How Do You Respond to a Love Like That?
By Sarah Summers Granger
The last fading rays of the sunset reflected off of the Mediterranean Ocean, giving the waves a silvery glow. I remember thinking that the view, the crisp February breeze, and the empty beach stretching out long in every direction were all so perfect. At any other time, I would have been captivated by every detail, but I couldn’t focus on any of those things. My mind was wrapped up in the handsome man standing beside me, my heart beat an excited rhythm as Kevin knelt in the golden sand and took my hand in his. I could still hardly believe he was really there. He had worked double shifts as a waiter, saved every penny he made (eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and Ramen), taken time out of his busy final semester at college, flown across the ocean to Spain, and travelled through a country where he didn’t speak the language. All this to surprise me at my mission post and, yes, ask for my hand in marriage. I wish I could remember everything he said. It was so beautiful. He had spent so long crafting a perfect proposal. He talked about how much he loved me and treasured everything about me, how he wanted to give his life to serving me, to serving Jesus together, how he loved my three children, how he wanted to serve them. He was so romantic, sincere, and committed to our love. He had sacrificed so much to make this moment perfect for me. He opened a tiny box, and showed me the most beautiful diamond ring I had ever seen. “Sarah, will you marry me?” he asked.
How do you respond to a love like that? What do you give in return for that kind of passion, sacrifice, and commitment? What if, in answer to that question, I had said, “Kevin, you are a great guy. That is so sweet that you love me so much. It’s really nice to know. Maybe we can see each other from time to time and be friends.” That would not have been the answer he was looking for! It would not really have even been an appropriate response. The love he had for me would not have been satisfied by casual friendship. The way that Kevin loved me, the commitment he had to me, the sacrifices he made for me, required a real response – either a wholehearted gift of myself to him wrapped up in my “yes”, or a rejection of his love by saying no. Without hesitation, I gave my yes, and I have never regretted it for a second. His love continues to amaze me every day. It reminds me of Christ’s love for me, and his proposal reminds me of the real question that Jesus asks every one of us.
Christ does not love me in an impersonal, unattached kind of way. He is not happy with whatever kind of affection I can throw His way. He is passionate about me; He loves me deeply. He became Man, was born poor and persecuted; suffered scorn, ridicule and abuse; was tortured and nailed to a cross; and died out of love for me. Not for “humanity”, for me. He has given all, done all, that He possibly can to show me His love. He is committed to saving me from sin, giving me a life full of His love on earth, and living forever in heaven with me. I remember being moved to tears during the movie The Passion of the Christ when Jesus, carrying his bloody cross and scarred almost beyond recognition, looked directly at me. I felt in that moment that Christ wanted me to know that His Passion, his loving gift of every excruciating breath, was given for me, to me. He points to His sacrifice and asks, “Will you love me?”
How do you respond to a love like that? What do you give in return for that kind of passion, sacrifice, and commitment? Too often I think, “Wow, it’s great how much Jesus loves me. He is so nice to love me so much. I should pray today and go to Mass this Sunday.” Meanwhile, Jesus poured out ALL of His life for me. He wants all of me. All of my day, all of my life, all of the time. Just as Kevin asked me for a complete gift of myself, Jesus gives Himself to me and asks me to respond in kind. Anything less than all of me is, in essence, saying no to His love.
When I committed to Kevin, I realized that in marriage he became part of every part of my life. I couldn’t continue to see other people, live life as though he didn’t exist, offend him, ignore him, make decisions without him. I couldn’t keep my old life completely intact and squeeze him into the corners of it. Our marriage is beautiful because we are excited to make our lives about each other – we are completely committed to each other, we make decisions thinking of what the other would like, we try to make each other happy, we sacrifice for each other. Our love for one another deserves and demands a whole life response. Jesus’ love for me is the same. It deserves and demands a life changing, life encompassing response.
Prayer: Our response
Prayer is an expression of our love for God. Even when Kevin and I were separated by an ocean, we longed to communicate so much that we spent a (not so) small fortune in phone cards. If we respond to Jesus’ love with love, we will longingly desire to communicate with Him. As St. Augustine says, “The desire is thy prayers; and if thy desire is without ceasing, thy prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.” In prayer, we respond to Him by reading scripture and spending time with Him every day. Praying alone, with our families, throughout our days. Communicating with Him regularly, deeply, and sincerely is the basis of our response to Him.
Fasting: He is more important than the things we enjoy
We fast, practicing self denial. By denying ourselves, we tell Him that He is more important than the other things that we enjoy. We should always be seeking ways to “take up our cross and follow Him.” In fasting, we cleanse ourselves of excess. We pray to discern what is excessive in our lives, and to discern what is important to the Lord. In Isaiah, God is very clear about the kind of fasting that He expects from us:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” Is. 58: 6-9
True fasting is giving our all to Jesus, especially as we encounter Him in the poor and oppressed. He promises to be there for us, to be in relationship with us, when we choose this relationship with Him. We should choose to fast in this way, to be radically and completely His. Giving your life in foreign missions is one way to give it all. Offering everything you do every day, regardless of what it is, is essential. In fasting, we should hold nothing back from Him, and remain open to responding whatever His call is on our lives.
Almsgiving: Love demands
Almsgiving is tied to fasting in that as we rid ourselves of excess, we are better able to practice being generous to others. Whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers, we do to Jesus. Our generosity to the poor is generosity to Christ. We are simply responding to his passionate, generous love. As St. Francis of Assisi so beautifully explained after literally giving the clothes off of his back, “I should be accounted a thief by the great Almsgiver were I to withhold that which I wear from him who has greater need of it than I.” A generous love demands a generous response. Almsgiving should change our hearts, change our lives.
If we are generous with Jesus, He promises to be generous with us. He has already passionately committed himself completely to us. Giving ourselves completely to Him in love is the only way to be saved by Him:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Mt. 16: 24-27