Some Infinitely Gentle, Infinitely Suffering Thing

What does it cost to have a heart on fire with true love?

Pope Francis pointed out on Trinity Sunday that that feast renews in us “our own mission to live in communion with God and with each other. …We are not called to live without the other, above or against the other, but with the other, for the other, and in the other.”

Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, Sacred Heart: the Church weans us from Eastertide with this procession of solemnities. The Sacred Heart binds all the mysteries together, for within its chambers the union of all hearts is forged.

It is that Heart alone that reveals the Trinity, and it is from that Heart, pierced, that the Spirit of limitless love flows, in the endless Eucharistic self-expenditure. The Apostle John emphasizes in all of his writings the triumph of Trinitarian love, slaughtered yet victorious over all the enemies of love. Those writings were emphasized during Eastertide; that vision that must vitalize our pilgrimage through ordinary time.

There is an image seared into the mind of the Beloved Disciple, through which he sees everything: the pierced Sacred Heart. From here comes his characteristic insistence on bearing witness: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe” (Jn 19:34-35).

He SEES here what it means for the Word to become flesh, for love to become visible. He SEES what it costs for God the Father to so love the world. We must understand that the public birth of the Church on Pentecost could not occur without this drawing forth of the New Eve, Mary-Church, from the side of the New Adam, asleep in His love-death.

What John sees is the immensity of the love Jesus and the Father have for each of us, the love that is Their shared Spirit. What he sees is that this immensity fills and overflows all the channels of the world. All natural exigencies must bend to the one thing: the extravagance of divine love. Each thing was created through the Word, according to its nature, to serve the grace and truth of the Word made flesh in the abasement of love. To stand on some sense of natural justice, our “rights,” to use Law as a counter-commandment to divine recklessness, is to be anti-Christ.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive…” (Jn 14:15-17). What are these commandments? They are refractions of one commandment, in the limitless responsibility of loving each person: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends” (Jn 15:12-13). Love is what the Law and all of nature were created to serve.

But do not even unbelievers love their friends? Indeed. So, we must understand that divine love is prior to any merit on our part. Using Paul to illuminate John: “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). Divine love creates friendship out of the chaos of war, conjures love when there’s less than nothing there for love. And we are called to live out exactly the same asymmetrical love by the power of the Spirit. We are to love our enemies (even the ones we live with, work with) into friendship, should we lose everything in doing so.

This is simply Christianity, to live Trinitarian love: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God…for God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-8). How much love? Some limited quantity, some safe measure? No, indeed. True love means divine priority, with its infinite self-expenditure, limitless mercy, and absolute commitment to reconciliation: “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: He sent His only Son to the world that we might have life through Him. Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has sent His Son as an offering for our sins. Beloved, if God has loved us so, we must have the same love for one another” (1 Jn 4:9-11).

This is the Christian mission: being enraptured by the love descending from on high so that all the others may be enraptured through us. Everything that contracts this thrust towards universal intimacy is, quite precisely, anti-Christ. Sadly, the smoke of anti-Christ fills even the halls and homes of Christianity.

I wish to state this very clearly: the Johannine insistence on the supremacy of love is the word I have been charged to communicate. (Not for nothing is John my confirmation name!) My constant themes: true love, charity, solidarity as one unified reality, characterized by defenseless openheartedness and asymmetric love, which does not stand on rights, which means, inevitably, suffering. Despite my weakness, my whole life and teaching come down to taking a stand on this one Gospel of love and life. Our Lord Himself made clear what the whole shape of Scripture is: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and so enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26). Please pray for this frail servant to bear witness, despite myself.

Leonard Cohen has these words on bearing witness to invisible love: “It was deep into His fiery heart, He took the dust of our Joan of Arc, and then she clearly understood, if He was fire, oh then she must be wood. I saw her wince, I saw her cry, I saw the glory in her eye. Myself I long for love and light, but must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?”

John receives the vision that consummates Scripture: the golden City descending like a bride from heaven to earth. Nuptiality and urbanity merge: one-flesh union finds its realization in the one-body communion of life in Christ. Love falls upon us like fire. Our hearts begin to beat to a rhythm not of this world. We yearn for consummation in an intimacy without limits. We yearn that refreshment and vindication come for the victims. Nothing for it, but Jesus come again from the Father. And He comes through open hearts.