The Secret of Staying in Love
By Br. Leonard Konopka, MIC (Feb 12, 2007)
"A soul that loves Me very much must, ought to live by My will. I know your heart, and I know that it will not be satisfied by anything but My love alone."
— Our Lord to St. Faustina, (Diary of St. Faustina, 1023)
St. Faustina prayed: "Thank You for these gifts, but my heart is dying of longing for You, and nothing earthly is tasty to me. I desire the food of Your love" (Diary, 1026).
I recall how once, when giving a retreat, I referred to the fact that St. Faustina made more than 140 references to love in her Diary. I mentioned that her love for Jesus manifested itself in so many ways, that sometimes I felt like an intruder as I reflected on the loving — and at times, intense — dialogue between the both of them.
Someone raised their hand and asked that proverbial question: "Brother, have you ever been in love?"
I replied: "Yes, many times! It's one of the easiest things to do in life. The difficult part is staying in love." Staying in love takes continuous effort for everyone involved.
Religious life has certain similarities to marriage — albeit, in the religious life our spouse is our Lord. Still, both parties in such a relationship often seek ways to love or to be loved.
In my "marriage with our Lord," I, too, experience a certain tension. For instance, there are moments when He wants His way and I want mine. In my case, such tension ceases only when I surrender to Him, when I spend more time with Him, when I think of Him, and when I serve Him the best way I can. That's when we stay "in love" with each other.
Just like couples can experience, I find that my pride, judgmentalism, unrealistic expectations, doubts and other anxieties can get in the way of my loving relationship with Him. For example, as long as His demands are "acceptable" I can delight in His presence, accept His will and lovingly keep His image before me.
However, when I have difficulty in accepting His will due to a cross He may be asking me to carry, then there is that inevitable tension. This cross then is not from Him. Rather, it is due more often to my wanting my own way. It is precisely in these moments when I always falter just like Peter did in the storm when he took his eyes off Jesus (cf. Mt 14:30).
I rarely feel His Presence at times of great inner turmoil, or those times of undifferentiated fears, but it is I who have turned away not Him. His love never ceases. His caring is beyond question. His hand always reaches out to pull me out of the murky waters. It is precisely at these moments that I probably pray the best. I realize I need to rely on Him. And He seems to whisper: "You've finally caught on!"
Two characters in Alan Paton's book Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful symbolize for me the notion of staying in love. The girl in the story has a critical facial disfigurement. She falls in love and marries a blind man — the only person she had known who accepted her unconditionally. He made her feel special, totally loved, accepted, and affirmed.
One day an eminent surgeon examined the blind man and assured him that with modern advances in medicine his blindness could be cured. Joy filled his heart, but fear gripped hers. Sensing her reserve, the blind husband wanted to know why she was not enthusiastic. The wife finally admitted her severe facial blemishes, which she now suspected would separate them. After a moment's hesitation, the blind man said: "I love you so much that I will stay blind. Your happiness means more to me than my sight."
That's one of the secrets of remaining in love. He thought more of her than of himself.
I can't help but be moved by his example. Yet, a far greater love flows from the Merciful Heart of Jesus. Only His mercy can alleviate our fears of being unworthy. He cannot deny the ugliness of our sin-disfigured soul and is not repulsed but still loves us even more.
Saint Thomas Aquinas believed that Jesus always sees an innate goodness in each of us that evades our own comprehension and acceptance. He remains in love with us. He loves to show us His mercy. He showed this love and mercy on the cross. He shows it to us today through the Image of The Divine Mercy, with the blood and water flowing from His heart.
"My gaze from this image is like My gaze from the cross," He told St. Faustina (Diary, 326).
What more can He say or do? God the Father laid all our disfigurements, blemishes, and iniquities on His only begotten Son, who accepted the anguished rejection, toxic guilt, pitiful shame, and dreadful separation from God that sin always brings. It's as if the Father showed no mercy to His own Son but laid on Him the guilt of us all.
As the face of the woman in Mr. Paton's story was disfigured, so too, are our own souls. However, St. Faustina assures us that the greatest sinner has the greatest right to His mercy (see Diary, 598). Jesus is not blind to our blemishes, but on the contrary, relishes the thought that eventually we will turn to Him for His mercy and love.
When I reflect on who shows me the most love in this world, other than Our Lord, I believe that I have to thank the following for greatly helping me understand what are some of the other secrets of remaining in love:
All those soldiers fighting in Iraq and elsewhere so that I/we can have the luxury of praying, serving others, and living a life of serenity.
All those who had to give up their sons, daughters, fathers or mothers to this war and yet not give in to bitterness and rejecting God due to their immense losses. To the soldiers who died, God rest their souls.
All the people who go to sleep at night and wake up every day to take care of an invalid parent or sickly child, especially autistic ones.
A spouse who must live with addictions of various kinds in their marriage, yet remain forgiving, merciful, tolerant, and faithful to the end. This is also true of those separated by divorce, regardless of the circumstances. They now cling to God as never before.
All the doctors, nurses and those in the mental health field who are serving with great effort in providing consistent assistance to others in need.
Priests who may not be entirely appreciated by some of their flock, and yet who must stand there every day and proclaim His word in season and out of season.
Those who work in prisons who must look at those incarcerated who never get visitors, and whose eyes plead with an expression: "But do you at least care for me?"
For the continued ability to remain in love with those significant others in our life, and out of gratitude for all the love we continue to receive from others we pray:
Father, I thank You for giving me Jesus whose light brightens the darkness of my world and who remains in love with us. Lord Jesus Christ, I thank You for Your Mercy that far surpasses Your justice.
Thank You for giving yourself to me so completely and for showing me to what lengths You have taken to prove Your love. Thank You for letting me become more aware of how much more I can now trust You as a result. Amen.
With St. Faustina we can pray:
I bow down before You, O hidden God
And love You with all my heart.
The veils of mystery hinder me not at all;
I love You as do Your chosen ones in heaven.
I bow down before You, O Lamb of God
Who take away the sins of my soul,
Whom I receive into my heart each morn,
You who are my saving help (Diary, 1324).
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Brother Leonard Konopka, MIC, is on the staff of the Marian Seminary in Washington, D.C. He also provides spiritual direction, retreats, and seminars. Brother Leonard has a leaflet available that has a series of meditations on the five wounds of our Lord. The meditations are intended for use while praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Click here to order Contemplate My Wounds. He also has a CD available with the meditations on the five wounds, interspersed with the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Click here to order A Musical Interlude.