There is a quote from C.S. Lewis that has haunted me for years. It’s one of those quotes that gets inside you, that can change your whole perspective on the world and how you approach your life.
There was a time when I was, if not exactly content, at least resigned to idea of remaining single and unattached. It seemed easier, less messy, than seeking to give my heart to someone who could then potentially cause so much grief and pain. Even if they were the most admirable and loving of human beings, what if they died? What if some terrible accident happened and I was left alone once more, but now with a mountain of grief to battle? Better to just keep to myself. A little loneliness was better than all that potential pain, right?
Then I read these lines in C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
I knew the truth of these words as soon as I read them, and they have never left me since. I knew I didn’t want that impenetrable and irredeemable heart that Lewis described, though I had certainly been working to line that casket and make it as comfortable as possible. I slowly started to strip away the hobbies and “little luxuries” with which I had been protecting myself, and I forced myself to be present to the people God had put in my life, heart in my hand and not in its safe box.
I reminded myself that we are made for love, not necessarily for happiness.
In the years since I became a Catholic, every Lent I have grown in my understanding of what it means to love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) God gave us the very model of what it is to love: He gave us Himself, He gave us the second Person of the Trinity, His very own Beloved. And “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) God, King of the Universe, loves us so much that He spent over 30 years living in poverty and obscurity with us. He loved us so much that He died for us, and died the most gruesome and painful of deaths. He didn’t have to do any of it, but He chose to share our lives, and He chose to give us His.
In her book The Way of the Cross, Caryll Houselander reflects, “He stood there identified with everyone who loves, because everyone who loves must be known sooner or later as he is, without pretense, stripped bare.” Our Lord allowed the very flesh to be stripped from His Body, His heart and side to be pierced. He was mocked and ridiculed by the very people that He loved and came to save, and I don’t just mean those actually present at the crucifixion. God is present in every moment of time, He knows and loves each one of us as if we were the only person He had ever created, and He knows every time that we have denied Him, cursed Him, mocked Him. Yet He still loves us. He still stripped Himself bare and gave up His life on the cross, for you and for me. As St. John told us, God is love, and that is what Love does.
Christ did this to save us, but in more ways than one. He was giving us a model. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) We cannot protect ourselves from pain in this world, and we cannot protect ourselves from death. As Lewis said in another of his essays, death itself is not a chance at all, but a certainty. So how will we live our lives and how will we meet that death when it comes? Jesus gave us the example we are to follow: to live, and die, for others. That’s what it means to love. And it was not just God who gave His only begotten Son; the Blessed Virgin Mary bore Him, raised Him, loved Him not only as her son but as her God and as the Savior that her people had waited ages for, and she suffered with Him on the way to Calvary and watched as He died on the cross. She loved with the most perfect love that a human is capable of, allowing her own heart to pierced in sorrow, and she is now seated in heaven as the Queen of Angels and of Men. She understands our sorrows and our griefs, she looks on us with compassion as only a mother can, but she also knows the rewards that are in store for us if we persevere. She will share her strength with us, if we turn to her and let her work in our lives.
The next time we look on a crucifix, let us see it for what it truly is: the image of ultimate love. Let us remember that that act of love was done for each one of us, for God is present in all eternity and knew you before you were born and knows every hair on your head.
I’ll end with a reflection from St. Ambrose, from an exposition on Psalm 118:
Let your door stand open to receive Him, unlock your soul to Him, offer Him a welcome in your mind, and then you will see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the joy of grace. Throw wide the gate of your heart, stand before the sun of the everlasting light that shines on all, but if anyone closes his window he will deprive himself of eternal light. If you shut the door of your mind, you shut out Christ. Though He can enter, He does not want to to force His way in rudely or compel us to admit Him against our will.