The Awakening: Falling in Love
We reach mature love when we cultivate the primordial truth of falling in love: finally “seeing” another person as other. From this place, we no longer see others simply as useful extensions of ourselves. When we fall in love, we welcome the other in a real and dramatic way—as mystery, rather than as useful. We can distinguish authentic falling in love from passing erotic emotions by using this standard. We have received and are now cherishing with great fascination, the reciprocal respect each has for the other as mystery. By mystery I mean that lovers receive one another as gifts from God.
When we receive one another as gifts, our behavior is transformed from that of seeking or even taking to that of receiving in gratitude. In mature love it is gratitude that occupies the core of our experience of the other.
The conversion wrought by falling in love has its origins in the death of the ego and the simultaneous reception of the other as the truth of our life’s meaning. Where before the self was at the center of all thought and decision making, after falling in love, the beloved now occupies that space. To have the deepest part of “me” be “another,” as French philosopher Gabriel Marcel once noted, is the very definition of the fruit of love’s conversion.
Falling in Love with God
God takes the initiative in the case of human-divine love. God sees us first, so to speak, and then we respond to being beheld; but we have to affirm the gaze of God as he loves us within the very truth of our created and redeemed being. We have to let the truth of his love wound us and open us to being affected by such love. God’s love for us is received most securely through our vulnerability to Christ. Christ is the face of God, and he reveals that face when we are not afraid to let him affect the fullness of our humanity.
Some, out of fear (cf. Mt 14:27), receive his presence with curiosity and remain guarded and in control, refusing to allow divine beauty to lead inexorably to surrender. These curious ones remain “scholars” in the faith. They regularly caution others not to trust the affective response, as if “distance” guarantees love and affection breeds bias rather than clarity. No doubt both reason and affect are tainted by sin and weakness; but it is only through deep engagement with the Word, and not through acts of affective detachment, that both reason and affect are purified.
A catechist is someone who desires to rest upon the heart of Christ and to receive all that he wishes to give from that heart. What is in the heart of Christ? “Only by participating in what is most personal to [Christ], his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity. The Church arises out of participation in the prayer of Jesus (cf. Lk 9:18-20; Mt 16:13-20).” (i)
To have Christ pray in us happens as the logical outcome of allowing him to behold us in love. As we respond to this beholding, we let what he has affected—namely our mind, heart, and will—become entryways through which he passes in order to dwell within us.
The decision to open these doors and allow him to enter the heart is dramatic: will I or will I not resist Pentecost? With the coming of the Spirit comes personal knowledge of God, a knowledge that deepens doctrine within but does not leave us only contemplating “data.” Reception of the Spirit always leads to a truth become love. The Spirit helps us receive his Truth so we might know his Love.
As Benedict XVI notes: “The love-‐story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment…God's will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself.” (ii)
If we allow Christ to enter, we welcome his fidelity to who he is: the Father’s Son. Thus our hearts become the arena within which he shares this fidelity with us. This sacred exchange or prayer deeply etches our interiority. It becomes the point of contact between our identity and his transforming Spirit, who draws us into eternal life. When we behold Christ loving us, we behold and fall in love with the Trinity. We see him beholding us most profoundly from the cross, the bed of sacrifice for the Bridegroom. Upon the cross, the Trinity’s love is revealed: “See how I love…till the end.” If we miss the weight of love upon the cross we miss our only opportunity to fall in love with God, for no other reality than the cross contains the true intentions of God toward us.
Doctrine is the intellectual fruit of the Church’s contemplation of the profound and singular love that is the Cross and Resurrection. Catechists are invited to behold this love, allow it to affect them, fall or surrender to its beauty, and then think out of such a mind that has been so affected. If we do this, we can lead students into the mystery we behold and not simply the data we have grasped. Catechists pass on, not only the tradition, but the mystery, wherein knowledge culminates in love.
Staying in Love with God
When our knowledge is fulfilled in love, we become fastened to Christ, who is the Truth. To stay fastened to him as Truth, throughout our lives, we must stay fastened to the sacramental celebration of the Word of God. To assist in this fascination, our catechetical lessons must point toward the sacramental life, which is life saturated in lectio divina. In order that catechesis will culminate in the prayerful reception of the Word of God, we catechists must collaborate with others in the Church to enflame the desire of our students for God. Not only must we open others to Truth, we also need to tutor each other in the ways of desiring Truth throughout life.
There is a crisis of learning in today’s Church, except in those parishes whose leaders work to engender a culture of longing—a culture of longing satisfied through peaceful surrender to doctrine and the sacraments. In these parishes, members flock to be taught, to be converted, and to be satisfied by the Truth become Love. To create this culture, leaders have to be saturated in prayer and spiritual reading; and more vitally, they must recognize the suffering that is their commitment to their vocations. An irrepressible joy springs from such fertile ground, and this joy carries the grace-filled invitation to come and follow Christ. Such joy is not giddy cheerfulness but a quiet peace that expresses itself in radical availability to the needs of others.
In such a parish, led by the fruit of priestly interiority made manifest, we catechists can take our students to deep places filled with true food. We, who in our hearts offer our suffering through our vocation with and in Christ, can help both adults and children to be opened to the ways of contemplation. In Verbum Domini, Benedict XVI begged us to let the Word of God LIVE (iii); the Word is LIVING, and we must not snuff out its power by reducing the contents of doctrine to data. Here in our data soaked culture, the truth will liberate as it purifies us to more eagerly receive the relationship with God that is salvation.
Finally, the desire for God will only inform our teaching if we keep this desire alive in ourselves through regular and competent spiritual direction. All catechists can benefit from being in spiritual direction for a time, or regularly. Let grace take us, and our students, into a deep love; and let our missionary endeavors help those same student-‐disciples stay in love with God as well.
Deacon James Keating, Ph.D. is Director of Theological Formation in the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University, Omaha, NE. He also is Director of the Office of the Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Omaha. His latest books are The Heart of the Diaconate (Paulist Press) and Spousal Prayer (IPF Publications).
i Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 19.
ii Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, art. 17.
iii Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, arts. 5, 7, 51.
This article was orginally on pages 9-10 of the printed edition.