It is wonderful that you exist! : Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P. and the nature of Christian love
In his lecture entitled “How does God dwell in our love of each other?” Fr. Radcliffe examined the two major types of love in western thought, agape (brotherly, charitable love) and eros (intimate, romantic love), and how these types of love reveal the divine love of God. He told an amusing tale at the outset of his talk in which a friend asked him what he was working on as he prepared this particular lecture. When he answered that he was writing on “love,” his friend said something along the lines of “Not that old thing again?!”
But as the Church continues to discern the best way of responding to the many wars and crises in the Middle East and in other places, and as her Synod of Bishops prepare to meet for a General Assembly on marriage and the family, it seems to me that Radcliffe could not have selected a more appropriate theme for his talk.
What struck me most was its experiential quality. A learned Dominican himself, Radcliffe certainly gave a talk that was intellectually stimulating – something his brother St. Thomas Aquinas would have appreciated. The parts, however, that have stayed with me, that have left a lasting imprint on my heart, were not the comments on how Aristotle, Augustine, or Aquinas understood love, but rather the stories he shared. The natures of these stories ranged from silly and comical, to sad and unsettling. But all the stories were written in the same ink – the ink of love.
How does God love? In the very first story of the Bible, we learn about the nature of God’s all-powerful love. God creates out of unconditional love and creates by letting-be (e.g. “Let there be light . . .”). To love like God is to give space. The freedom that God gives creation allows humans the space to breathe, live, and hopefully, love. How great would our love for our parents, friends, partner, or spouse be if we loved by letting-be when things are tense? By giving space and freedom to our beloveds so that they can flourish? By not focusing solely on our own interests and what we can gain for ourselves in love? By helping our beloveds become the persons God desires them to be? Ultimately, to love like God is to love selflessly. This selfless love ought to not stay in our homes, but should rather manifest itself in all of our actions and interactions. When we are able to truly say to every human being (whether our life journeys cross or not) “it is wonderful that you exist!” We love in a manner within which God dwells. Such love has the power to change the world for the good.
What Radcliffe related to the audience were not simply lessons or morals; they were his own experiences of the love of God. The stories were part of a personal testimony of a man who has devoted his life to “reading faces,” to looking lovingly upon all people, and to praying for the grace to “see in the dark” with “eyes of faith.” Fr. Radcliffe is truly an example of someone who practices what he preaches. Those in attendance encountered the passionate, agapic love of a man on an epic quest to see the face of God in the faces of every person he meets during his earthly pilgrimage. It was a truly moving and inspirational encounter, an experience I will not soon forget. More importantly, it was an experience that shaped the way I live my life and how I choose to follow Christ. I pray now that I may love in a manner that is similar to the way by which God loves. I hope and pray that “all who have eyes to see” will use those very eyes to see more clearly the beauty and goodness of all of God’s creation. Because when one sees with eyes of love and faith one will joyfully exclaim to the other, “It is wonderful that you exist!”
- Sam McGrath
Jesuit Volunteer teacher and director of ministry at Nativity Prep Academy.
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