A Theology of Expansive Love

A Theology of Expansive Love May 10, 2011

After being rather quiet for the past two weeks, it feels good to write again, and funnily enough my column today at First Things came about precisely because illness made me submissive to silence, where I re-acquainted myself with a “quaint” act that I do not practice enough — “offering it up” — and rediscovered the powerful theological punch contained therein:

Pondering the crucifix, and the immensity of what Christ endured, we wonder what could possibly be ‘lacking’ in his afflictions. But then, gazing upon His outstretched arms, we see an invitation. If we accept that no act in human history can begin to match the power, the healing, the victory and the justice that was achieved in the crucified suffering of Jesus of Nazareth, then attaching our own trials, minor or major though they be, to that still-resonating act of generosity and self-abnegation exposes them to all of the good contained in Christ’s sacrifice, and it assists in the salvation of the world.

We know that Jesus’ pain is occurring even in this instant, and that right now—in commingling our suffering with his—we can bring ourselves close to him. Christ’s agony and death released the dew of mercy, dropping from heaven and bathing us all; it was a wholly and holy vertical transaction.

But “offering it up” can speed this salvific action horizontally. Any such offering, even if it is initiated by a feeling of resigned helplessness, has the potential to unleash an expansive love upon the world. It cannot be otherwise. To offer one’s aches and pains, one’s disappointments for the sake of others is always love-in-action, a redemptive act. There is a particularly true and hardy love that springs from an offering made for the intentions of another.

I hope you’ll read it all and share your thoughts. It seems to me that if we re-embraced this sacrificial mindset, the world may spin with a bit more serene and mysterious grace.

It is astonishing how much we learn from contemplating the crucifix, isn’t it?

Note: The photo is from my recent trip to Rome — a crucifix chapel in the utterly gorgeous Gesu Church. The chapel was seeing a lot of devotional action from a visiting mob of Polish pilgrims, and I stopped in to pray, too. I would blame the lameness of the shot to my not wishing to disturb their comings and goings, but the truth is I am a bad photographer. My photos are always, like me, short-sighted and off-kilter.

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