Paul 3. Colossians : Love

Saint Paul: Andrei Rublev

'Clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony'(3:14)

No one will listen to our proclaiming the Good News unless they see and feel love.

52-55AD Ephesus. 'Paul entered the synagogue [in Ephesus] and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord'(Acts 19:8-10).

It is likely that it was during his stay in Ephesus that Paul composed the letter to the church in Colossae.

'We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven'(1:4-5).

'As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony'(Colossians 3:12-14).

Being loved is essential for a true sense and appreciation of one's uniquely lovable self, and therefore for on'e ability to 'love your neighbour as yourself'.

• Love-communion with one's mother is the basis of one's consciousness of oneself as being desired, loved, good.

• We must grow beyond this, for we must come to experience ourselves as lovable, desirable because of who we are (not just as one's mother's child).

• So as we begin to explore life beyond our mother, we need her to stay with us, to love us, to encourage us, to protect us. We need to experience that her love is not dependent on our clinging to her. Our sense of self as loved is not to depend on our clinging to our mother.

To love someone is to see that person's true beauty, to believe in them, and to relate to them in a way that helps bring out (educare) their true beauty (compare Michelangelo and 'David'). This love awakens in the person loved a desire to be in communion with the lover, and, indirectly, this awakening of desire awakens the feeling of being desirable.

This being loved by another is a sacrament of the love that is God, and awakens a sense of being unconditionally loved.This isa religuous experience in which everything comes together, and the person loved experiences a belonging that is not limited to current experience, but is a sense of belonging to the universe, belonging to God.

However, with the awakening of self-awareness we experience a radical ambivalence. Who loves us, and the purity of their love, have a big influence on how we handle this ambivalence. On one hand we want to 'feel good', and so we tend to cling to, and seek to reinforce the social context in whioch we have learned that we are loved. This includes the biasses and prejuduices of family, culture, race, nation and creed. This binds us to what we customary call 'original sin'(to sin of our origins), and it acts as a resistance to the other contrary impulse, which is the impulse of the Spirit of God calling us and gracing us to grow into who we really are in our unique self. This 'freedom' has its fears. We can opt for inertia, and when we experience dislocation in our being loved we are not only disappointed, but sin enters in when we taske this dislocation to be all there is. We fail to trust our primary awareness of ourself, our fundamental desire.

On the other hand we have this hunger and thirst to 'live to the full'(John 10:10). We sense that we are 'made for God, and our heart is restless till we rest in God'(Augustine). We long to be free to be captivated by grace.

In its essence, self-awareness affirms the self. We have a basic sense that we are desirable, good. If others love me poorly, if others use 'love' to satisfy their own needs rather than to affirm me, or if I fail to resist the temptation to avoid freedom, I am likely to nurture a poor, distorted (inflated?), unreal image of myself.

In his Let this mind be in you, Sebastian Moore OSB writes: ' As my basic awareness of myself grounds all that I come to know, so my basic love of myself grounds all that I come to want'(pasge 15). 'It is in feeling happy, or angry, or sad, or hopeful, in response to an event, that I touch base with myself'(page 17).

There is a real danger that the spontaneous, first-hand, feeling response is replaced by an internalised self-image of myself as the object of another's love (significantly that of a doting mother). It is important that my affirmation of another be a genuine response to their real self. Otherwise people can develop an expectation that is out of touch with what other people actually feel them to be. This highlights the truth that to truly love another is to want them to be their unique self, not to bind them to myself in such a way as to make them feel that their self awareness is dependent on their belonging to me.

Here we come up against the environment (as distinct freom the hereditary) dimension of 'original sin'. There is a constant danger that society will reinforce in us the need to see ourselves as others see us, or as others tell us we are seen.

Moore writes: 'It is always some, often subtle, self-rejection that hinders us from believing in another's finding us attractive, and from seeing that the other does so when this happens'(page 27).

To the extent that other people's love encourages our dependence on them, our focus is on the attractiveness of the other person. To the extent that their love focusses on us and encourages inter-dependence, our sense of our being desirable is reinforced. Their love is helping us discover our real self.

Moore writes: 'The vital centre of human relationships is arousal: the awakening of a person's sense of being desirable, not (as commonly supposed) by being desired by another; but by being aroused by another to desire')page 44).

Sin is basically saying No to my true self - my good self. The cure is to experience myself as I really am - someone desired by God. Moore: 'Sin consists in treating a partial view of life as the whole'(page 98). 'Sin is refusal to grow'(page 99). We must be careful not to misunderstand Paul when he speaks of 'spirit' and 'flesh'. The 'flesh' is good (God saw all that he had made, and it was very good' Genesis 1), but not qwhen it separates itself from the 'spirit'(eros/ élan vital).

Some Gospel reflections:

• Jesus' Baptismal Experience (Mark 1).

• In the parable of the prodigal son, note that the father goes out to both boys (Luke 15).

• Listen to the leper: 'If you want to you can heal me'(Mark 1).

• Jesus' response to the plea of the Good Thief'(Luke 23).

• Jesus' words to the woman caught in adultery: 'I do not condemn you. Go, sin no more'(John 8:11).

The love in the heart of Jesus is the love Jesus receives from God. It is this love that is poured into our hearts through the gift of the Spirit, and it is this love that flows out from our hearts to embrace our brothers and sisters. Paul wrotes: 'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us'(Romans 5:5).

George Herbert (1593-1633)

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack from my first entrance in,
Drew near to me, sweetly questioning if I lacked anything.

'A guest', I answered, 'worthy to be here'. Love said, 'You shall be he'.
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on Thee'.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, 'Who made the eyes, but I?'

'Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame go where it doth deserve'.
'And know you not', says Love, 'who bore the blame?' 'My dear, then I shall serve'.
'You must sit down', says Love, ' and taste my meat'. So I did sit and eat"

A reflection on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (see Lecture 2).

'Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love'(1Corinthians 16:13-14).

'The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”(Galatians 5:14).

'The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”(Romans 13:9).

Love for God, that is to say, a commitment to listen to God's word and obey God's will, makes possible a love for others that transcends natural friendship, convenience and self-interest. Love for others is the test of the reality of one's love for God. As John says: 'Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen'(1John 4:20).