The Vocation of Love
We must return to God in order to become fully human
In 1981, thirty-three papal audience addresses entitled, On the Original Unity of Man and Woman was published. Pope John Paul II based those talks on the Book of Genesis. We, too, shall start with the first book of the Bible.
One verse from the Book of Genesis will serve as the means for answering a predominant question raised by people today: "Who am I?" The verse reads: "God created man in his image, in the divine image, he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). [NOTE: The semi-colon (;) in the citation indicates a pause, not a separation between or a disconnection of two integrated realities: human nature and human sexuality.]
The first section of the verse is of the objective order. It defines "man" (human nature) as the image of a Pure-Spirit Creator: "[God] breathed [spirit] into his nostrils, and so man became a living being" (Gn 2:7).
"Man has within him the breath of God. He is capable of relating to God: he can pass beyond material creation. He is unique. He stands in the sight of God. It is important to see this special creation by God. This gives man reverence for himself and for others. By God's breath, he sees that he is not just a combination of biological building blocks, but a personal conception of God" (Pope Benedict XVI).
The second section of the verse is of the subjective order: "male and female he created them" (Gn 1:27). That account identifies two complementary spirit-beings created for lived love-relationships. "Man is created with a need for others, so he may pass beyond his own limits. He needs to be completed. He is not made to be alone-that is not good for him - but is made to turn toward someone else. He must look for himself in the other person and find himself in him" (Pope Benedict XVI).
Thus, within the pre-existing whole of human nature, the Pure-Spirit Creator established a communion of persons, each one of whom is a divine image of Trinitarian love: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; male and female he created them" (Gn 1:27).
For a Christian to seek an answer to the "Who am I?" question, he or she must start with the God of Creation: "God is the beginning; God is the origin. All things come from the Creator-Spirit, from the Creator-God" (Pope Benedict XVI).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: "Nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God's word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history are rooted in this principal event, the very genesis by which the world was created and time began" (Catechism, no. 388).
From "the beginning," from the very onset of Creation, a lived love-relationship has existed between three spirit-beings - God, man, and woman.
And, therein is found the origin of the vocation of love: "When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship. It means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence. In this context, [human living] should be the response to man's image of God; it would show us who we are and who God is. And for God, since he is entirely relationship, [human living is] not something apart from one's being or becoming fully human" (Pope Benedict XVI).
Both the divine image (human nature) and the communion of persons (male and female) come from the communitarian love of the Blessed Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The vocation of love, then, is a declaration of God's own love. As such, the vocation of love has been placed in the very being of the human creature. As well, the potential for every person to become fulfilled and complete exists from the moment of conception in the womb.
"Thus we can see again that man is constructed from within, in the image of God, to be loved and to love. At this point I believe we have to refer to man's being in the image of God. God is love. The essence of love portrays its own nature in the Trinity. Man is in God's image, and, thereby, he is a being whose innermost dynamic is likewise directed toward the receiving and the giving of love" (Pope Benedict XVI).
Christians believe that lived-love is the Father and the Son (Jn 17). Furthermore, they believe that the bond of love between the Father and Son is the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit. In other words, they accept - through the baptismal gift of Faith - the scriptural truth that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16).
Every human being possesses "from the moment of [his or her] existence an innate power and ability to love" (Saint Basil the Great). Without exception, then, every person is meant to be loved and, in response, is called to love God, self, neighbor, and the created world.
"Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. The sense of being accepted in the first place comes from other human beings. But, all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately, every person needs a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively that it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being! If a person's sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all" (Pope Benedict XVI).
The Spirit-God created "man" by his "breath," which infused an immortal soul into a now spirit-filled physical existence. Thus, human nature is a composite whole: "spirit, soul, and body" (2Th 5:23). In fact, human nature is CONSCIOUS spiritual existence. "When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you should care for him? Yet, you have made him little less than a God, with glory and honor you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hand, put all things under his feet. All of them, sheep and cattle, yes, even the savage beasts, birds of air, and fish that make their way through the waters" (Ps 8:3-8).
At this point, the created world must be spoken of briefly. The world is a galaxy that contains all living and non-living things, including the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets. The planet Earth has been given by the Love-God to every human being so that, as a spirit-filled bodily entity, each person has a place to live out his or her love-relationships. Hence, the completion and fulfillment of human nature is not limited to God, self, and others. A lived love-relationship with the the natural order is to be embraced as well.
Sacred scripture, therefore, instructs: "Let us love, not in word of speech, but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3:18). Since "deed and truth" are essential to genuine love, the faculty of freedom is an essential element in lived love-relationships.
Without personal freedom, there is no such human act as genuine love. And, without genuine love, there is no such entity as an authentic love-being. Personal freedom alone makes is it possible for a free-willed person to turn to or away from God and others.
"It is, however, only in freedom that people can turn themselves towards what is good. The people of our time prize freedom very highly and strive eagerly for it. In this they are right. Yet they often cherish it improperly, as if it gave them leave to do anything they like, even when it is evil. But genuine freedom is an exceptional sign of the image of God in humanity. For God willed that men and women should be left free to make their own decisions so that they might of their own accord seek their Creator and freely attain their full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God. Their dignity, therefore, requires them to act out of CONSCIOUS and FREE CHOICE, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by their own blind impulses or by external constraint. People gain such dignity when, freeing themselves of all slavery to the passions, they press forward towards their goal by freely choosing what is good, and, by their diligence and skill, effectively secure for themselves the means suited to this end" (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church (Gaudium et spes), no. 17).
Conflicting views of love, therefore, abound these days. So, the question arises -
"What makes human beings go loony over love?"
Before an answer to that question is proposed, one must concede that there is such a reality as genuine human love, that is, a love that "rejoices with the truth" (1 Co 13:6).
"Show me someone who loves. He knows what I mean. Show me one who is filled with longing, one who is hungry, one who is a pilgrim and suffering from thirst in the desert of this world, eager for the fountain in the homeland of eternity. Show me someone like that, he knows what I mean. But, if I speak to someone without love, he does not understand what I am talking about" (Saint Augustine).
John D. Meehan has been involved in the lay apostolate of the Catholic Church since the close of the Second Vatican Council. He resides in New Hampshire with his lovely wife Elizabeth.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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