Love and Death

I’ve just finished reading the second volume of Mark Shea’s, Mary, Mother of the Son, titled First Guardian of the Faith. I spent some time going back over pages I had marked for further reflection as I was reading. (Yes, I’m one of those people who turns down corners of pages and scribbles in the margins of books as I read.)

One of the things that stuck with me in this process was Shea’s discussion of our longing for true love and self-giving. Shea suggests we have both a hunger for and a “devouring fear” of self-sacrificing love. The fear, he points out, is with good reason: “in a fallen world, love and death are alike. They are both forms of self-sacrifice and, in the mystery of Christ, therefore inseparable. So we have only two choices: live our lives trying to get love without death, or else find the courage to take the plunge, however, ineptly, to die to ourselves for love.”

Shea goes on to say that even actions that seem small to us – helping out a co-worker, being nice to an irritating neighbor – are risky. Risky becuase “if we continue down any road that starts with the attempt to love, we will sooner or later discover that we did not build that road, that Jesus has walked it before us, and that the little voice that prompted us to take that first step, and all the steps after that, was his, however faint it may have been.”

And, of course, one thing leads to another. If we continue to walk down the road Jesus forged, “we will discover it leads to still more calls to sacrifice until we reach the sacrifice of our lives.” Shea quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s observation, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Dangerous stuff, this following Jesus. Hang out with Jesus long enough and anything can happen. We can certainly try another road. But at some level, if we have spent any time at all with Jesus, we already know that, whatever the cost, there is no other place for us to go. So we might as well “find the courage to take the plunge, however ineptly, to die to ourselves for love.”