However much we know love, we also in many ways do not know it. We do not always see it for what it is, but from time to time we see startling glimpses into its reality. These flashes of light come from all manner of revelation. Sometimes we experience purest love in a dark night from a kind soul, or we may awaken to it in our own hearts, or catch a peek by immersion into a great story, or even in the most rare of cases find it in plain prose exposition.
When these revelations comes to us, what we often see surprises us. We see that love is no trifle. It is no idle affection, nor is it soft and yielding. Love is gentle, but the hands of its caresses are strong and firm. Love wills raw good. It seeks the perfection and the blessedness of the beloved, but such goodness is itself no trifle. The road to the good is no easy path but rocky, labyrinthine, even treacherous. Love prefers this road, for the lover and the beloved, rather than accept anything short of the highest beatitude for the beloved.
In this way love can be cold and hard, steeling itself against the tug of desires and even affections that might drag the beloved from the road of good. Love may be stern. It may stand fixed and resolute, judging and abjuring, against the wayward paths the beloved takes to trod. And in the heat of battle, when the story's happy ending seems at stake, its wrath may burn hot, and it may strike like lightning against all who threaten the beloved, even if the beloved herself is the threat.
Yet at no point will love cease to be gentle and kind. In the pit of its stomach it shall churn ever to all made well. It remains generous and merciful, unwilling to cast down except to raise up. If it shames, it does so to bring greater glory, and if it hurts, it is to heal. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
None of this is new, of course. It is all been said many times before. But what struck me the other day is that this can apply to at least one relation I had not really thought through before. It is clear that God loves us like this, and that we ought to love each other in this way as well. The rhythm of the whole cosmic dance is this choreography of love, love that moves the spheres.
Yet we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves. We must love others each other as God has loved us, as Christ has died for us. And this same love we owe to ourselves as the equal to our neighbors. The beauty, the strength, the severity, the glory, the compassion, the understanding, and the judgment which love demands of us toward every neighbor, it also demands to ourselves. I am my own perpetual neighbor, the one human being whom God has entrusted entirely and completely to my own care. So this brilliant and impossible power which is love, echoing God's will to us and all the commands God issues for us toward others—this very same is what we are called to exercise to ourselves for our own good. We are not to be selfish but to love ourselves as Christ loves us, in all the terrible strenght that would bend us toward good in spite of protest and discomfort. Love your neighbor with all that fire which love really is, and forget not the nearest neighbor who is thyself.