If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:32-36).
I was speaking last Fall with a woman whose husband had abandoned her without warning. He left her with grave health issues and in a state of financial hardship. She is also a woman of faith and has been so most of her adult life.
She begged me to encourage seminarians to make certain their parishes have a ministry of outreach to the divorced. She said the aftermath of divorce is a time of terrible vulnerability when the divorced man or woman is poised to make either something really good out of it, or something really bad. Without guidance from the Church, she said, it’s very hard to make changes for the better as a Catholic. It’s much easier to make poor or stupid choices with long term damaging effects that make the practice of faith much harder. She also asked me to share with seminarians a few things she has learned over the previous two and a half years since her husband left her. Among many of the things she asked me to share, there was one insight that blew my mind. As I wrote out her words below, I can see how poorly I am conveying the power and beauty of her words. You see, my sentences contain none of the tears, pained facial expressions or passion she communicated as she spoke. But little is better than nothing, so here is what I have.
We were talking at this point about her insights into the above passage from Luke’s Gospel which, she said, was the passage her pastor gave her to pray on as he walked with her through the grief and anger and hurt.
…I used to think I lived those words when I put up with annoying in-laws or prayed for Al-Qaeda terrorists to convert to Jesus. Now I realize I had no clue. You can’t possibly know what it means to truly love someone *like that* until they no longer love you. But even more, not until you find yourself faced with someone who has done you harm and rejected your offers of love and poured poison in your medicine. These last years have felt like held my heart in my hand and he repeatedly slapped it down to the ground, laughing all the while at what a fool I was to trust him. Loving someone like that takes me beyond anything I have ever faced or imagined I could suffer. Sometimes I feel like I’m dying.
I believe I was terribly wronged by my husband, I was the victim. That’s the truth. But I’m not sinless by any stretch, nor was I totally innocent in the failure of our marriage. But it’s made me think so much about Jesus as an entirely innocent victim, whose love was and is and will be abused and rejected and mocked all the time. The rejection of pure and innocent love is a pain you can’t possibly understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself. Just imagine the pain of God at our rejection. It never really moved me before now. It was nice and Hallmark kinda touching, but let me tell you now it does move me. It’s totally crazy. It’s so much of my prayer life now.
I know for certain I’ve found at this point in my life a new calling and life mission from God. My vocation of marriage has turned into a vocation to love my husband faithfully the rest of my life, without his knowing or caring that I do. Without his reciprocating and with his rejection. My prayer every day is, “Christ give me your strength to love my husband as my sacrament until death. To pray for his well-being, his salvation.” My resolve is that his evil actions won’t kill my ability to love, but make it greater. But I could never do that alone. Without Jesus, I would only hate him. No Jesus, no way.
God the Father spoke to St. Catherine of Siena, as recorded in her Dialogue, words that echo the depth of power in this woman’s lived witness. I will leave you with them:
I ask you to love me with same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I love you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me–that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me.