Baha’i – Catholic Conversation on Love
- The command to love:
The contending factions in Jerusalem approach Jesus as he sits teaching in the Temple and one by one they put to him questions which are designed to disgrace him in the eyes of the people. The last question they ask him is: “What is the greatest command of the Law”, to which Jesus replies, “The greatest is this: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength”. But then he goes on to say something that had not been said before: “The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself”. (Mt 22.34-40)
Although this latter command is found among the over six hundred commandments given in the Old Testament, Jesus very unusually raises it to stand with the greatest of them. It is second not in the sense of being part of a list but in the sense of being the last and completing command, the one which fulfils the first. There are three loves, therefore, love of God, self and neighbour, which like a tripod hold up all other aspects of the righteous life.
What we wish for ourselves we wish for others. Thus if we want to eat each day we must equally wish that our neighbour be fed each day; if we want good medical treatment we must want it for others too; if we want forgiveness and tolerance we must want it for others. There is a whole social justice program here. There is no point in loving God if we do not also love ourselves and our neighbour.
- The universality of love
Jesus goes on to say, “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Lk 6.27-28) This is extraordinary teaching. Love means loving the unlovable and forgiving the unforgivable. It means trusting the untrustworthy. This is the meaning of the incarnation: Jesus takes on human weakness and mixes with those who are not of love and brings them to love. Love is not a soft option but requires the ability to endure. Only the strong can love universally. Only those who have been loved can love. Those who hate have been hated and pour it out again. Those who have been loved pour out their store of love. Love increases by being employed. Love is used but never used up. It is the only capacity that increases infinitely. There is no end to love. The capacity to love comes from heaven itself.
- Love and sacrifice
Jesus states: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”. (Jn 15.13) Jesus manifests his love by being faithful even to death. Abraham was faithful to the point of being ready to sacrifice his own son, but a ram was substituted in place of his son. In the Christian understanding God really does sacrifice Jesus who is called ‘Son’. Thus Jesus states, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”. (Jn 3.16) He shows that the highest expression of love is found in sacrifice. It is in dying that we live.
Jesus is sacrificed by God for the sake of this world. This sacrificial love takes us into the very presence of God himself whose love is made visible in Christ Jesus. “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rm 8.38-39)
This is tough love. By giving up our life we really attain it. Christian love must be understood in this sense; otherwise it is mere humanism, a mere social relationship. Only those with great passion and a great capacity for love can love in this way. Only those with the love of God in them can love to the end. Love is the great abyss into which the lover falls and loses everything. Sacrifice is the ultimate example of falling in love; love falling into love; the infinite abyss; the wide open arms.
- The Trinity of love
This love is found eternally in God, for sacrificial love is found in the relationship of the Trinity itself. Love pours itself out in love. It is essentially sacrificial. Love loves love and is supremely open to the message of love. Love is in love with love. The person who loves and the one who is loved and the loving: three Persons in one God. Only the Trinity of God can preserve the Unicity of God.
“God is love.” (I Jn 4.16) If God is love, whom does he love? If it is only this world and human beings, then these are necessary to him and cease to be creatures. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity preserves both God’s transcendence and his essence as love. The Trinity must exist, not as three Gods, not as a tritheism, not as a triple modalism. It is a Trinity of Persons, one God. The Christian understanding of God is as a communion of love. This is must be carefully understood. The One who is primarily called God expresses himself fully and this expression is his Word, not in some limited way but fully so that all that God is, his Word is equally, not as something apart, not opposed; not two Gods but one God, not two aspects but one God expressed in his Word. If God is subject then his Word is also personal. “Equal in majesty, undivided in glory”. (Cf. Peface of the Holy Trinity) To whom is this Word expressed? Love hears the Word of Love.
- The problem of love and evil
But does God love? How can God he be loving when there is so much evil in our world? If he is all powerful master of the universe how can evil exist? Either he is not loving or he is not God, many say. Thus we live in faith alone and only at the end of time will all be made clear.
- Marriage and mystical marriage
There are three words for ‘love’ in Greek. Eros is the relationship between like and unlike who become one in drawing near. Philia is the relationship of like to like, sharing the like interests and hopes. The love of agape is the relationship of same to same, identity. This is the love found in the Trinity.
Wherever love is, there God is. If we find love in each other then we find God in each other. If we see lovers in love, then we see God in them. Wherever we find love we taste of it and enjoy it and take part in it.
Love between spouses has always been understood as the window onto love. The relationship between God and humanity has been seen as a mystical marriage. For example St John of the Cross (1542-1591 CE) writes:
- On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
– oh, happy chance!
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
- Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
- I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
- Love and Judgment
In the flame of love all that is less than love is burnt away so that only the pure flame remains, the great furnace of the divine heart. Love recognises only love. Whatever is not of love is not of God. Love implies love. Christian morality sees love as the primary principle. “In the end we shall all be judged by love.” (St John of the Cross, Dichos 64) We shall be judged by One who is love; and judged according to the measure of our love. The Christian is called: ‘Let yourself be loved, let yourself be love’.
Rev. John Dupuche, Catholic Interfaith Committee
30 September 2006,