Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Love and vulnerability - Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh & C.S. Lewis

Yesterday I shared some of the insights of Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991). Here he reflects on the Lord's commandment to love one another. This is from Encountering Light, William Collins & Sons Co Ltd, Glasgow, 1975, pages 66-67:

Jesus told us that the distinguishing mark of his disciples is their love for each other, and this is not the ordinary 'loving our neighbours as ourselves' which is required of all men, but 'the fellowship of the Holy Spirit', Koinonia, a belonging together at the depth of ourselves. So we have to be a communion of saints, bound together, belonging together, needing, trusting, accepting each other.

I do not believe that any of us, whether minister, priest or layman, can find God without also finding a 'company of the beloved' with whom he can in some way share his search. 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name,' said Jesus, 'there am I in the midst.'

This is another paradox. I have already emphasized the utter necessity for every Christian to make time to be alone with God, and I have expressed my own belief in the sacrifice of the Mass as the focal point of Christian life. But it is too easy to get bogged down in generalities and pious resolutions. We have to make actual the trust and forgiveness and love which we learn and express in private prayer and public worship by actually practicing these things with our 'even Christians', as Julian of Norwich calls them.

This is the real test of love - to let others experience you as you really are, and trust that they will accept you as God accepts you, and then in turn to seek truly to accept them as they are, dull, ugly, boring, stupid, and selfish though they may be, and, indeed, as you may be. The work of Jesus is to make men whole, and the work of the Holy Spirit is to make men into a whole, to bring us closer and closer together until we find our unity with each other in him. These two kinds of healing go together, and it just is not possible to be whole and isolated at the same time. Even the Greeks were aware of this, thousands of years ago. Their word for a private person, someone who is cut off from the rest, was 'idios', from which we get the word 'idiot' - someone who is so mentally handicapped that he lives in a world of his own. 

C.S. Lewis expresses the same truth fairly starkly (some might say brutally!) in Four Loves, William Collins & Sons Co Ltd, Glasgow, 1960, page 169:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.


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