The True Face of Love (IV)

Fourth Part
Self-giving
Tomás Melendo

 

X. Personal and gratuitous self-giving

 

Don’t give up now that we’re on the homestretch!

 

Careful!

There are so many ways of reading or studying a text and observing reality! Quite often, we may not notice something or we may let certain properties or characteristics of a person, animal, or thing pass by unnoticed, simply because we are not looking for them.

Something similar happens with books. We have to activate the mind to find what they can teach us. If this does not happen, we may very easily end up not even noticing obvious and well-developed issues, which simply do not exist for us.

Thus, before you read this section, I encourage you once more to try to answer these questions as you wish.

 

• Before starting to read, could you reflect on what, in the context of authentic love, self-giving entails? Is it about an element that accompanies any type of love or just some of its forms? Do we have to make a distinction between true or positive self-giving versus false or harmful self-giving? What other distinctions and comments come to mind to describe loving self-giving?

• In your opinion, what do people who mutually love each other really give each other in the end? What would be the fruits of that self-giving?

• In what sense can we say that self-giving is the acid test and culmination of true love? Why?

 

Once again, having reflected on these questions will multiply how much you get out of what you are going to read.

 

1. ♫ You, only you ♫

The giving of one’s own self is the most realistic culmination fo love. I usually express the issue as follows: when affection increases the lover’s keenness of understanding and capacity to see, he discovers all the wonder that the beloved holds virtually in her interior and the adventure of improvement that awaits her.

And then, usually without words, but with his own life, he can only say:

— It is worthwhile for me to put myself totally at your service so that you reach that wonder of perfection and beauty that you are called to be and that my love has enabled me to discover in you!

At that same time, he begins to think of his life as “you” and “us”; he begins to see not just with his own eyes, but also and fundamentally with the eyes and mind of the beloved. Then he wants and desires through the heart of the one he loves and, in good measure, precisely because she values it.

There are many circumstances in which this attitude is manifested simply, without fuss, showing in any case that self-giving is the measure of a trustworthy love. This happens in the daily life of a good family, in which all the members, as they mature, tend to subjugate their own interests to the desires of the others. It also happens in the more or less exceptional cases of those who are totally dedicated to serving others.

The question that immediately arises, almost without looking for it, is the following. What do lovers hope to exchange? What is it that they want to offer to the object of their devotion?

a) A first answer is found implicit in what we have seen up to this point, and it is worth highlighting it.

It is often said, and rightly, that loving is a complex act that encompasses and frames two goods:

— The supreme end good of the beloved, which will always be a person.

— And the good, of a very different type, that we want to give tot he beloved precisely because we love him or her: a specific object, a material or spiritual service, an opportunity to improve, a word of encouragement and support when they have acted well or an understanding rebuke or correction when they have misbehaved…

Loving always goes hand in hand with wanting and obtaining something good for someone (also good, at least ontologically, since the person is the most precious reality that exists in nature): bonum velle alicui, according to St. Thomas Aquinas’ famous expression.

b) After this last observation —the person as the supreme good— we can now find the definitive answer in some words from Salinas. These verses make up an entire synthesis of the anthropology of the gift and thus of the condition of being a person: since this, as we will see, is naturally and intimately oriented to the gift, to the act of giving.

A present or a gift?

… the poet asks; and he answers:

“Pure symbol, signal / that I want to give myself. / What pain to be separated / from what I send you / and what belongs to you / with the sole destiny / of being yours, your own, / while I remain / on the other bank alone, / still mine. / How I would like to be / what I give you / and not the one who gives it.”1

The person is intimately oriented to the gift, to self-giving.

2. The meaning of the gift

Why an anthropology of the gift? Although we are all aware of our littleness and even of the occasional stinginess of some of our actions, the personal tendency of every human subject raises him to such a prodigious, colossal height that it makes the following saying valid and fully effective for him:

“The radical perfection of the person is such that nothing less than another person is worthy of receiving it. Any other reality offered to the person is too little, cheap, very far below what the weight of personhood calls for.”

Along similar lines, Emerson says, “Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies by means of gifts. The only gift is a portion of yourself.”

“A portion of yourself”? All of your being, I would say, apeing St. John of the Cross:

There he gave me his breast; /
there he taught me a sweet and living knowledge;
/ and I gave myself to him, /
keeping nothing back;
there I promised to be his bride.2

And in truth, the gift only fulfills its function in the strict measure that the whole person of the giver is committed and incarnated or condensed in it.

The ancient cultures knew this very well, such as the Greek culture, for example. When Telemachus tries to retain Athena, disguised as a stranger, and offers her “a present, an inestimable and beautiful gift that will be like a treasure from me to you, like hosts give to their guests,” Athena, of the bright eyes, answers him:

Not now. Don’t hold me here. I long to be on my way. As for the gift—whatever you’d give in kindness—save it for my return so I can take it home. Choose something rare and fine, and a good reward that gift is going to bring you.3

But unfortunately, the depth of that gesture has fallen by the wayside in today’s civilized world. And the big warehouses, with their anonymous, pre-prepared, and well-wrapped offerings and their impersonal gift cards, do not do much to make up for that loss.

Nevertheless, even today it continues to be true that absolutely independently of its material value, a gift is worth the personal involvement of the one who makes it: time, attention, knowledge of the loved one and their current circumstances, their hobbies and interests at the time…

Do you remember that memorable scene in Dead Poets Society when the same desk things given two years in a row go flying, out of spite, from the height of the little overbridge joining two buildings?

We are facing an eloquent example of what is unfortunately proliferating in our culture: the gift is used on occasions, even between parents and children, not as a manifestation of love and a symbol of self-giving, but as a mere skin-deep gesture moved more by routine than by affection, or as a way to soothe one’s own uneasy conscience for the little attention we pay to those we should have loved; and to buy and thereby prostitute to the children whom we do not properly care for and from whom we mainly want—often without realizing it—pamperings and superficial thanks or even for them to leave us in peace.4

In the opposite extreme, we still feel moved by the enchantment with which a mother receives the clumsy pictures and scribbles that the young son or daughter offers on the occasion of her birthday or Mother’s Day.

It is a little sketch with absolutely no value, except the whole person of the child, who put his or her whole self into making it for one, two, or more weeks.

In fact, mothers appreciate the value of that demonstration of self-giving, even though it has zero or less than zero commercial value, because they see in it the best of their son or daughter.

Alberoni also expressed it with singular effectiveness:

In daily life, there is the principle of keeping score on an exchange: if I give you something, I want something in return and it should have equal value. But among those who love, by contrast, there is no keeping score on what I give and what I receive. Each one gives to the other: they give what seems beautiful, something that speaks of who they are, that reminds the loved one of them. But also things that please the other, that the other has named or kept. Often the gift is something unforeseen, a spontaneous gesture that symbolies the gift of self, one’s own total availability to the other. But the gift is not given with the expectation of a gift in return. When making a gift, the accounts are immediately settled: it is enough for the other to appreciate it, to be happy. The other’s joy is worth more than any object. Int his way, there is a giving of gifts between the two, but without exchange. And on the contrary, when there is a keeping score on the gifts, an «I gave you and you didn’t give to me,» it means that the love is about to end. When each one demands keeping score on giving and having, it is completely over.5

… or, perhaps, that had never truly been born.

In daily life, there is the principle of keeping score on an exchange: if I give you something, I want something in return and it should have equal value. But among those who love, by contrast, there is no keeping score on what I give and what I receive.

 

XI. The personal inclination to give oneself

 

• The title of this section suggests that every human being has a natural inclination to give himself to others. Do you agree that this tendency exists? Do you think it is natural, or the fruit of a difficult effort and struggle? Could it be both natural and the result of an effort? How and for what reasons?

• Supposing that the man and woman are correctly described as beings-for-love, and that the greatest good that can be given to another is one’s own self —perfectissimum in tota natura, as we saw— would not the giving of onself be the natural consequence and culmination of one’s condition as a person?

• Does it not seem to you that those who truly give themselves completely —in particular, to their own spouse— are probably unhappy because they do not take enough care of themselves? If you do not agree with this conclusion, briefly explain your reasons.

• To help you answer the previous question, I ask: Is it possible to give and give onself without losing and losing oneself? In what circumstances or under what conditions? Is sharing a piece of candy the same as sharing a joy or a sorrow?

 

Once again, I assume you are prepared to successfully study the following pages.

 

1. Man, a being for love…

Continuing on with our topic, from the moment we clearly see that self-giving is the crowning and compendium of love, its most defining element that gives it the seal of authenticity, it becomes clear that, unlike what happens with persons, speaking of love between animals is just a poor metaphor.

a) An animal cannot love because it cannot give itself. And it is not capable of giving itself because it does not belong to itself.

As an infrahuman reality, an animal is basically a mere portion or fragment of the entirety of the material cosmos, a kind of ecological loan that arises from matter for a certain time and later disappears without leaving any properly individual trace. This is because, as we saw, every animal only has meaning in relation to its species, the ensemble of material realities, and in the end, the human person.

As such, since it does not strictly possess its being, it cannot offer it to anyone or anything and thus, an animal is incapable of loving, understood in the fullest and most proper sense of the word.

b) The situation of man is very different. Man can love because he can offer himself up. As his being has been given t o him as private property —inalienable and impossible to lose— in the sublime moment when he falls in love, when he truly loves someone, with a supreme act of generosity, he can effectively give that being to the person he loves: for life and in all its dimensions, if it is spousal love.

Now, there is a kind of existential or vital requirement added to what we could define as the constitutive condition of self-giving: it is in its element. This means that in daily life, that man or woman has self-mastery, that the will governs and masters the appetites and tendencies, tempering or arousing them, as the case may be.

And this always takes place, not just in the sexual area but in each and every circumstance of human existence: anyone who is not a master of himself, anyone whose mood depends on how he feels physically, his blood pressure, the weather, the absence of setbacks, the success of the plans made for the weekends or vacation, the workings of certain appliances or tools, will have a difficult time loving normally. Insofar as he does not possess himself —but is rather possessed by that ensemble of circumstances— he will be incapable of giving himself in an effective and positive way.

Anyone who does not have self-mastery will have a difficult time loving, because he will be incapable of giving himself in an effective and positive way.

2. And happiness as a consequence

And if this is the case, he will frustrate his own existence. Man and woman are destined for love, and since love culminates in self-giving, both naturally aspire to give themselves reciprocally.

It is not difficult to understand this constitutive, almost defining inclination: man is a being-for-love. If loving means wanting the good for another, the logical thing is to aspire to give one’s own personal being to the beloved, not only as a great good, but as the greatest good one possesses. Thus, as we studied before, the person is “the most perfect —the highest perfection— that exists in all of nature: perfectissimum in tota natura, according to the now classic expression.

And the great paradox is that only thus, by lavishing himself upon another, by forgetting himself, by living for another, does the person achieve his own plenitude and happiness in life, as we will soon see.

Man is only radically and fully man, a person, if and insofar as he pursues the good of another as other, insofar as he gives himself out of love.

And in that same proportion, he grows as a person and, without seeking it at all —even yet, under the condition that he does not seek it— he feels happy, blissful.

Or, in other words, giving himself is constitutive of the human subject, allowing him to be an integral, complete person. If they do not love, man and woman do not fulfill themselves as persons. Even more, they undo themselves, squandering the greatness of their own condition.

In the trail opened up by Frankl,6 and with the authority gained over long years of experience as a psychiatrist, Juan Cardona Pescador explains:

It is through love that human beings receive their defining trait: depending on how they love, they either reach their existential fulfillment or become denatured. The alternative depends on the quality and intensity of their love. Only by giving and giving oneself does the person live as a person and reach the plenitude of his free being. He becomes denatured if he does not want to love, if he freely shuts in his capacity to love, causing the existential emptiness of a willed lack of love.7

And in a different way, full of resonance and worthy of extensive commentary, Romano Guardini writes:

Equally decisive for the health of the person is love. To love means to behold the structure of value in another being, above all in a personal being, to per­ceive its validity, to feel that it is important that this should exist and develop; to be moved by concern about this realization as if it were one’s own. He who loves moves forth into freedom, freedom from his real bonds —himself. And by the very fact that he banishes himself from his own sight and feeling, he fulfills him­self. A space is cleared around him and he has room for his truest self. Everyone who knows anything about love knows this law: that it is only by departing from oneself that one obtains that openness in which the self is realized and everything flourishes. It is in this space that true creation and the pure act also take place, all that bears witness that the world is worthy of existence. In renouncing this love, the person be­comes diseased. Not if man sins against love, wrongs it, falls into selfishness and hatred, but if he denies its seriousness and bases his life only upon calculation, force and deceit. Then existence becomes a prison. Everything is locked. Things become oppressive. All becomes in its essence alien and hostile. The ultimate revealing significance disappears. Existence no longer blossoms.8

Only by lavishing himself upon another, forgetting himself, living for another, does the person reach his own fulfillment and happiness in life.

2.1. Paradox or contradiction?

Giving onself without losing onself: is it possible? On quite a few occasions, as I have explained the requirements of self-giving, of this forgetting of oneself and disappearing for the benefit of the beloved, more than one person —often women— have protested with grace and good humor, coming to tell me, in summary, that she also had her little rights to take care of herself, to be a little bit happy.

The tone of protest was kind, fun, and nuanced enough to keep the situation from becoming tense.

Even so, I think this is an issue of certain importance, and that it is worth reflecting on it further.

a) In the first place, going back to one of the highest principles of metaphysics, and touching base with daily life, I think it is necessary to distinguish between participation in material realities and what is properly spiritual.

It seems clear that in order to share something physical, we have to divide it into parts so that none of those sharing can entirely possess the reality in question. And if it is not about sharing, but about totally giving, then the one who is offering is left with empty hands.

It is enough to think of the need to divide an inheritance when there is more than one heir, or the impossibility of preventing some of the children at a party from taking all of the sweets or the entire chocolate cake.

In a strict and exclusively material or physical sense, giving or distributing means losing.

b) This does not happen with what we could call, in the broad sense of the word, spiritual participation.

For example, the fact of sharing a joy (of allowing others to participate in it) does not make our joy diminish, but normally makes it grow. And among other things, there is also the enthusiasm and almost the need to share our satisfactions with our loved ones: not only to make them happy, but also —although this is not what we are looking for or even thinking of— because we ourselves feel happier.

Something similar happens with knowledge. Unless enrivonmental or psychological circumstances enter into play, the fact that someone explains something to five or five hundred people does not modify per se the “amount” of knowledge that each one can assimilate. In an ideal hypothesis, all of them could take in everything that was communicated to them and even, if one of the hearers were more endowed than the presenter, thereby reach a deeper and more accurate understanding of the reality than the professor himself.

But there is something more that is perhaps more significant. Some teaching professionals limit themselves to reading some notes or mechanically repeating what they have almost forgotten. But the professor who “thinks” about what he is going to teach finds that his own explanations actually stimulate a deeper and clearer understanding of the topic as he re-thinks it in order to make it understandable to the less endowed or less prepared.9

And even more so with love! Those have truly and deeply experienced love have the most absolute certainty that as they love more deeply and love more people, their capacity for good will increases in an exponential way. As Heraclitus said, the limits of the heart (of the will) shall never be reached, so expanded are their frontiers.

c) The conclusion emerges on its own. Without a doubt, whenever we give something with a physical component —time, attention, material things, etc.— we can no longer keep those things or use them for other purposes: we “lose them,” although we improve —or we could improve— as a result of that generosity.

This does not happen ith love, whose nucleus is eminently spiritual. And as a result, neither does it happen with those other realities, whatever they may be —material, spiritual, or a combination of both— that we truly give with love and out of love.

Although the context is somewhat different, Carlos Llano expresses it perfectsly:10

Today, by the force of reigning commercialism, the mistaken idea has spread that man’s natural impuse is the desire to remedy our lackings and not the effusion of our plenitude. The many people who think that way have pushed family life and its profound educational effect, which increases when shared, limiting themselves just to matter, which is lost when shared.

And he concludes with Machado’s verses:

Money in the hand / should perhaps be put away, / the little coin of the soul / is lost if not given.

Although what we have given is no longer in our use and in that sense, lost, from the properly personal perspective, there is al-ways an increase of perfection. Among other benefits, it brings a growing ability to continue loving more and better… and to be increasingly happy.
While in other areas it is correct to say that no one gives what he does not have, when it comes to love, it would be more correct to say that one only has what he gives.

2.2. Let us solve the paradox

The second consideration would give rise to long disquisitions, but for now we will just make some brief considerations.

Quite often, we do not manage to get a good grip on what true self-giving is all about. Specifically, we are not able to see that sometimes, giving onself consists precisely in not giving and even requesting or demanding that the beloved be the one to give, carrying out specific actions or activities, or adopting a concrete attitude that calls for effort and dedication.

Before continuing on, and as a fundamental rule, I would like to remind you that

… in all that has to do with good love, the only definitive criteria is the real good of the other.

Seeking to help the other improve will enable us to discover specific mirages that could lead us to think that self-giving requires us to give something that is actually opposed to willing the good, and thus to self-giving.

a) The following are some examples that are relatively simple and not problematic.

It sometimes happens that a mother, at times against her husband’s gentle opposition, tries to keep the son or daughter, tired out after all the effort of studying (?) from doing chores at home that were previously agreed upon as his or her daily duty: unloading the dishwasher, folding the ironed clothing, vacuuming, picking up some groceries.

As often happens, after doing his chores for him, the mother then finds that exhausted child, who has been sent to sleep instead of picking up the dinner dishes, lounging in front of the television or peacefully listening to music in bed. “He’s just resting from all the bustle of the day,” the mother tells herself —at the height of affection and ingenuity!

b) The question usually gets complicated when this way of acting becomes habitual.

This happens more easily with women, who are usually gifted with a sense and capacity for sacrifice full of good will, but sometimes excessive and mistaken, because it does not lead to any real benefit (in interior growth) of the husband and children, and ends up exhausting her and making her feel unsatisfied as a spouse and mother. It incapacitates her from truly willing and exercising the fundamental role that belongs to her in the home, a role in which she is impossible to substitute.11

Thus, paradoxically, self-giving sometimes consists in not giving what should not be given; in not giving in when the husband’s actions, for example, are a more or less serious offense against the dignity of the wife, children, and himself.

And I am not speaking only or mainly of situations of infidelity in the strict sense—although they are not excluded—but also of the disloyalty that consists in making the wife the only one responsible for caring for the home, the education of the children, making ends meet, while the husband takes refuge in the deserved rest due to his work outside of the home and avoids any commitment to meeting the needs of his wife and children.

Although I should not go on further, I think that these little observations could help in the harmony of homes, avoiding dissatisfactiosn that in the long run could even lead to irreparable ruptures.

Paradoxically, self-giving sometimes consists in not giving what should not be given.

3. The characteristic fruitfulness of the person

Returning to the main idea we were covering before, what explains the imperative need to give that is proper to men and women? In other places, when we spoke of happiness, I explained it in greater detail. Here it will suffice to answer:

The reason why men and women naturally tend to give themselves is precisely their greatness, their enormous ontological richness or density.

a) By virtue of his superior level of being, and in contrast to everything that is infrahuman —which due to its poverty only seeks its own perfection, only to end up subjected totally to its own species or to the good of the cosmos as a whole— the person seems to have an excess of reality.12 Hence the person’s deep-seated inclination to give himself, to forget himself and pursue the perfection of the other through love.

Mercedes Arzú de Wilson suggests it in an indirect way, but with a refined intuition:

The helpless young child, at least in the earliest stages of development, seems to be just a bundle of needs. Yet the child is more than this; he is a spiritual being. What later proves decisive, therefore, is whether or not the child was loved and whether the filling of his needs was accompanied by love. Indeed, it is more important that the child was loved than that his objective needs were met.13

What the personal condition of the human being calls for, from its first wails as a baby, is not exactly the selfish satisfaction of its own needs, but infinite openness to reciprocal giving.

We thus understand the cry of the aforementioned poet: “How I would like to be what I give you, and not the one who gives it to you.” And we also understand it as a nostalgic and always unsatisfied longing: how I would like! In fact, for reasons that do not need to be explained now, but which all of us can see, man and woman, no matter how they try, cannot give their entire being once and for all, definitively and completely.

Even when they carry out a commitment of total love for ever, which sometimes also reaches the sexual dimensions, they continue to be, to quote the poet, “too much their own.”

Also in this case, the song expresses it gallantly:

What a shame to be two, to love each other / and be full of delirium. // What a shame to be two, what a shame / to think there are two paths… / Oh, how tremendous it is to think / that two are never the same one, / that two different winds / lead to different paths.14

b) It is self-giving, then, but relentlessly limited. And so, after adding fidelity to commitment, the giving of one’s being has to be translated into offering other realities that in some way epitomize that intimate and constitutive being.

And, among all fo them, the most common and meaningful gift —not at all alienating, when done out of love— is that of one’s own will, one’s capacity to love, one’s freedom.

Since the will holds the reins of all our faculties and operations, by giving our will to the one we love (and identifying it with his own), we offer, in a certain way, all that we are: our whole person.

Perhaps with a certain degree of metaphysical imprecision, but with great efficacy, Mauro Leonardi expresses it thus:

How can one love? The answer is obvious: giving one’s own life. But if the question is made even more precise, and if we as: what is it that man possesses in his life as his own, and what does it mean then to “give one’s life”? The only possible answer is: giving one’s freedom. Nothing of what man is belongs to him: everything is a gift of God. Only man’s freedom properly belongs to him, and that is precisely because God wanted to create man free, that is, to give him his own freedom, which God himself educates with infinite delicacy at every moment of human life.15

In a more literal way, although applied to dealings with God, Philippe says: “The man who has given his will to God has in a certain way already given him everything.”

And with greater metaphysical depth, Cardona, following Thomas Aquinas, writes:

Thus, even though freedom is the property of a determined power (which in turn fits within an essence that is not its being), it can be said that in some way freedom is “the entire soul, not because it is a specific faculty, but because it not only extends its reign over particular acts, but all acts of man are subjected to it” (In II Sent., d. 24, q. 1, a. 2 ad 1): insofar as it moves the other powers, and insofar as it can will this or that, will or not will, being domina sui actus.16

And it then follows, as the result of a wonderful poetic intuition, Miguel Hernández sculpted the most famous of his elegies on the frontispiece:

In Orihuela, his town and mine, Ramón Sijé, with whom I loved so much, has died like a flash of lightning.

The privileged result of self-giving is, in fact, the identification of wills: the willing-with, which elevates and includes willing-to.

So, what an immense and moving joy it is to see two people whom life has united for a long time in shared battles, mutual aid, and gifts, or two spouses with many years together, guess and desire, without even words, what the beloved wants done!

Escrivá Balaguer also expressed this idea with a clear lyrical edge:

To love is to cherish one thought, to live for the person loved, not to belong to oneself, happily and freely with one’s heart and soul to be subjected to another’s will… and at the same time to one’s own.17

(Another’s and at the same time one’s own because the identification between two loved ones, which constitutes in a certain way the terminal essence of love, really results in —even though each one affirms his own reality: without loss of being and identity, but quite the opposite, increasing them— the lack of distinction between what is theirs and what is the beloved’s.)

4. The absolute priority of the other

We are approaching the end of this chapter. We have already seen that, from the point of view of his inmost nature,

… every person is called to give himself, to the extreme that if he does not do so, he frustrates his own being and falls into wretchedness.

But we could still ask: concretely, in the reality of marriage, for example, what should be the reasons for one’s self-offering?

And here we have the image of the famous half-sphere of Platonic myth that has not helped us much.

Because it is true that man and woman are in a certain way complementary and that the desire to be united to the other person that perfects that desire (and because it perfects it) is one of the impulses to desire that self-giving.

It is true, and that complementarity is one of the ingredients of love. But it is not its highest cause —although it is often its trigger— nor is it what makes it formally human. Quite the contrary,

… what specifies true personal love is the seeking and giving to the other as the other: what we could describe as t he radical primacy of the thou.

As Carlo Caffarra explains, summing up a good part of what we have seen so far:

… the person who attempts to love authentically is not the one who seeks out the beloved “because it is useful for you to exist for me,” “because I find pleasure in using you for myself” or “because I need you to exist to satisfy my lackings.” The one who truly loves says of the beloved, “How good it is that you exist in yourself and for yourself, and I give myself to help you bring the best of yourself to completion”: because his intellect has deeply perceived the other’s intrinsic value and his will opens him to give himself to other in the task of perfecting the fulfillment of the beloved’s intrinsic good or value.18

Continuing along with the same idea, going against a fairly common opinion today that has also been expressed in other times, genuine love does not take the self as its point of reference: as Cardona illustrates, pursuing one’s own good, self-fulfillment does not so much show goodness as it does cleverness. And going after one’s own evil is not so much a characteristic of an evil person as it is of a stupid person. By contrast, true love always turns to the perfection of the “thou,” of others.

Juan Bautista Torelló confirms this conviction, based on many years of practice as a psychiatrist in central Europe:

… affective maturity depends on the capacity to love, and self-centeredness is what makes people incapable of loving, whether it is human or divine love. In order to mature, people need to go beyond living for self —egoistically— and learn to live for a “you.”19

And Pepita Jiménez expresses it with the risky imprecision of rapture, in the immortal production by Juan Valera, speaking to Mr. Luis Vargas, “If love is what you say, if it is dying in self in order to live in the beloved, I have true and legitimate love, because I have died in myself and I only live in you and for you.”

In order to mature, people need to go beyond living for self —egoistically— and learn to live for a “you.”

 

XII. Fruitfulness… for a lifetime

 

• What would you think if I told you that love, all love, is always fruitful? What would such fruitfulness consist of?

• I am sure you know St. Augustine’s famous statement, “Love and do what you will.” How do you interpret it? Does it seem a little “dangerous” to you, especially in these times?

• If so, what do you think we need in order to eliminate its possible negative effects? To pose the statement in another way, to forget it, or to clarify what each of the terms means?

• In your opinion, when is a parent’s work of raising and educating finished? Give reasons for your answer.

 

And read what comes next, to see if we are in agreement.

 

1. Love and fruitfulness

Everything we have seen so far could be summarized in two ideas, which I will illustrate with some more quotes, plus a comment.

a) The first:

That love, all love, each in its way, is alwayus fruitful: it gives rise to reality, perfections, development, fulfillment.

Hence the Platonic definition, recalled by Ortega:

‘Love is a desire for generation and birth in beauty (tiktein en tô kalô),’ Plato said. Generation is crea­tion of a future. Beauty is the good life. Love implies an inner adherence to a certain type of humanity which to us seems the best and which we find precon­ceived, inherent in another being.20

Thus, love is the motor and key of all education, both in and outside of the family.

b) The second:

That fruitfulness is always achieved through one’s own self-giving and openness to others.

In that sense, Philine’s statement is once again so on-the-mark: “You will not know everything I am worth until I can be, together with you, [thanks to you!], everything I am

Professional educators, friends, parents, lovers… should reflect on this point, perhaps with some help from Augustine of Hippo:

Dilige, et quod vis fac…: Love and do what you will… If you keep silent, keep silent by love: if you speak, speak by love; if you correct, correct by love; if you pardon, pardon by love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow.21
a) And the comment:

That fruitfulness or creative power of love acts on three different levels and with different degrees of sureness.

Loving is always effective for the one who loves, on the condition that he has worked to make his love authentic: to effectively seek the good of the other. Anyone who works in this way will see his own perfection and bliss grow as a result, without aiming for it.

Very often, love is also effective also in the one who knows and feels that he or she is loved. “Where there is no love, put love and you will find love,” is one of St. John of the Cross’ most quoted sayings.

Nevertheless, in this case, the beloved has the freedom to reject the love that is being offered or to be unwilling to do what would be required to make his own love arise or grow, and with it, his own improvement.

In any case, it seems that it can be said that, although loving another person does not always cause them to bear the fruits of progress, it is almost (or not) the only way of stirring up those fruits: without love, it would be very difficult for anyone to rise higher and give more of himself.

Finally, the plenitude of mutual love calls for an overflow to the benefit of third parties, by which the original love will also be increased and expanded.

As I already suggested, the most authentic love is conjugated very particularly in the third person, in making others participants in the reciprocal love.

Therefore, and only by way of example: when a married couple does not receive the blessing of children in whom to place their mutual love, or even when the spouses intentionally prevented babies from being conceived or born and then changed their minds, love calls them to seek the good of third persons. They should do so not in an isolated way, but as a result of the love that they offer to each other, even though each of them may also serve on their own.

2. A “no” to activism

In any case, it is not just or fundamentally about doing, as contemporary activism suggestions, but first and above all about loving, even though we know:

a) That, quite often, as Benavente said, “love has to go to school.” We could add Rilke’s correct judgment:

To love is also good: for love is difficult. Fondness between human beings: that is perhaps the most difficult task that is set us, the ultimate thing, the final trial and test, the work for which all other work is only preparation [die Arbeit, für die alle andere Arbeit nur Vorbereitung ist].22

It seems, then, that love not only gives, but demands the greatest expertise that one could obtain in every circumstance: in one’s own marriage, in the family as a whole, at work…

b) That, therefore, without works, including those of the intellect that inquires and finally understands, such affection is not complete.

In this way, we could avoid many internal frictions, the result of false alternatives: like that of working too much outside of home, trying to be involved in the social area, with friends or acquaintances… or dedicating preferential attention to the spouse and children: when all these actions are the result of love, the presumed incompatibility between one or the other disappears, not just in theory but also in practice, perhaps seasoned with a dose of humor and ingenuity.

This idea can be illustrated with some words by Francisco Gómez Antón, a professor with many years of university teaching experience and great success with his students. When he was asked for the “secret” of his success in the classroom, he answered, “To give a good class, you have to do a lot of things. The first is to love the students very much.”23
The same idea could be expanded: to do something well, no matter what it is, the first condition is to love the people who will receive the fruits of that work, and to love them very much.

3. And a “no” to speed

Finally, it would be good to recall that the perfection achieved by virtue of one’s own love is not an instant achievement, nor even the result of a few years, but the work of a lifetime.

That, among other reasons, is why the family plays such an unequaled role. As Mazzini reminds us, the family has a beautiful gift which is very rare in other places: persistence. Affections are woven together slowly, almost without noticing; but they are tenacious and lasting, tied together day by day like ivy around a tree. These love ties are often identified, in the end, with our own life. You often may not even be able to see them, since they are part of you; but when you lose them, you feel like something deep is missing, something you need in order to live.

And so, we have to be patient and forget speed, which is something much more difficult in these times, as Carlos Cardona said with a touch of irony. In a similar context, Thibon writes again:

Consider one thing: the more elevated an act in the hierarchy of values, the less beneficial to do it quickly. […] It is excellent for a lover to go quickly to a date. But if, having just come to his beloved, he begins to worry about the time, the fullness of their exchange will be very compromised. “Love and rushing do not go well together,” Milosz said. Anything in time that draws close to the eternal requires a long periods of maturing and waiting.24

The perfection achieved through love is the work of a lifetime.

May you, too, reader, wait expectantly for those other books where, as I promised at one point, I plan to develop aspects that are only sketched out here!

 

Don’t worry.

Human knowledge is progressive. We do not usually fully understand something when we read it the first time. What we halfway understood prepares us to study what comes next, and then we can clarify what we already learned. Often it is just a matter of going over it again, of reading the same thing more than once. But the end result will bring considerable satisfaction.

Take heart.

 

Help for personal reflection

 

• In this topic, the term “heart” appears three times. It is a very common term in theology, a bit less in philosophy (except in personalism), but it has a profound anthropological meaning and is especially relevant when speaking of love. What are we referring to when we speak of a person’s heart? Can it be considered a synonym of “will” or is it something more (or less)? And specifically, why does the first chapter allude to the “heart of the one who loves”? What do we want to highlight?

• As we saw, self-giving puts “the seal of authenticity” on love. After what we studied, I ask you again:

Does this mean that a love that does not lead to self-giving is not authentic?

Can there be love without self-giving? Give reasons for your answer.

• Just by pouring himself out, forgetting self, the person achieves his own fulfillment.

Could you explain in your own words how this paradox can be understood… if it is understandable?

• Man is a being-for-love: what are the implications of this constitutive inclination?

• In light of what we covered in this section, I invite you to reflect on the following statements which, in the end, explain the difference between man and animals as regards love.

1. The reason why men and women naturally tend to give themselves is due to their enormous ontological density, their particular greatness.

2. Because of its indigence, the animal only seeks its own perfection, only to end up subjected without reservations to its species and to the whole of the universe.

• According to what was set forth above, love is the motor and key of all education, both in and outside of the family. If you are in agreement with that statement, would you be able to explain in what sense it is so? What examples come to mind?

 

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Tomás Melendo
tmelendo@uma.es
www.edufamilia.com
Traducción: Trish Bailey Arceo

1 Salinas, Pedro, La voz a ti debida, cit., 1974, p. 77. Salinas, Pedro: La voz a ti debida. In Love Poems by Pedro Salinas: My Voice Because of You & Letter Poems to Katherine. Parallel text in English and Spanish. Translated and with an Introduction by Willis Barnstone. With a Foreword by Jorge Guillén and an Afterword by Enric Bou. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 51. Original text: «¿Regalo, don, entrega? / Símbolo puro, signo / de que me quiero dar. / Qué dolor, separarme / de aquello que te entrego / y que te pertenece / sin más destino ya / que ser tuyo, de ti, / mientras que yo me quedo / en la otra orilla, solo, / todavía tan mío. / Cómo quisiera ser / eso que yo te doy / y no quien te lo da».

2 St. John of the Cross: “Canciones entre el alma y el esposo”; en Idem: Obras completas. Madrid: BAC, 11ª ed., 1982, p. 28. St. John of the Cross: An Appreciation. Ed. Daniel M. Dombrowski. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992, p. 165.

3 Homer: The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: The Penguin Group, 1996, p. 87.

4 The term “prostitution” should not be cause for alarm. If we look at the etymology of the word, it means treating someone as if he or she were a thing: in our case, as an object of purchase or sale. At the same time, it is not wrong for it to cause a shock. Treating a human being like a thing means degrading him or her, trampling his or her personal dignity.

5 Alberoni, Francesco: Innamoramento e amore, cit., pp. 61-62.

6 Cf., for example, among the many possible quotes: “However, what is missing in the frame of such an image of man is that fundamental characteristic of the human reality which I have come to term its self-transcendent quality. I thereby want to denote the intrinsic fact that being human always relates and points to something other than itself —better to say, something or someone. That is to say, rather than being concerned with any inner condition, be it pleasure or homeostasis, man is oriented toward the world out there, and within this world, he is interested in meanings to fulfill, and in other human beings. By virtue of what I would call the pre-reflective ontological self-understanding he knows that he is actualizing himself precisely to the extent to which he is forgetting himself, and he is forgetting himself by giving himself, be it through serving a cause higher than himself, or loving a person other than himself. Truly, self-transcendence is the essence of human existence”. Frankl, Viktor E., Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning. New York: Basic Books, 2000 (1st ed., Der Unbewusste Gott, 1948 and The Unconscious God, 1975), p. 138.

7 Cardona Pescador, Juan: Los miedos…, cit., pp. 94-95.

8 Guardini, Romano, The Word and the Person translated by Stella Longe. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1965, pp. 117-118.

9 In my own years of experience, a significant source of learning has been precisely my effort to explain specific ideas to people who are new to the material.

10 Llano, Carlos: Nudos del humanismo en los albores del siglo XXI. México: Cecsa, 2001, pp. 11-12.

11 I do not want to be unfair or think badly of anyone, but often I fear that the excessive giving of some women may come from an unconscious (and therefore, not consented to) desire to feel irreplaceable. Such a deviation begins in a very deep and very genuine truth: as we can see especially during pregnancy, the woman is absolutely necessary for the life of her child, for every human being. The problem is when that wonderful reality, which makes her something really great and exceptional, pulls her beyond the correct limits, or when she tries to apply it to matters in which the right thing to do is to know how to let go of her own irreplaceable character. And this cannot be done without suffering and making others suffer.

12 This happens in a primordial and absolute way in the three divine Persons, but also in created persons.

13 Arzú de Wilson, Mercedes: Love and Family: Raising a Traditional Family in a Secular World. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996, p. 76.

14 Morales, Rafael: “Pena”; in Obra poética, cit., p. 65.

15 Leonardi, Mauro: “Paura di servire, paura di vivere”; in Studi Cattolici, n. 518 (Aprile di 2004), pp. 326-327.

16 Cardona, Carlos, Metafísica de la opción intelectual, Madrid: Rialp, 2a. ed., 1973, p. 129.

17 Escrivá de Balaguer, Josemaría, The Way, Furrow, the Forge, New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2001, p. 491.

18 Caffarra, Carlo: Sexualidad a la luz de la antropología y de la Biblia, Madrid: Rialp, 1998, p. 22.

19 Torelló, Juan Bautista, cit. por Nannei, Carlos: El amor no es una palabra equívoca. S.R., pp. 11-12.

20 Ortega y Gasset, José: On Love: Aspects of a Single Theme. Translated by Toby Talbot. New York: The New American Library, 1957, p. 93.

21 I copy the original Latin text: «Semel ergo breve praeceptum tibi praecipitur: Dilige et quod vis fac: sive taceas, dilectione taceas; sive clames, dilectione clames; sive emendes, dilectione emendes; sive parcas, dilectione parcas: radix sit intus dilectionis, non potest de ista radice nisi bonum existere». St. Augustine of Hippo: In Epistolam Ioannis ad Parthos Tractatum decem. Tractatus VII, 8; in Obras completas. Edición bilingüe. Madrid: BAC., 2a. ed. (revisada), 2003. Vol. XVIII: Escritos Bíblicos (2º), pp. 637-638.

22 This irrefutable statement is followed by a series of considerations that could perhaps be nuanced, but which may also be quite useful. The poet says, “Therefore young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot know love yet: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their strength gathered about their lonely, fearful, upward beating heart, they must learn to love. But apprenticeship is always a long, secluded time, and therefore loving is for a long while, far into life—: solitude, heightened and deepened aloneness for him who loves. Loving in the first instance is nothing that can be called losing, surrendering and uniting oneself to another (for what would a union be, of something unclarified and unready, still inferior—?), it is a sublime occasion for the individual to mature, to grow into something in himself, to become world for himself for anther’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and summons him to a distant goal. Only in this sense, as a task to work upon themselves (‘to hearken and to hammer day and night’) might young people use the love that is given them. The self-losing and the surrender and all manner of communion is not for them (they must save and treasure for a long, long while yet), it is the ultimate thing, it is perhaps something for which human lives are so far hardly adequate”. Rilke, Rainer Maria: Letters to a Young Poet. Miami: BN Publishing, 2008, pp. 31-32.

23 Gómez Antón, Francisco: Desmemorias. Pamplona: Eunsa, 2002, p. 13.

24 Thibon, Gustave: Entretiens avec Christian Chabanis. Paris: Fayard, 1975, p. 44-45.


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