"Was it not your bliss that you could never love as much as you have been loved?"
The Reverend Blogger may surprise some of his loyal readership by featuring a song by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Although my preferred musical genre is the "American Popular Standards" rendered by such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, I have branched out in unexpected directions over the years. I enjoy musicality wherever it can be found.
I also enjoy a good lyric--both for its own sake and for its applicability to human and spiritual development...even if the connection is a tad strained. (I call it the sensus plenior of songs: the deeper meaning which the human author didn't intend.) A Scripture prof used to say before the age of internet self-publication, "There's a homily in there somewhere!" And, by gum, we'll find it!
The inspiration for the current post originated in the above quote from Kierkegaard, found in Hans Urs von Balthasar's A Grain of Wheat: Aphorisms. With my increasingly short attention span, sometimes an axiom succeeds where a chapter fails, especially when it comes to a theologian as prolific and profound as von Balthasar. While his own words comprise the bulk of this work, he adds several of his favorites from the tradition (e.g. Augustine, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross) and more contemporary authors such as Kierkegaard.
As the great feast of our salvation approaches, we do well to consider how Our Lord's Self-offering reveals the extent of divine love, which I hereby dub "The Sic Factor"--as in, sic Deus dilexit mundum ("For God so loved the world," Jn 3:16). As St. Paul notes, "Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:7-8). Yes, folks, ours is a God who goes to unfathomable lengths to secure the likes of us, precisely in our situation of alienation from Him.
Aphorisms shouldn't have to be dissected; but permit me, just this once, for righteousness' sake:
Contemplate (1) the extent of God's love for you (considered both as immediate and mediate; i.e. His Tri-Personal expressions of love and all approximations of the same, especially from fellow human beings, and, above all, whomever we may have offended).
(2) the limits of our capacity to give love (think of Peter's threefold affirmation, which, without Jesus' third try, never would have transcended the love of friendship to the heights of agape, love's self-sacrificial summit).
(3) the limits of our capacity to receive "love so amazing, so divine" which "demands my soul, my life, my all" (Isaac Watts, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross").
Then collapse in ecstasy: the only suitable response.
With some debt to various relevant submissions from songmeanings.net, we can put the Jamaican Jammer's amorous anthem in our pipe and smoke it, stanza by stanza, 'til it's cashed. Of course, the Rev'd Blogger alone claims the creation of these fumes. Nobody else would.
Many and aggressive are the forces that oppose the acceptance of our lovability, but we can boil them down to three: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Or to another, biblical bundle: "sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life" (1 Jn 2:16). They are the "them" whom Marley decries in the opening stanza, for their futile attempts to set straight the song's subject regarding the propriety of their relationship. He encourages the woman's independence of thought, likely to the exclusion of all (even generally acceptable) standards originating outside of them. The rightness of their love will manifest as surely as the dawn. While Marley and his missus disregard their gainsayers with defiance, we resist our opponents with respect for their shrewd strength and for our witless weakness. Most of all, however, our love for God and neighbor persists with grateful trust in the Lord. He has won the victory...though in us the victory is not yet fully realized. Hence the need for prayerful vigilance.
The second stanza expresses a universal observation regarding the need to withhold judgment in light of our own vulnerability. Marley seems to be directing it to the adversaries cited in the first stanza, as if to suggest that their assessment of this relationship is superficial and prideful, and risks an eventual evaluation from them, or perhaps some other contentious source.
Tense times try people's insecurities, especially with regard to the divine-human relationship, the paradigm for every trust-based communion. The world, the flesh, and the devil are eager to "change" and "rearrange" our priorities. Mindful of this, we gain a renewed appreciation of this life's fragility. If we are to withstand temptation, we must grow in spiritual fitness through prayer, sacrament, study, and sacrifice.
In His parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-13), we can say that Jesus likens sanctifying grace to the oil that lights the lamps that guide us to the heavenly nuptial banquet hall. Grace is "the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life" (CCC 1996; cf. esp. 1996-2005). It is unearned, yet we must constantly cultivate our disposition to it by the means described in the previous paragraph. Marley taps a hydrant for the current image of grace. Granting the appropriate sexual overtones of the song's literal sense, we can just as easily consider the entirety of the Beloved's spiritual and emotional resources. The foolish virgins don't value their vials until they are void. The wiles of the ancient Enemy seem inexhaustible, his mettle unyielding, and his appetite insatiable. All God's children are subject to the satanic suitor, though whoever gives him regard becomes an easy target. He capitalizes upon any amount of resentment or fear in the human heart.
"Say something": Marley insistently yearns for the Beloved to respond to his initial question, the song's title. The first response must be interior. Yes, you have offended; you have pursued lesser loves, cheapening your commodity; you yourself have been "despised and rejected by men" (Isa 53:3) whose appraisal of you was deficient; but the Lover does not demur in making His request. Your freedom is never compromised in the acceptance of God's proposal, nor would you be spurned by any worthy person who worthily loves you.
God's variety of love--unconditional love--is hard to get, though God doesn't play hard to get. It demands change: in particular, refraining from judging others based on our limited perception of their relationships, abilities, possessions, etc. Letting oneself be loved may be less about spiritual fitness than about the admission of fragility that assures divine attention: the way of spiritual childhood advocated and embodied by the Little Flower. Generations have lauded her brand of bold dependence on God. Her insufficiency, and ours, makes recipients of us all, recipients of our all. Heaven and earth await your Yes.