A New (Not Really) Perspective on Love

I Love NZ 05Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Who do you love above all else? What do you love above all others? And when you close your eyes and recall that which you love most intensely, wrapping your heart in warmth and tenderness, lifting you to heights of exhilaration and joy, expanding your heart to bursting, sending a most wonderful tingly sensation up your spine (just your spine), ask yourself—What do you do next? Would you wish the same or more and better for everyone else? Would you care if someone else had a much deeper love, a more uplifting experience than you? I guess that all depends on who or what you love.

I have traveled to New Zealand a number of times in the last ten years. I can assure you I paid for it myself. I have no mortgage or college loans. I can’t retire by law until I’m 70, and at the rate I’m going, I’ll be old and decrepit by then. So, I am in love with New Zealand, more than Rome even. (Don’t tell Rome.) I have a deep longing to return again and again. When I am there, I never want to leave. But I have to come home or the bishop will hear about it. When I am not there, I want so badly to be there. I will talk about New Zealand as often and as much as anyone is willing to listen. I know there is much about the place that I don’t really know. So I can only talk about what I know. And I will be the first to admit I do not know enough. I want to go back because I want to know more, to see more, to meet the people, to understand this deep love or infatuation I have. I want to return often, maybe even live there one day. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I would have you know I am not being paid for this endorsement. I am content just to experience deep and utter joy. I am convinced my love fuels my passion, which in turn fuels my love. I want to re-live this experience often, through photos, books, movies, memories, personal connections, conversations with people who have known what I know and love what I love. I will spend hours immersed in thought to recreate such experiences. I know some of you might think I am delusional. You want to know if I care what you think?

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When Jesus said the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses is that we love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves, he was speaking from his own experience and perspective. He invites us to love God because he knows personally the love of God his Father, and in his love for us, he truly desires to draw us closer to God, that we might know and love what he knows and loves. And he won’t be jealous if we know and love God better than him. It won’t ever happen, but he is not even fearful of that possibility.

As Pope Francis passionately invites us to embrace the new evangelization, he calls us to reexamine our Catholic Christian faith, not just what we do (and we do a lot of things), but more importantly, why we do what we do. His hope is that we rediscover the core of our faith, that it is all about God’s tremendous love for us, God’s deep desire that we respond to him in love with conviction and passion, that we truly and sincerely love our neighbor out of love for him, and that we desire for others to discover what we have come to know and love.

The first step on the journey of new evangelization is an encounter with Jesus Christ, a deeply and personally transforming encounter. We encounter Jesus Christ when we really hear his message in Sacred Scripture. And by really hearing, I mean that we begin to understand that God desires to create us anew, inviting us to step outside of our self-centeredness, our vanity, our jealousy and envy, our pride, our pleasure, our greed. God wants to remake us more like himself. And there is so much about us that is not like God, so this will involve a tremendous amount of work. So when we are created anew, we become more like God, and we come to know God deeper and better. And we will want everyone else to experience what we have experienced.

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God offers us his very life—a fruitful, expansive, uplifting, transforming life. If our own encounter with God is authentic, it will be life-giving. It will bring fulfillment and joy. It will attract others to want to experience it for themselves. It will transform our outlook, our relationships, our journey. This intimacy with God is reflected in the familiar intimacy of deep friendship and marriage. Our Christian faith teaches that the ideal of love in the sacramental marriage covenant is intended to be life-giving. It is not supposed to suck the life out of you. It unites the spouses. It is open to more life, in the fruitfulness of children, and in the fruitfulness of service to others. It ultimately leads to health and well-being for all who experience it. It becomes more vital and passionate with time. Conversely, a love that is selfish and self-centered is only fun for a time, as our culture of hook-ups and promiscuity proves. It fosters shame and suspicion. It causes alienation. It is fearful that children will result, or that it will lead to care for others. It causes disease and death, both physical and spiritual. It fades and dies with time. (from Convocation 2014, Dr. Greg & Lisa Popcak) It is truly what Bon Jovi sings that gives “love” a bad name. When marriage and family life is fueled by authentic love, caring, understanding, and forgiveness, it spills over into sacrifice, mutual support, service, good example, hospitality, communion.

For the first 30 years of my life, I thought I knew God and why I loved God. Then I hit a wall. I grappled with anger and frustration because I was living to impress other people, to make my family proud, to make me happy. I’m not saying that was all bad, just that it was all there was. My faith in God was a mere collection of religious-inspired actions, attitudes, patterns of thought, prejudices, even language, mannerisms, and appearances. And the darkness and pain forced me to rethink what were really blinders and obstacles to love, so that I might truly encounter God beyond my Catholic ways of thinking and behaving, to discover the God of Jesus Christ, who loves me into being. I encountered God who is real, who challenged me to overcome my faults and limits, to see a present and a future that invites growth, maturity, and purpose. I entered into friendship with God which was more than commandments, rules, threats, formality, false appearances, pleasantries, and approved ways of being and doing. I came into relationship with God who is welcoming, reconciling, transforming, enriching. So I can invite others to encounter the God I have encountered, knowing there is so much I still do not know, but am eager to know more and love deeper. So if I ever tell you I know the best way to love God, and you should just do it or else … turn around and run! Run far, far away!

The last 20 years have been challenging but fulfilling. My love for God tells me to invite you to draw nearer, to encounter the One I have encountered, to be changed by the One who changed me. My best hope is that you will come to know for yourselves what I know, that you will experience for yourselves what I have experienced, that you will be transformed. And it helps to have been to New Zealand.

Love NZ

Rolo B Castillo © 2014