God is love and love is giving

Thomas Merton, the respected spiritual teacher and prolific author, once observed that even in his monastery he felt like a “duck in a chicken coop.”

I too have often felt that way: out of step, out of place, different. Partly it’s the married priest thing, but as I struggle with these columns twice a month I feel this most keenly. Most columnists focus on what is happening or what has happened in this world. I write on that too, but from spiritual and theological perspectives. In an often unbelieving – or naively believing world – my faith in an all-present, constantly giving God bumps me out of the box.

As I write this column, I’m aware that it will see newsprint on Valentine’s Day. I have written on romantic love and Valentine’s Day before. It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now, but this time I’m taking a different approach.

Saint John says, “God is love” (I John 4:8). He wasn’t talking about chocolate kisses, red roses, and diamonds. He was talking about love as selfless giving. That’s how God gives (or the Universe for my non-theistic readers). Saint Thomas Aquinas was right on: “Love is willing good to another.”

Many married couples and others in long-term unions have killed their relationship by a death of a thousand cuts. The relationship dies not suddenly in a burst of gunfire but little by little as our selfishness repeatedly wounds the other.

When my needs, my wants, my happiness drive my actions and shape my words, I am selfish and not loving – no matter how many flowers or roses I send.

We should regard our spouse or partner as someone to please and make happy, not as someone who is there to make us happy. That’s what love demands – and it does not come easy. Christians would say this selflessness is impossible without God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:10). In any case, it’s hard work. We have to struggle to keep the needs of the ones we love more important than our own.

Love is not boxes of chocolates, or bouquets of flowers. It’s getting supper, washing the dishes, picking up the dry cleaning from the cleaners – or our dirty clothes off the floor. It’s doing these things because it pleases our partner not because it gives us pleasure. Real lovers don’t count what they’ve done; they’re not keeping book (1 Cor. 13:5). They do it without seeking or expecting anything in return.

That’s how God loves us, but it’s more than that, God’s very essence is love. That’s what John was talking about when he said God IS love. The very nature of God (or the Universe) is giving and sharing – constantly, ceaselessly, endlessly. That’s how God acts and how we should live.

We all need love to be fully human and we need to love like God loves. Why? Because from crib to coffin, love is our origin, our constant calling, and our ultimate fulfillment.

Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/