Photo: Felix Carroll
Love is a gift, and by definition, a gift carries no guarantee of return.
The Gift You Give
That's Always Between You and God
By Marian Friedrichs (Dec 10, 2010)
My mother recently shared with me a quotation she had heard, attributed to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: "In the final analysis, it was always between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway."
"It" refers to giving service, and "them" refers to the people we serve who prove to be ungrateful or who actually turn on us. Many good-hearted people are ready and willing to serve, but here's the footnote for Christians: As Mother Teresa reminds us, we are called to continue to reach out and offer our gifts, whether our hands get bitten or not.
Like many truths of Christianity, it's counter-cultural. More than that: It's downright contrary to human nature. After all, when we try our best to do good to others, we expect some thanks. It's hard to imagine that we could continue to give of ourselves if we didn't get any appreciation in return, or worse, if we got criticism instead. Most people wouldn't put up with it for long. But as Christians, we don't have the luxury of comparing ourselves to most people. We have to compare ourselves to Jesus, and one of the most central ways to imitate Him is to give to those from whom we never get anything back.
As a student of God's mercy, St. Faustina learned directly from the Lord how to give without considering even the possibility of receiving thanks. Very often she couldn't expect to be thanked because the ones she served never knew about what she had done. They might not even have known that they had been helped. She writes in her Diary, for example:
Once, I took upon myself a terrible temptation which one of our students in the house at Warsaw was going through. It was the temptation of suicide. For seven days I suffered; and after the seven days Jesus granted her the grace which was being asked (192)
Seven days of utter hopelessness to the point of longing for death seem impossible to bear. Yet that is what Faustina took upon herself, and it's what that student was spared — probably without ever knowing it — while receiving graces from Jesus instead. Such a gift may sound like an unbelievable one until we remember that Jesus gave us the same gift: He suffered torments in His body and His mind that we can hardly fathom, torments that should have been ours. In their place, we are offered as many graces as we will take — and even more than we can imagine, as St. Faustina points out in Diary entries 164, 294, 367, 383, and others.
But just as God's love is limitless, our love must be so limitless that to the world it looks like foolishness. Jesus taught St. Faustina to love not only those who could not give thanks but also those who added to her pain. In her Diary, she describes the moment when she discovered that if she wanted to be appreciated and admired by people, she would be less able to love them as Jesus loved and as He wanted to teach her to love:
Once during an adoration, the Lord demanded that I give myself up to Him as an offering, by bearing a certain suffering in atonement, not only for sins of the world in general, but specifically for transgressions committed in this house ... Jesus gave me to see what I was going to suffer ... Firstly, my intentions will not be recognized; there will be all kinds of suspicion and distrust as well as various kinds of humiliations and adversities (Diary, 190).
We can infer that this suspicion and distrust will come from the people St. Faustina sees every day: her fellow religious sisters. Yet Jesus asks her to suffer those hurtful attitudes — specifically to atone for the sins of the sisters in her house. As surprising as it may be to think of someone taking on someone's suffering without that person ever finding out, it seems downright senseless that someone would take on suffering for the sake of the very person who is causing it. To the world, it certainly is senseless. If it weren't, everyone would be a Christian; the love of Christ would come naturally.
We know it doesn't, and that's why Jesus came to earth and embraced His cross in the first place: to teach those who are willing to learn what true love really is. It's why St. Faustina and so many other saints have had to suffer in proportion to their love: because love is a gift, and by definition, a gift carries no guarantee of return. In this world, true love — the gift of self to the same people who drive in the nails — looks like outright insanity.
Luckily, those who see it that way don't have the last word. When we love in this seemingly insane way, we imitate Christ. The better we imitate Christ, the closer we come to unity with the Father, which leads to happiness as unimaginable as the suffering we will eventually leave behind. So when we love, we don't need to worry about whether our love is returned or even recognized. We can pray one of St. Faustina's exclamatory prayers that summarizes our call simply and perfectly: "All for Jesus" (Diary, 162).
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.