Sunday, February 28, 2010

Because Love Comes from God, Not from Me

When I was an child, I loved as child. Now that I am a man, I wish to love as a man. CS Lewis offers advice about this in his book Mere Christianity. Msgr. Luigi Giussani (left) does more than offer advice, he shows the way, in his three-volume work Is It Possible to Live This Way? The third volume, Charity, is currently the focus of Communion and Liberation’s Schools of Community worldwide.

In Book III, chapter 9 of Mere Christianity, part of our YIMC Book Club reading this week, “Jack” Lewis draws the distinction between love as a feeling and love as an act of will. His simple advice is, Don’t wait to feel love for your neighbor, and for heaven’s sake, don’t sit around trying to pump up love for your enemy. Act as if  you love your neighbor and your enemy, and eventually you will love them.

This is good advice, of course. Try smiling when you don’t feel like it. Force your face muscles into a grin and hold it for a while. You will feel better. Lewis adds one grace note to this thought at the very end of the chapter:

The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, [God’s] love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

It’s a beautiful thought. Don Giussani goes much further.

Here’s a contrast: In Mere Christianity, Lewis discusses the three theological virtues, Charity, Hope, and Faith in that order. In the famous passage from 1st Corinthians, 13, St. Paul speaks of them as Faith, Hope, and Charity, and so does Don Giussani. Better, Giussani explains why.

Over the past two years, Schools of Community have read the first two volumes of Is It Possible to Live This Way?, Faith and Hope. Faith, Giussani writes, is founded not on a leap (of faith) but quite reasonably on a fact—the fact of Christ’s presence in the world. Hope is a completely reasonable extension of this fact into the future, our own future, where our destiny lies.

While so far we are only about 30 pages into volume 3, Charity (slow readers seem to predominate in CL!), it is clear where all this is leading. Because already Giussani is writing of charity not alone as an act of will but as a sharing in God’s gratuitous love for us. Without faith and hope, without the certainty that God exists, that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, in his Church, and in the companionship of those who share with us in this Presence, there can be no true charity. Lewis’s act of will is worthy, but how can it be whole?

I would quote Giussani at length, but his Italian-translated-to-English is an acquired taste, and I encourage you to learn more on your own, by checking out the CL Web site. But here are a couple of small bites of Giussani on charity:

Charity . . . indicates the deepest content, discovers intimacy, discovers the heart of the Presence that faith recognizes. 

Note that charity hinges on faith. And here:

The most intimate content of the supreme reality exists in experience, because it is felt, and, when followed, it produces an effect, it changes things. 

So love or charity does begin with a feeling—or it begins with faith, which prompts a feeling. A feeling that arises from the statement “He exists.” From that certainty, everything else follows.

Which is to say that love comes from God—as Giussani writes later, from God’s “gratuitous love” for us—and not from an act of human will alone, and certainly not from me. Sorry, Jack, but I’m afraid Don Giuss has got you covered on this one. Although to give you credit, Jack, I think you really might have loved School of Community.