By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
In continuing to reflect on living a virtuous life, the virtue that motivates all the rest is love. It begins with the unconditional love of God for each human being seen especially in the Incarnation: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life" (John 3:16).
I didn't always realize this fundamental truth of my identity. Before I joined the Jesuits, what identified me to myself were the things I owned, my job, and what other people thought of me. Early on in my life as a Jesuit, I was given the gift of a wonderful spiritual director. He gave me a mantra to say every time I found myself doubting my self-worth: "God loves me and nothing else matters." This wise priest also recommended some scripture passages on the subject of God's love, for example, Isaiah 43:1-4 and Psalm 139, especially verses 13-14.
St. Francis de Sales expressed this process so well: "We love ourselves because we are created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). We love others because they also are made in the likeness of God." Thomas Merton summed it up, too, in his insightful way:
"To say I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason
for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Love is my name."
Love, by its very nature, does not close in on itself. It reaches out in compassion and generosity, mercy and kindness. It seeks a more just society and one that avoids violent behavior. Love manifests itself in ethical behavior, promoting integrity and honesty. As the late great theologian Karl Rahner wrote: "Christians by their very nature are supposed to witness to the unfathomable reality that God loves us. They have to love in deeds and not just in convictions and words, for those near and those far away."
The importance of love in one's faith life is clearly stated by St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians: "clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, and patience... Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect" (3:12-14).
"The three most empowering words in any language," writes Ralph "Bud" Fry, president of The Parent Project, are 'I love you.' Parents who understand the importance of these three words, and practice them daily, will have mastered the single most important element of successful parenting. Love and affection are the keys to effective parent/child communication and discipline, and play a vital role in building a child's self-esteem." 1
Irish spiritual writer, Peter Hannan, reminds us that the image of God in us is primarily a potential to take in the love of God. 2 That 'potential' needs affirmation and encouragement if we are to be able to 'love our neighbor as ourselves."
Also, see my book, God of Many Loves, which explores nine ways that God loves us. The ideas presented on each are amply illustrated by stories from a variety of laypeople. The book is best ordered from either Amazon.com or Amazon.ca
Post-Election Reflections - 2014
Recently, I have been reflecting on the role of Virtue Ethics in society and in a person's life. We have just finished our mid-term elections and that leads me to consider the virtue of Honesty: Honesty as it relates to the political realm.
If I were writing about honesty a week ago I would have stressed it in the kind of advertising one does for one's candidacy and in keeping track of one's campaign funds.
Now that the election is over, I look for those who were elected TO BE:
And, I want those elected TO HAVE:
THIS IS MY PRAYER FOR THOSE ELECTED
God of all nations,
God of our lives,
we pray for all our elected officials.
Grant them wisdom to discern the truth;
the courage to act on it;
and the humility to acknowledge they need
the help of others to secure it.
(November - December 2014)