Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
As the saying goes, “love makes the world go ’round.” Love, the eternal theme, was there at the beginning of time when God made the world and everything in it. But sin entered the Garden and destroyed the intimate relationship humanity enjoyed with the Creator. Ever since Adam’s transgression, religion (from Latin, religare, meaning “to bind again, re-connect”) has offered us the hope of re-establishing the bond of communion that was torn apart by Original Sin.
Despite our tendency to go our own way, our Heavenly Father still cares for us and draws us to Him. And because our hearts were made for unity, we feel pulled toward the source of love like steel to a magnet, as the 17th century Mexican nun-poet Juana Inés de la Cruz put it. We somehow have this notion that man searches for God, but in reality it’s the other way around. The “Hound of Heaven” is constantly in pursuit of us.
From Genesis to Revelation God demonstrates His abiding concern for His children. After Adam sinned he hid from his Creator, but the Lord went looking for him and called out to him (Genesis 3:8-9). In I Samuel 3 He repeatedly summoned the boy Samuel, who would grow up to be a great prophet. The Gospels record how the Apostles, when they heard the Master calling them, left their former ways of life and followed Him. And Revelation 3:20 tells us that Jesus stands at the door knocking, waiting for us to open up so that He can come into our hearts, an image brilliantly captured by William Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World” (c. 1854). Simply put, God wants us to be in communion with Him.
It should come as no surprise that the first of the nine Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is love, that tricky little word with no true synonym that has so frequently been misunderstood. C. S. Lewis, in his classic study The Four Loves (1960), clears up some of the confusion. There are, he explains, three “natural” types: familial affection, friendship, and the well-known romantic variety, the latter reaching its ultimate expression in the conjugal bond between husband and wife. These three dimly reflect the “supernatural” form, charity, often denoted by the Greek term agape and the Latin caritas.
When we think of love, it’s usually something like tender affection for someone. Consider all the songs and movies that celebrate romance. But the real thing, agape, goes far beyond that. It’s sacrifice, giving of self until there is nothing left to give. It’s caring for someone who probably will not love us in return. Narcissism and lust have nothing to do with it; they are not even on the same spectrum.
Some may remember these lines from two popular 1960s songs that ponder the meaning of life: “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?” and “Is that all there is?” In the 1978 movie Superman, Clark Kent’s earthly father admits he doesn’t know why his foster son came to Earth, but he’s certain that he has come for a reason. We were all made for a purpose, and we have a reason for living, but it’s not to make a lot of money or pursue worldly pleasures, as our modern culture would have us believe. That’s not all there is. There’s so much more. In short, it’s all about love.
The Baltimore Catechism says God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him for all eternity in the next. The Father wants us, His adopted children, to enter into a personal relationship with Him, and when we do we’ll soon discover that love manifests itself most noticeably in sacrifice and service.
As Christians, we’ve all been sent on a mission. The last thing Jesus told His followers before His Ascension was to go out and evangelize the world (Matthew 28:19-20). That’s our mission today. At the conclusion of mass we hear: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
For a long time I prayed for some sign that would reveal to me my place of service. As I was making daily visits to a local nursing home where my mother was a resident, I had no idea the Lord was going to send me there as a volunteer. That had never occurred to me, even though the opportunity was right under my nose; I was just too blind to see it. In time I came to realize I’d finally found what I’d prayed for. That was and still is my mission, until I’m sent elsewhere. God works perfectly, but in mysterious ways.
I’d like to imagine one reason He created families was so parents could gain a better understanding of the meaning of John 3:16. The Father gave up His only Son and made Him suffer a cruel and excruciatingly painful death on the Cross in order to redeem us and save us from hell, which means eternal separation from God. Once parents reflect on how they would willingly make any sacrifice for their children, they can begin to comprehend how deeply our Heavenly Father cares for us.
The old cliché still rings true. Love does make the world go ’round. God continues to do His part, but are we doing ours? As the New Year begins, I need to ask myself a couple of questions that you may wish to ask yourself as well: “Do I put the Lord above everything else in my life?” and “Do I show as much concern for the welfare of others as I do for myself?” How we answer will reveal whether we’re helping the world go ’round or hindering it.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of Oxford St. John Parish.)