For Love’s Sake Only
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” With these words, Christ describes the logic of His coming Passion to his Apostles. This truth, that in order to preserve our lives, we must be willing to lose them for Christ’s sake, and that if we wish to preserve them, holding on to what is ours in the world to the end, we will lose everything, is indeed a hard truth, both to understand and accept. In fact, based on misunderstanding of this teaching, many have criticized and rejected Christianity as a religion that glorifies suffering, that encourages self-hatred, and that opposes by nature human efforts at growth and healthy flourishing. Modern secularists still perceive the Christian faith, with its insistence of self-sacrifice and mortification, as a religion of deprivation, a belief in a grand “no” in the face of all that is most pleasant and beautiful.
It is, of course, not only the secular world that sees Christianity this way. We too, as good Catholics, can sometimes get caught up in a certain form of piety that does in fact glorify suffering in a strange way. We too can make the assumption that penance is good for its own sake, that self-denial is primarily a necessary means of self-punishment for sin and its consequences, and that we become truly excellent and worthwhile Christians once we have sufficiently paid the price of discipline. While the secular world sees this as destructive, we can sometimes see it as the true path of faith. Even when we do not believe this way, we may at least hear in the back of our minds the exacting voice of glorified suffering, telling us that we are not permitted to be at peace, and it’s not quite religion until it hurts.
To think in any of these ways, however, is not to think as a Christian. We must remember that the sufferings of Jesus, the moment when we offers His life to death for our sake, take place in the context of His loving relationship with the Father. He does all things, as He says elsewhere in the Gospels “so that the world might know that I love the Father.” Further, this love Jesus has for the Father comes from knowing the Father’s love for Him, in which the Father gives to the Son everything that is His. Christ our God suffers as He does because He forgets Himself in love for the one who has loved Him. He falls to the ground and dies because His whole life is already consumed in the fire of love.
This is also our calling. We do not lose our lives in this world for no purpose. We lose them as a result of forgetting ourselves in the love of Christ, which we receive and return. We do not carry our crosses out of a belief that we deserve pain, and that pain is good for us, but rather because we wish to follow closely the Lord who loved us first, and that means following Him through His Passion. We do not give ourselves in God’s service simply because duty is duty and good citizens serve, out of a bare sense of obligation, but rather because we have received to the point of self-forgetfulness, and we seek to offer the love we have known to others who need it. All things Christian begin and end in the love of God. Fidelity to this love will, certainly, bring about suffering as our attachments to the world are shorn, as our desires are purified, and as our
hearts are stretched enough to receive the gift of God Himself, but these are the suffering and death that come from love’s longing, and that bring life wherever they take root. We die only the death of love, which is in fact true life. May this understanding suffuse all our sacrifices this Passiontide with the tenderness of divine charity, and the joy of losing ourselves in love Himself.