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“The Immorality of Love” 30 October 2011

The great French Orator Bossuet remarked in one of his famous funeral orations: “We take just as much care in burying thoughts of death as we do in burying the dead themselves.” The avoidance of the thought of death seems to increase in direct proportion to the lavishness of the funeral. We see how undertakers try to give the dead an appearance of being alive to comfort the bereaved. So much so that you hear people at funeral parlors say: “He looks good. He looks better now than when he was alive.”

Why do we not want to think about death in general and about our own death in particular? One of the primary reasons is that we look upon death as a separation, as destruction, decay, annihilation and separation. The Book of Wisdom notes this: “In the view of the foolish. . . their passing away was thought an affliction, and their going from us, utter destruction” (Wis.3:1).

We describe death as a separation of body and soul. This is not explicitly found in Scripture. Such a view considers death in a human being as one of the class of organic beings and not from our human, personal essence. It fails to explain death as an event for a human being as a whole and as a spiritual person, i.e., it fails to indicate the specific human element in the death of a human being. But death as a separation of body and soul can hardly describe or explain death for a Christian, for a believer.

Human life is something that all sane persons naturally cling to and dread losing. Down through the pages of history we read how men desperately tried to hold on to life. This is true even if when, at times, they seem to want to fling it away. In ancient times men would perform all sorts of unbelievable feats of valor on the battle field so that their memory might be kept alive by those who came after them. That was the only kind of immortality that they could hope for. Among the ancient Hebrews, having a great number of offspring and living through them for generations and generations was looked upon as a kind of immortality. This was the reason that the promises that God made to Abraham, viz., that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea shore was looked upon as a very great blessing.

In the Middle Ages, the alchemists tried to discover the elixir of life, i.e., a substance that would prolong life indefinitely. And we all know about the efforts made to search for the Fountain of Youth.

In our post-modern world, we might be inclined to smile and chuckle at these efforts. Yet, basically we’re no different. We still seek for immortality, for youth, the period when life is at its prime. Look at all the women who frequent the beauty salons and the plastic surgeons’ offices to get a face lift, a tuck here and a tuck there, in order to retain a youthful appearance. And men of course use Grecian formula to hide their grey hair and try all sorts of hair preparations to overcome baldness. Others try to cling on to life through cryrogenics, the freezing of body parts, to defrost them and bring them back alive at some future time. Stem cell research holds out the promise of growing new human body parts. All of these efforts cater to our deep-seated desire to hold on to life, to be immortal.

In the Middle Ages, philosophers and theologians used to argue interminably about whether you can prove by natural reason alone the immortality of the soul. There were numerous treatises and tracts that attempted to show that the soul was immortal, but none ever completely succeeded. We simply accept it as an article of our faith that the human soul is immortal. But instead of talking about the immortality of the soul, it is more enriching, in my view, to talk about the immortality of love – the truth that genuine Christian love never dies; it is immortal and immortalizes us and keeps us united with those we love.

Of all the many rapid changes that we see going on around us every day, most people would not like to see two things change. These are love and forever because we instinctively feel that if love can come to an end, it brings great sadness instead of joy. We know it happens, but we still strongly hope and believe that love will last forever. There is a country western song that captures this feeling in a refrain that goes: “If love is not forever, then what’s forever for?” Immortality seems to be for us an essential aspect for all true and lasting love. There is a hymn that also emphasizes the immortality of love. “Love is made to last forever, made to outlast all time.”

Scripture tells us that those who are faithful to God’s love will live with God forever in this love. The pertinent verse reads: “the faithful shall abide with him in love” (Wis. 3:9). But to live with God in love is to love as long as God loves and to live as long as God lives. St. Paul stresses this idea in his Letter to the Romans. He insists that nothing – neither death nor life, nothing that exists or that will exist – can come between us and Christ’s love for us. He tells us in effect that the love we have for God in Christ is not a passing thing, but one that remains for all eternity and that nothing can destroy or separate us from this love, except, of course, our own free will. (See Rom. 8:38-39).

This is why we can say with the assurance of faith that our love for Christ and for one another in Christ – the love of a mother for her children, of a wife for her husband, or children for their parents, the love of a friend – is immortalized in Christ and will never die. It is this bond of love that compels us to pray to and to pray for our beloved dead.

The connection between love and eternal life is very clearly stated by St. John in his first letter: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. He who does not love remains in death” (1Jn. 3:14). Love then is what makes us come alive and makes us stay alive. Someone once remarked that “Death is more universal than life. Everyone dies but not everyone lives.” In the light of St. John’s words, I might add that not everyone lives because not everyone loves.

It is love, Christian love, that makes us realize that death is not a separation and that there is meant to be a continuity between our life here on earth and eternal life. Love makes us understand that human life has eternal possibilities. It is love and only love that can bridge the mysterious chasm between this life and eternal life. St. Francis de Sales clearly understood this when he observed: ““Our mutual ties are in no way broken by death for they are ties of sacred love, which is as strong to preserve them as death to dissolve them” (Oeuvres, 14, 240). The immortality of love then is nothing but the full realization of this mortal life.

Those who like to bring happiness, joy and contentment into the lives of others and who in turn enjoy the company of their family, relatives and friends, will not find heaven a lonely or boring existence, but rather an existence in which all genuinely human joys and loves will be immortalized and remain for all eternity.

St. Theresa of Avila envisions “hell as a place where no one loves.” Then heaven can be described as the place where everyone loves and loves God and others for all eternity. Albert Camus in his novel The Plague remarks: ” It is not a crime to want to be happy. But it is a crime to want to be happy all alone.” The immortality of love teaches us that we were all meant to be happy together and forever.

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