To love another is to see the face of God

Published 7:00 am Saturday, October 13, 2018

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

Each year, there are oft made changes to the ever-growing panoply of English language words. Today’s definitions would seem quite foreign to the ears of not so many generations ago, as we struggle to understand the terms of “gigabyte” and the altered meaning of “sick.” Such is our challenge.

Equally a challenge is the shifting definition of what constitutes that most elusive of human emotions, called love. It seems that the English compositors were uncomfortable in revealing their emotions, so they gave us just one word: love. It is so nondescript, and so often overused, the true meaning is hardly any meaning at all.

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Consider the French, well known for their romantic language and romantic bent. Over the generations, they have developed fourteen words for “love;” with each having a particular flavor to the emotion, or condition. Their reputation is enhanced by their language.

We Americans, so proud of our inventiveness and bravado, have not advanced the “love language” one whit. If anything, we have attached an endless string of modifiers to attempt to explain what we mean. If we are trying to work something to our advantage, we call it, “selfish love.” If we love somebody, or something, and the love is not returned, it is labeled as, “unrequited love.”

Of course, there also the depth of love itself. Certainly, the expression, “I just love your outfit,” carries a different weight than the statement, “I just love my children/parents/brother/sister,” etcetera. No wonder we regularly attempt to clarify this most essential of emotions.

The author, Victor Hugo, in his monumental work, “Les Miserables,” portrays the tragic figure Jean Valjean as a convicted thief, who suffers the depredations  of eighteenth century Paris squalor. Released from prison, Valjean is given to the care of a priest, from whom he soon steals.

Captured and returned, the priest volunteers that the items were a gift.

Valjean soon realizes the love of the cleric and vows to begin life anew. Following close on his heels is Javert, the police inspector who believes that no one can change. Remarkably, in the pursuit, Valjean has several opportunities to kill Javert, but keeps letting him go, unscathed.

It is a remarkable story, encapsulating the human emotions and mores of the day and for much of humankind itself. Here we have to add another modifier to this word of love: selfless. It is that pure love, which does not require anything in return. It does not seek an acknowledgment, not even a “thank you.” It is that love which is give simply for the sake of it and nothing more. Some may acknowledge the movement of the Holy Spirit within.

What we are given to understand is that God’s love redeems everything. For which it is from God’s love where all things do dwell.

If we acknowledge our soiled hands, then we are to understand the effect our often less-than-perfect behaviors have corrupts this perfection. Yet, in the tale of “Les Miserables” we understand the timeless truth of love for the undeserving.

As the closing, the novel relates, “To love another is to see the face of God.” It only requires us to love without limits, requirements, or expectations.

May we have the strength and guidance to do so.