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Lesson 30- Agape, the Strong Force

         I ended my last program by suggesting that people who fail to communicate with God on the non-verbal, artistic level might discover that when they appear before His throne, that the Father might not recognize them because they failed to use the only type of communication that speaks to Him. I based this on the fact that the Father, who is the Creative Genius who dreamed or imagined the Universe seems to correspond to our creative, artistic, non-verbal right brain, while the Son, who is Jesus the Logos or Logic that planned the logical steps necessary to implement the dream, corresponds to our logical, verbal left brain, and the Holy Spirit who is the Creative Energy that flow from the love and agreement between the other two, seems to correspond to the enthusiastic energy that our frontal lobe uses to carry out dream and plan created by the other two.

        If my analysis is correct, - and I feel strongly that it is then the Father, who corresponds to our artistic, non-verbal right lobe, can not be communicated with through language no more than our right lobe can. It is the nonverbal component of communication,- that is the facial expressions, body postures, verbal tones, and artistic forms,- that He observes and understands. For example, we can say "We worship and adore you, O God" but, according to my analysis, only Jesus, who corresponds to our verbal, logical left lobe heard that. When we add to it the raising of our hands, the lowering of our body through kneeling, genuflecting, or prostrating ourselves before the altar, then the Father gets the message too. However, when this is done mechanically without any other non-verbal clues as to our internal state, the nonverbal message is garbled or misunderstood, or, even worse, the message that we are truly sending non-verbally may be one that contradicts the verbal message. We may be surprise to find out that the Father understood our non-verbal messages too well and that what we thought was "glory and praise", He understood to be only disinterest and obligation.

        Last week, I said that I was going to interrupt or sidetrack my discussion of the nature love to pursue my thoughts on this topic but that shouldnt be concerned because this is also about love and how we communicate and express it. But now let me return to my major focus which is the "nature of love", which is just another way of saying the "nature of God" since, according to St. John, God is love. Notice, he didnt say "God loves!" He said, "God is love!"

        So if "God is love" what exactly does that mean? According the physicist there are two forces which hold atomic structures together: the strong force and the weak force. Without these two forces, everything composed of atoms, which is everything that exists, would fly apart. In other words, they would disintegrate into the chaotic world of the subatomic particles where nothing seems to be able to stabilize itself into a concrete reality. This is interesting because, as I have mentioned in previous programs, the philosophical definition for death is disintegration and the philosophical definition for life is integration. If death or disintegration results in things falling apart, then life or integration must result in things coming together.

        Well, what kind of force is necessary to bring different things together into a united whole. Not being a physicist, I cant answer that question for atomic structures but I do know what performs this function on the psychological and sociological levels. It is what some people call affinity and others call love. In other words, human groups and societies unite into more complex units because there is an energy that draws them to one another, and it would not be too much of a stretch of our imagination to conclude that the cell which make up the organs of our bodies are also brought together by the same energy. In fact, we intuitively sense that there is a connection between social bodies, which organize individual people into functioning groups for the good of the whole, and biological bodies which united individual cells into functioning organs for the good of the whole. And of course, according to the physicist, there are large super molecules which have the power of organizing smaller molecules into more complex wholes. And, according to the same physicists, there is a strong and weak force which holds atoms together.

        What are these forces which cause simple things to organize into more complex ones and then, after organizing them, hold them together so that they dont disintegrate or fly apart? In human term, it is Logic which is the great organizing principle that places things into groups and categories based on similarity of function and classifies them. However, thats not enough. Another, stronger force, is necessary to keep them together so that the functioning units remain united into one common goal. May I suggest that this strong force is love? The nuns and priests use to tell us that if God, who is love, wasnt thinking of us, we would cease to exist. What this analysis suggests is that this was more than pious rhetoric. If the strong force of love ceased to be active in our being, we would disintegrate into nothing. Thus, it is logic which brings us into existence as complex beings composes of trillion of cells which have been organized into one functioning being. But it is the stronger force of love which keeps us in existence. In the New Testament, St. Paul seems to confirm this when he says that at the end of time everything will be shaken and only those things grounded on love will remain.

        Thus to the physicists question of what are the weak and strong forces, my philosophical answer would be that logic or knowledge is the weak force because it is capable or organizing things but not of holding them together. Therefore, the strong force, philosophically speaking, is love, for without it, nothing stays together. Maybe that is why God is more concerned with changing our hearts rather than our minds. He knows that the mind might get you there but only love has the power of keeping you there.

        Recently I was listening to a tape by Fr. Dennis ODonnell who is the resident priest at Malvern Retreat House. Father ODonnell has a "down-to-earth" way of talking about sacred things in a deep way. I have always enjoyed his homilies because you get the sense there here a man who has been taught by life and not just by professors at the seminary. He has a way of shaking up deeply held perceptions about God and giving them a new twist.

         On the tape he was asking the retreatants why did God make you. Now any Catholic who came up under the Baltimore Catechism knows that answer as well as he knows his own name. The response was unanimous; "God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven."... "Wrong!" shouted Father ODonnell. The retreatants were shocked. To deny this was heresy. How could there be a better answer than this? Then Father ODonnell provided it. "God, he said, "made you because He loves you and has from the beginning of time." Wow! He was right. God doesnt need our love. He is love. God doesnt need servants because He is a servant to everyone else. In fact, it is His nature to serve and that is why Jesus washed the feet of His apostles to show them that to be the Master of All was to be the Servant of All.

        However, the Catechism answer is not completely wrong. In fact it is totally right except for the wrong reason. God does want us to know Him and to be happy with Him because that the kind of God He is. However, to know Him is to love Him and to love Him invokes in us, as it does with anyone we truly love, a desire to serve Him. Fr.. ODonnell was pointing out only what the scriptures themselves say, "It was not we who first loved Him. Rather, it was He who first loved us." In fact, as the scriptures also say, He knew us before we were conceived and He saw us in our mothers womb. We were a glint in Gods eye long before we were a glint in our natural fathers eye.

        Two programs ago, when I began this analysis of love, I ended with a song called The Song of Thanksgiving which was written by four young priests who had formed a music group called the Dameans. I had to cut the song short because of time, but its lyrics speak so directly to the theme that I am developing here that I would like to play it again in its entirety.

        The Song of Thanksgiving by the Dameans

Love that freely given wants to freely be received
All the love you poured on us can hardly be believed
And all that we can offer You is thanks; all that we can offer You is thanks.

Creation tells a story that began so long ago
Of Love that longed to share its life in hope that love would grow
The sun repeats each morning; the story is retold
And just in loves retelling, new chapter are unfold.

Your care called out a people. Your love made them Your own
You freed their hearts and calmed their fears and finally brought them home.
Its when our trials are ended we most easily forget
But your friendship never ceases; Your love shows no regret.

        Wow! What powerful lyrics. I told you that I learned some of my deepest theology by listening to the words of songs and hymns written by the poets among us. Fr. ODonnell must have been thinking about this song when he challenged the retreatants to tell him why God made them. Of course, he didnt put it in such poetic form, but basically what he said was:

Love that freely given wants to freely be received
All the love you poured on us can hardly be believed
And all that we can offer You is thanks; all that we can offer You is thanks.

Creation tells a story that began so long ago
Of Love that longed to share its life in hope that love would grow
The sun repeats each morning; the story is retold
And just in loves retelling, new chapter yet unfold.

Your care called out a people. Your love made them Your own
You freed their hearts and calmed their fears and finally brought them home.
Its when our trials are ended we most easily forget
But your friendship never ceases; Your love shows no regret.

        One of the lines that really catches my attention is:Its when our trials are ended, we most easily forget" How true! How many of us fly to the Lord in times of trouble only after we have learned that we have cancer or a close love one is seriously ill or hurt, only to go back our lukewarm attention when things get better. You would think that God would get tired of our unfaithful ways, but, as the song assures us, His "friendship never ceases; (His) love shows no regret." How is this possible? To understand, we have to understand what kind of love He is.

        As I mentioned in my talk two programs ago, the Greeks had different words for the different kinds of love. When we think of love, we think of what the Greeks would call Eros, which is a passionate type of love that wants to possess the object loved for the purpose of satisfying its inner hunger. This type of love is based on feelings and is subjective because its focus in on itself. It says, "I love you because you make me feel so good." Of course, it is undependable because its fervor rises and falls with its feelings and changes every time its feelings change and, for the same reason it is incapable of loving its enemies because it confuses "love" with "like." How can it love what it doesn't like?

        The type of love that is God is the type the Greeks called Agape Love and it was based on an appreciation for the object loved independent of how that object made it feel. Its focus was on the loved one and not itself and, for that reason, it was often called "Unconditional Love." Most people think that this means that it accepts you as a drug addict, or prostitute, or rapist, or murderer. I dont think so because Agape Love is a "Transformational Love" which seeks to transform the loved one into "all that it can be." What is unconditional about it is that it doesnt require, as most of us do, that you love it back. It doesnt need your love to fill any emptiness or self-doubt about its own worth because it is full of self-love and self worth. It knows itself and it know that it is good and doesnt need any affirmation of its value from anyone outside of itself. In fact, in the liturgy of the Mass, there is a line that the priest says which states, "You have no need for our praise. Rather, it is our need to praise you." Thus, Agape Love, being totally full and not in need of others to fill any emptiness within itself, has no need to manipulate others. It can look at them objectively and appreciate them for who they are and not for what it can do for it.

        Let me illustrate the difference between Eros and Agape Love with an example that might appeal to sport fans. Lets imagine that years ago the Philadelphia 76ers are playing the Portland Trailblazers for the NBA championship. Its the seventh game and the winner of this game will become the new champions. The 76ers are ahead by one point and, with just 15 seconds to go, they have the ball out of bounds. All they have to do to win is to pass the ball in bounds and hold on to it for fifteen seconds. The ball is passed in and winds up in the hands of 76ers player who has a reputation for shooting the ball whenever he touches it. True to form, he takes a long shot 35 feet from the basket. The ball hits the front of the rim and bounces straight up. The gigantic players on both teams converge on the basket hoping to get the rebound when, suddenly, a short 510 guard on the Trailblazers, with springs in his legs, leaps high above everybody, grabs the ball high above the rim, comes down with the ball, dribbles out of the pack, and heads for the basket at the other end of the court. There is only one "76'ers" player between him and the basket. At full speed, the little guard fakes one way and goes the other, leaving the 76ers totally faked out of position. When he reaches the foul line, he leaps, flies, soars and, just before the buzzer sounds, he slam-dunk the ball into the basket, give the Trailblazers a one-point victory. There is a loud groan from all of the "76'ers" fans as their hopes for a national championship are destroyed by this brilliant play.

        Those fans ruled by Eros Love would start to curse and wish all kinds of bad luck on the man who destroyed their chances. However, those 76ers fans ruled by an Agape type love, although disappointed by the loss, would say. "Wow! What a play. Let me see the rerun on that. That has to be the best play that I have ever seen in my life." And, if the next day it was reported that the plane taking him home had crashed and he had been killed, the first group would cheer and say "Way to go! Thats the last time that guy will ever cause us grief! while the second group would say, "Oh no! What a tragedy. Im gonna miss him. He used to beat us every time he played but what a player. He was the greatest and I appreciated his skills even though they often destroyed us." Do you get the difference between the two types of love? Eros type love, because it is subjective, is determined by how an object or person makes one feel. If they make you feel good, then you love them but if they make you feel bad, then you dont. Agape, on the other hand, is objective, because it is based on knowledge rather than feelings. It is just what Brother Elifus Lewis at LaSalle said it was: an appreciation for the object loved independent of how it makes one feel. Great athletes often come to appreciate their opponents even though they are often victimized by their skills.

        The Greeks, because of their admiration for Agape Love, said that "you can not love what you do not know because love and knowledge go together." Therefore, they were not impressed by the instantaneous "love at first sight" that is so popular among us. They saw it for what it was. It was attraction not love. True love was something that developed as ones knowledge of the loved one increased and the greatest lover would be the person who had the deepest knowledge. I have already quoted the Bible showing the level of Gods knowledge about each of us and, therefore, it logically follows that, since no one knows us like God does, then no one could possibly love as deeply as He does. That is why the Greeks concluded that only God could love totally in an Agape sense.

        Why is it that only God can love totally in an Agape sense? For the same reason that only a full man can love a hamburger while a starving man cant. Suppose, for example, that I am the worlds greatest connoisseur of hamburgers and you bring me one to be evaluated. I look at it and say, "Oh look at the texture of that bun. Smell the aroma of that meat. Look at the wonderful toppings. This has to be one of the greatest hamburger that Ive ever seen!" You thank me for my appraisal and then ask, "Do you want a bite?" and I reply, "No thank you! Im full."

        Since God is the only totally full being in the universe because He lacks nothing, He is the only being who can look at everything else totally objectively. We, on the other hand, empty as we are, are always looking at people and things as objects to satisfy our needs. Because of this we are constantly manipulating other people to serve our own interests. Only occasionally do we seem able to put our own interests aside and to love, as Don Quixote would say "pure and chaste from afar."

        Most of us look at other creatures in nature either from the point of view of how their existence either threatens or enhances our own existence. For example, most of us look at alligators and crocodiles as monsters who might kill us or as commodities whose skin can be used to make shoes or handbags. A few of us, on the other hand, only want to know and understand them. Jacque Consteau, for example, the former French naturalist and aquanaut, has spent his life studying sharks, moray eels, alligators, crocodiles, and other life forms. As a result, he has developed a real love and understanding of them and what we consider to be monsters, he considers to be lovely beings worthy of love.

        I once saw a National Geographic special in which he and his team were called in by the Egyptian government to study a problem caused when they built the Aswan Dam on the NileRiver. It seemed that the change in the flow of the water was threatening the survival of the Nile crocodiles. Costeau and his divers were asked to study the nests that the croc built along the banks of the river. They had to dive into murky waters which was very risky because the crocs liked to lie on the bottom of the river and the divers risked being attacked if they should accidentally disturb them. Fortunately, no one was hurt. However, I like to speculate on what would have happened if Costeau himself had his armed ripped off by a croc while investigating the bottom of the river. Would he have come out of the water yelling and screaming, "Get some guns and start killing those ungrateful creatures. We came to save them and those ungrateful creatures show their appreciation by trying to kill us!" or would he have said, "Forget it guys. They are just dumb animals and they dont know what they are doing."

        Does this story sound familiar? It should. Do you know what you could do to Agape Love? You could beat it, crown it with thorns, drive it up a hill with a heavy burden on its back, and nail it to a cross and it would say, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." The Bible says that Jesus was the "visible sign of the invisible God" and once when he was asked by one of his Apostle to show him the Father, He responded by saying, "whoever sees Me, sees my Father." So what are we to conclude from this? That, if God is Agape Love, then the crucified Jesus is a visible demonstration of the nature of this type of love. It is a type of love which sacrifices itself out of love for others. So every time that we look at the crucifix, we are looking at the visible sign of the invisible God. We are looking at Agape Love.

        St. Paul gives us a detail description of this type of love, which, by now, we should know is a detail description of the nature of God. St. Paul writes;

        "Agape Love is patient and kind; it is not envious. It is not proud but gentle and meek and it never seeks its own way. It rejoices when the Truth prevails. It believes and endures all things. It hopes and bears every wrong. And it will never fail you."

         Now if this is a description of God, then the opposite ought to be a description of the devil who is:

        Impatient and unkind. Full of envy. Proud and harsh and is always seeking his own way. He rejoices when lying prevails. He is cynical and doesnt believe anything and he puts up with nothing. As a result, he is full of despair and bears grudges over the least offense. And you cant depend on him because he'll desert you at the first sign of difficulty.

        Not only is this a description of God and the devil. It is a description of the nature of heaven and hell because both are simply a reflection of the spirit of those who occupy them. Think about it. When we review our own behavior, which one of these descriptions comes closest to who we are. Personally, I see that I am in need of a lot of work before Ill be able to fit into a heavenly environment. As a result, I keep looking for examples on this earth of people who seem to be closer to this goal than I am so that I can attempt to emulate them.

        Mother Theresa of Calcutta, of course, comes to mind. She seems to have understood what most of us have a hard time understanding. She understood that the needs of others were opportunities for us to learn to love rather than burdens to be avoided and she thanked God for them all the time.

        She once said: "Today, once again, when Jesus comes amongst His own, His own don't know Him. He comes in the rotten bodies of our poor: He comes even in the rich, choked by their own riches. He comes in the loneliness of their hearts, and when there is no one to love them. Jesus comes to you and to me and often very, very often, we pass Him by.

        And, on another occasion she said: Let us all stop using guns and bombs to overcome the world. Let us use love and compassion. Peace begins with a smile- smile five times a day at someone you dont really want to smile at- do it for peace. So let us radiate the peace of God and so light His light, extinguishing in the hearts of all men, all hatred- and love for power.

        You know if she keeps talking like that, shell become a saint. But what is a saint? Its simply a person who, like Jesus, has decided to become a visible sign of the invisible God. In other words, a person who has learned to love in an Agape way. But thats not possible until we, like God, become filled with self-acceptance and self-love. Only then can we surrender our need to manipulate others to fill the emptiness within. And how do we acquire this self-acceptance and self-love? By using our God-given talents in the service of our fellow man. It really is true that in giving, you receive.

        Well, I see that my time is up and I still have a few comments to make on the transforming power of love which sometimes involves another dimension of love which is known as "Tough Love. In scriptures, God reminds us that a loving father disciplines his children and that is what we will take a look at next time.

        Heres Dom.