Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Feast of Love

Love. Luv. Like. Αγάπε (agape). Έροσ (eros). Φιλία (philia). Στοργή (storge).

What's love got to do (got to do) with it?


I was thinking (dangerous, I know) about love, and I've finally come up with a good thing about the English language's lack of differentiation in the word "love." I didn't think it was possible! I mean "love" is my favorite English whipping boy, my go to example of why the language is terribly deficient (which it is).

But there I was, thinking about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est raising the question about eros, and if eros can be purified, and is it really different from agape, and...

Right, quick review:

Στοργή (storge)
Φιλία (philia)
Mental love, "brotherly" love
Έροσ (eros)
Romantic love, passionate love, erotic love, love of beauty
Αγάπε (agape)
Sacrificial love, self-giving love, "true" love
That's a bit of a simplification, but it gives us decent tools to work with.

So the question Pope Benedict raised was more or less, are these four loves different, or just different expressions of the same reality?

The thing is, it's really easy to let them get separated. And worse, we not only categorize them, we brand them. Agape is pure, and true. Philia is good, neutral, storge is okay. But eros? That's diiirrrttyyy... I mean, it's okay if you're married I guess, but... Ewww... We don't talk about eros.

Thank you Puritans. That's part of the baggage that even Catholics have to deal with, given that we live in a Protestant culture, heavily influenced by the Puritans. Yay.

So the good thing about "Love" in English - it reminds us that love is love. There are different modalities, ways of expression, but ultimately, all love flows from the same source, right?

But does that mean eros too?

Is romantic love, and not just in the sense of a love of beauty or some sanitized Disney romance, but is full on The two shall become one flesh love actually a part of the same love as agape?

This is where things may get a little uncomfortable for some people. Because the answer is yes.

Which means I have to explain why this:

...has anything to do with the word from whence we get the word "erotic." What am I, sick?

Well, I am in need of the medicus, but that's a post for another time.

Right now, it's mystical theology time!

So let's start from the end.

John 19.30:

When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

I really don't like that translation. Finished, but not in the sense of ending. More like accomplished, the way that the composer finishes a piece of music, than the performers get to the fine.

In the Vulgate, the phrase is "consummatum est." There's that sense of approaching the peak, the summit of what is possible. This is consummation.

That's right.


Mark 2.19-20:

Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day."

Ephesians 5.31-32:

"For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

Jesus is frequently identified as the Bridegroom, with the Church, the Body of Christ as His bride.

Throughout the Old Testament, the sacred authors use this metaphor of marriage, how God will come to "marry" His people. We find this especially in the love poetry that is the Song of Songs. And is it ever erotic! Every inch and curve of the beloved, head to toe, is described in loving and awestruck detail.

That's right people, the bible talks about SEX!

So let's look at the cross in a new light. If God is coming to marry His people, then what does He mean when on the cross He says "It is consummated?"

He means exactly what he said. It. Is. CONSUMMATED.

Remember my post on Sexy Sex a while back? Remember how I talked about how in the marital embrace, husband and wife get to touch heaven? Yeah. They're participating in the sacrifice of calvary too.

Just as marriage reaches it's finality in the act of consummation (so much so that every time a married couple has intercourse, they are renewing their wedding vows!), the Cross is the consummation of the earthly life of Our Lord, of His coming to wed His people. As everything is pledged at the altar, and at the Last Supper, everything is given in the marital bed, and upon the Cross. This must then give us an entirely new perspective on salvation history.

The Old Testament is education. It is the first meeting, and the time of schooling, "wherein one learns and develops the virtues necessary for courtship" as my friend Mitchel put it so eloquently.

The earthly life of Jesus is then Courtship. It is the time when the Bride and Bridegroom get to know each other face to face, to fall in love with each other. It is good, it is important, but it points to something more. It is not the end in itself.

And then, we have the wedding feast. The Last Supper. He washes the feet of His Bride, the Church. He feeds Her, promises to give everything that He IS to Her. But promises, promises... Promises are not enough. He is called Faithful and True because He delivers that which He promises.

So if the Last Supper is the wedding feast, and the Crucifixion and Death is the consummation, the Passion becomes foreplay. Just as in the marriage bed husband and wife prepare each other, and prepare each other's bodies for the complete vulnerability and intimacy they are about to engage in, Christ's body (that is the Church) is prepared for the ultimate sacrifice of self.

Every torture, every revilement, these are how Christ prepares Himself in His Sacred humanity for His death. For consummation.

The declaration in Genesis 3.16 to Eve "To the woman he said: (...) Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." is overturned when Christ says in John 15.15 "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father." The Church, the Bride of Christ, is invited to submit to - that is to place herself under the mission of - Her Bridegroom, not in bondage to urges and ruled over, but as the beloved, with whom the mission is shared.

With whom a life is shared.

On the Feast of the Holy innocents, two of our best friends got married. As the best man, I started my toast in a way that made everyone but the bride and groom uncomfortable. I quoted from the collect for the feast day.

O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying...

Who says that at a wedding? As a best man? As the first one to address the reception?

Me apparently.

But look at this - not by speaking, but by dying. Christ didn't save us by speaking, but by dying. The husband and wife don't become one by speaking, but by dying. In French, do you know what they call an orgasm? "La petite mort" - the little death.

Speaking is great, but it is the sacrifice of self which makes the promises spoken a reality.

But wait a second...

If the sacrifice of the Mass is really a participation in the Last Supper and the Sacrifice of the Cross...

The Mass is always a wedding feast. It is always the consummation of Christ and His Church, insomuch as the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of the Christian Life.

He's not just promising salvation, and He's not just feeding the 12. He is come to wed His people, to feed them of His own sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Cross makes real the promises made at the Last Supper. As my eloquent friend says, "...actualizes what was done intentionally at a human level, and potentially at a mystical level."

But what's more, just as every act of intercourse between husband and wife is a renewal of their wedding vows, a participation in the pledge of their wedding, so the Eucharist is a renewal of the vows of Christ to His Bride, He Who is called "Faithful and True," and we who gain the title of "Faithful," sharing in the title of God by trusting Him, receiving Him, depending upon Him. (Evangelii Gaudium)

Luke 22.15:

He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer..."

Our Lord, as any Faithful Bridegroom, longs to share Himself with His bride, such that he pledges everything that He is, everything that He has.

Salvation, the Eucharist, the Mass, it cost Him His life.

Romans 5.7-8:

Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Everything. Jesus. Has. Is. Pledged. He can give no more to us. He thirsts for us, for union with us. And then still, we turn away. We don't see Him there, present under the accidents of Bread and Wine, the Veiled Divinity in our very midst. We ignore His pledge to us. How this must wound Christ again, rejecting Him in this way!

We must be careful in our consideration here, because we can only understand this dimly, through the mirror of analogy. As the Doctor is fond of saying, "It's like this. Well, no it isn't, but if that helps."

In the marital embrace the wife accepts her husband's body inside of her, the two become one as two people attempt to break the laws of physics and occupy the same space at the same time, and from this intense and ecstatic union flows life, both for the marriage and for the next generation.

In the Eucharist we the Bride of Christ accept Our Lord's body inside of us. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. We literally, as our body digests the Sacred Presence of Our Lord, become one with God, occupying the same space as He steps out of the eternal and into our time, in an experience which for some of the Saints is even more intense and ecstatic than can be imagined in an earthly marriage. And from this mystical union with Christ, our Bridegroom, life flows, both for the marriage (which is our Life of Faith), and for the next generation, in how we - transformed by His love - transform the world.

"Consummatum est" he says to you as you receive His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. "I love you, my beautiful, my beloved. I have greatly desired to share my life with you! I love you, with all that I AM. I love you, more than you can possibly know. Will you let me show you?"

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