motivated by love for God. When parents take the easy
way, the children grow up being afraid of
hell and understanding nothing about real love.
The irony, though, is that parents
fail to teach their children real love because they fail to understand the
psychological reality of sin.
In psychological terms, sin can be described
as a sort of infatuation with the vanity of our personal desires.
That is, most people are narcissistically preoccupied
with their immediate desires and have little, if any, altruistic awareness
of anyone or anything else around them. Psychologically, this behavior allows
you to feel good about yourself (that is, to feel strong and in
control) by using, hurting, or neglecting someone else. Sin therefore
leads you away from true love and compassion, and it sends you right into
all the predicaments of self-indulgence. Sin really does hurt others because
sin defiles love.
Simply teaching children to be kind
to one another, therefore, will not make sin “take a back seat.” In fact, teaching
kindness without also teaching the full meaning of sin unwittingly promotes sin.
Without an awareness of sin, anything goes. “If it feels good, do it,” is equivalent
to the devil’s motto : Do what thou wilt. To see what is really required to overcome
sin, let’s look more closely at the various forms of love.
Love, in its purest and
most divine meaning refers to something so far beyond our comprehension that
it is, well, incomprehensible. Christian theology says that God is
love, but most of us can grasp that concept only intellectually. Many
Catholic mystics through the ages, however, have had an immediate experiential
encounter with divine love, and they all end up saying essentially the same
thing: I thought my heart would burst and that I would die right
But by reason of this secret
and intimate union with God, there remains in the Soul a sweet impression,
so firm and assured a satisfaction, that no torture, however cruel, could
overpower it, and a zeal so ardent that a man, had he a thousand lives, would
risk them all for that hidden consciousness which is so strong that hell
itself could not destroy it.
Spiritual Dialogue, Part Third, Chapter X
of love is what Catholic mysticism is all about: a love for Christ
so overwhelming that a person would risk anything and give up
anything to get close to it.
But this divine
love is not something you “fall into”; it’s something you have to work at. To
understand this, let’s first consider love’s other forms naturally accessible
to general human experience.
childs love for a parent refers
to a natural emotional bond every child must make with a caretaker in order
to survive the helplessness of infancy and childhood. This childlike love for
a parent serves as a preparation for the eventual experience of real love for
We also naturally love our siblings
within our families; this is called brotherly
love, and it is necessary for peace and growth in
familiesalthough sibling rivalry often manifests in
We can naturally love our neighbors,
too; this is called neighborly love,
and it, too, is necessary for social survivalalthough aggression and
war often stain all societies.
What we commonly call
romantic love, or
erotic love (from the Greek eros),
is just common lovea politically correct distortion of
real love. Romancein all truth, and contrary
to popular sentimentis actually a mixture of two things: a dependent,
infantile attachment to a caretaker, and desire.
Now, infantile dependence needs no further explanation
because it is a natural experience between an infant and a parent. But when an
adult develops a dependence on another adult in the way that a child would
have a dependence on a parent, then the dependence is disordered and perverted
(except in cases of dementia, for example).
Desire, in the
psychological sense, refers to our attempts to fill ourselves with things
that feel pleasurable or soothing, so as to
hide from ourselves the
reality of our essential human
emptiness and brokenness. When you look
at another person with desire, you do not see a soul enrobed in chaste beauty;
you see only your own exuberant fantasy that your aching throb
of loneliness might be alleviated.
Romance, therefore, is the desire to fill your bodily
emptiness with an attachment to the body of another persona person
as broken and empty as you are.
to the Divine: Real Love
necessarily a bad thing, however. Although Buddhism, for example, teaches
that all desire must be avoided,
and although Christian theology teaches us that misplaced desire can lead
us straight into sin, desire can be raised to the
level of the divine. In fact, thats the essence of the Catholic mystic
tradition: to desire union with God as the supreme desire. As the deer
longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God (Psalm 42:2).
In this mystical desire for God we turn away from the
attractions of the world around us and turn only
to God for strength and refuge. Thats what
it means to die to the world. And thats a necessary step
toward holiness for everyoneclerics, religious, and the
Thus, our natural human capacity for
some forms of love is but a faint reflection of the divine love by which God created
and redeemed us. Yet when natural love is raised to the level of the divine through
Christ, it enters into a true mystery. In regard to this mystery, Christ told us
something very important.
No one has greater
love than this, to lay down ones life for ones
Now, think about this. Why would
someone lay down ones life for anyone except to save that person
Well, this brings us right back
to the topic of sin.
The Hebrew word for sin,
hataa, means to miss the mark. Consequently, to save
us from the emptiness of self-satisfaction into which we have wandered and to
bring us back to the point, God gave us His only beloved Son. In real love for
us, God knew that the free will of a hardened sinner cannot be brought to
sorrow and contrition through force or threats of punishment. Such tactics
only drive a sinner deeper into sin.
Jesus loves everyone,
and He calls everyone into His love. But to accept this call we must give
up everything that is not love. That is, we must give up
Thus our task in life
is to accept Gods lovethe loving gift of
redemption that God, in His great
mercy, offers us. We have only to do as Christ
commanded usAs I have loved you, so you also should love one
another (John 13:34)by sacrificing our
pride and desire for personal pleasure in order
to repent our sins and help save others
from their sins.
This, then, explains the Christian
meaning of suffering. Just as Christ suffered
and died for us, so we must die to our natural desire for
self-satisfaction and then offer our suffering for others, in the hope that
they might be saved from their sins. As Christians, we are called to pray
and make sacrifices for others (as Our
Lady of Fátima told the children), freely offering our suffering as
the price it takes to bring hardened sinners to
contrition. Remember, this capacity to suffer
derives from a love of such a firm and assured satisfaction that no torture,
however cruel, could overpower it.
As long as you
are concerned about what you can get from life, you will always be
dissatisfied. Everything materialfood, entertainment, drugs, masturbation,
pornography, erotic pleasure in another personpasses quickly only to leave
us overpowered by cravings for more. Real love, however, endures every insult
peacefully and so it can never be overpowered by anything.
loveor true lovetherefore, is not about getting noticed
or feeling accepted. Real love is a process of givingnot the
giving of material things that merely bribe others to like us, but the giving
of qualities such as patience, kindness, compassion, understanding, mercy,
forbearance, and forgiveness, qualities whose ultimate purpose is the salvation
of other souls.
Now, many persons
today claim to love Christ. But do they really love Him? Are they
willing to do anything it takes to purify
themselves for His service? Are they willing to love their enemiesthat
is, to endure peacefully the suffering caused by their enemies and to offer
it as a prayerful sacrifice for the repentance and conversion of those very
enemies? Or, instead of really loving Christ, do they simply take satisfaction
in the idea of loving Him as a dry act of
and let real love wither and die in the darkness of their hearts?
In order to love others in the
way of true love, though, we have to see sin for what it is, in all its
pervasive, ugly reality. This isnt at all depressingin fact,
it should be a cause for joy, because seeing sin for what it is opens the
possibility of mercy. What greater charity is there
But if we cant see sin
for what it is, then we arent loving our neighbor, were loving
his sinand that is very, very depressing.
When Love is
Once you understand what love
really is and commit yourself to living it, and you encounter others, even
family members, who defy love, you will have several choices, but only one
of them is healthy.
You could try to protect yourself
from rejection or abandonment by being especially careful of what you say or do
lest you offend someone. You might even convince yourself that this course of
action demonstrates love. But it doesn’t; all it demonstrates is
fear. It demonstrates your fear that if you don’t take
responsibility for the feelings of others, you will get hurt—and so it also
demonstrates your fear of trusting that God will accept and protect you when
others reject you. So don’t deceive yourself; acting out of fear is not an act
Or you could confront those persons
and tell them how you want them to act. Or you could ridicule them. Or
you could even kill them. But such behavior would be acting out of hatred, not
As for the healthy alternative,
you could go about witnessing your faith and speaking
the truth in all things, regardless of how others might react. If others treat
you harmfully, you can speak the truth about their lack of
if they apologize, there is nothing more you need to do. If they get defensive and
angry and treat you with disrespect, then you can say, “Listen, I’m not going to take
this sort of treatment from you. If you are disrespectful to me again, I will get up
and leave.” Then, the next time someone is disrespectful, say, “Look, I warned you once.
I’m not going to take this mistreatment.” Then leave. But always pray for the repentance
of the offender and give the pain to God so that you don’t get
stuck in resentment.
Depending on the type of people with whom
you are dealing, you may have to keep repeating your warnings and leavings over and over.
That, though, however tiring, would be love. It would not only demonstrate a loving concern
and mercy for the offenders, but also it would demonstrate healthy
self-love and self-respect.
But it may happen that the offenders completely
reject you. They could do this directly by telling you to never come back, or they could do
this indirectly by saying, “I don’t care what you have to
say!”  In
either of those cases, accept the fact that the relationship is over (at least until the others
repent). Then you will be alone, yes, but you will be in the hands of God. It may feel scary,
but pray and trust in God, and do not be afraid.
Buddhism, an atheistic natural philosophy, denies the reality of God. And
consequently, even though some of its followers may acknowledge Jesus as
a good man or a prophet, they deny the divinity of Jesus the
Buddhism teaches that all suffering is the result
of desire. Suffering has no value in such a philosophy, so it teaches a deadening
of all desire as an escape from suffering. Many individuals, therefore, are drawn to Buddhist
practices because they seem to offer an esoteric spirituality
while making no moral demands on a person beyond the ethics of non-attachment
But genuine spirituality
must embrace the redemptive purpose of sacrifice and suffering when endured
in love for others, as Christ demanded, and this true love, therefore, can
be understood properly only in the context of Christian theology. Without
God, there can be no love, only self-indulgenceand without a proper
understanding of love in the first place there can be no meaning in God sending
His Son to redeem us, and no meaning in suffering as the only means to overcome
sin: that which misses the point about
Considering all of this, its ironic that atheistic
Eastern philosophies have so many techniques for achieving self-restraint
and self-discipline, and yet they know nothing about love of God. Yet so
many Catholics, who possess, through the Church, all the graces necessary
to dwell in Gods love, scorn the discipline necessary to make efficacious
use of those graces.
In its psychological sense, duty has
nothing to do with love. When you act out of duty you are trying either to
gain someone’s approval or to avoid losing someone’s approval. Love, in contrast,
has no ulterior goal; the purpose of love is love. Love is its own reward.
Nevertheless, it is possible to speak of one’s “duty” to love
and worship God, but when used in this unique theological sense the word duty simply
points us to a need to avoid being careless about, or ungrateful for, the ineffable
love which God bestows upon us.
I don’t recommend that you try this with strangers, however. In situations where you
don’t know the offender, it is usually best to keep quiet and pray silently.
When you attempt to speak up about an offense caused by another person, and that
person says to you, “I don’t care what you have to say,” that person is telling you
that he or she doesn’t love you; when love is dead, the relationship is dead—at
least, until the offender repents and apologizes. In this case, all you can do is
keep your distance and pray for the other person to repent.
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information
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Healing by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. explains how psychological
defenses help to protect us from emotional injury. But if you cling to the
defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on
into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously— your quest for spiritual
healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts. Still, God
has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and
conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its
pull: hate So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice
between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to
come from you. You will go where you desire.