Chiara Petrillo was seated in a wheel chair looking lovingly toward Jesus in the tabernacle. Her husband, Enrico, found the courage to ask her a question that he had been holding back. Thinking of Jesus’s phrase, “my yoke is sweet and my burden is light,” he asked: “Is this yoke, this cross, really sweet, as Jesus said?”
A smile came across Chiara’s face. She turned to her husband and said in a weak voice: “Yes, Enrico, it is very sweet.”
Servant of God Chiara Petrillo, January 9, 1984 – June 13, 2012
The nature of love has been debated by poets and philosophers since the beginning of history. The ancient Greeks had six words for love:
- Eros, or sexual passion. …
- Philia, or deep friendship. …
- Agape, or love for everyone. …
- Ludus, or playful love. …
- Pragma, or longstanding love. …
- Philautia, or love of the self.
Myself, I once stumbled into my own definition of love working back from quantum physics!* Recently, I made the mistake of walking into the middle of a discussion of the nature of love: “True love“, I interjected, “will always include suffering“. At that point, my high hopes of an interesting philosophical reflection abruptly ended when the person I was engaging stormed away, vehemently denying my premise. Earlier, this same person said that “love is an exchange of mutual benefit between two beings.” At that point I asked how could God, who needs nothing from us, could love us according to that definition? That discussion didn’t last long either.
But I don’t totally blame him from walking away, suffering isn’t something we like to dwell on and at first glance it doesn’t make sense that suffering, which means pain, is intertwined with love, which brings us happiness. Suffering and Love... I did indirectly touch on this in an earlier post on my grandfather’s relationship with his ill wife: “I Love” A sanctifying Response to Adversity
My grandfather was not the only example of this kind of heroic love. I’ve known my Uncle Dave for over fifty years, ever since he married my mother’s sister Phyllis. A gentle and patient man, he always had time for us grand kids when we were growing up. He was the adult who would literally stoop down to listen to us children, caring about what we had to say. I never saw him impatient with anyone or angry. If I had to describe him to someone who didn’t know him with one sentence it would be: “Uncle Dave loved his children, his grandchildren and his nephews and nieces unconditionally and as kids growing up we knew that instinctively.”
My Uncle David Sale lived the vocation of the meaning of true love when he took care of his wife Phyllis during her final illness. For the last couple of years of her life my Aunt Phyllis developed a devastating and debilitating illness. As the illness developed, Uncle Dave took on more responsibility as a caretaker. By watching him tenderly care for Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Dave’s true inner strength was reveled to all.
At times, he was exhausted, other times frightened. In the end, it was tragic to lose his wife just months after celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Uncle Dave bore it all with patience and above all else with love. Did Uncle Dave experience suffering? Yes, Uncle Dave did suffer but he was never miserable. How can that be? The key is to understand that suffering and misery are not the same thing. Misery is always coupled with despair, without hope. Misery is filled with self pity and doesn’t think of others. Quite often misery is angry and lashes out. In the end, misery never has meaning and it is never heroic.
Suffering though, has hope and trust, it understands that all works for the greater good of those who love God and who love others. Suffering is never inwardly focused but is always putting the needs of others first. The suffering person is wiling to sacrifice himself, even including his life.
When I visited Uncle Dave and Aunt Phyllis during the illness, he would sometimes let his guard down just a tiny bit and confess that he was tired and a bit sad. Even in this very human moment, Uncle Dave still radiated out inner peace, love and at a deep level, joy. Through it all, Uncle Dave modeled for all of us how heroic suffering can be.
So how are suffering and loved linked? Well if they are not linked then my uncle’s deep love for Aunt Phyllis and every thing he did for her during her illness would be incomprehensible. When we are willing to suffer for the ones we love as an act of love we participate in the very life of God, who is Love.
Without God, without Love as God, love is reduced to just an economic exchange “… of mutual benefit between two beings.”
Without God, love is incomprehensible and suffering to bring about a greater good is ultimately futile.
Without God, only misery remains when we are confronted with pain and loss.
Pain and loss in our lives is unavoidable but seen in the context of love, we can have peace and even joy in within suffering.
True love can be difficult, especially when we are called on to suffer and sacrifice for others. Not everyone can do it or even know how to do it, and we need examples to follow and Uncle Dave was, and is, one of those examples.
Thank you Uncle Dave…
Simon and Garfunkel: Book Ends
John Michael Talbot: Eternal Light
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* I was reading once how the further you go back in time close to the Big Bang there exists higher energies and higher densities. At these higher energies and densities the four fundamental forces collapse into each other. Those four forces:
- Nuclear Strong Force
- Nuclear weak force
- Electromagnetic force
would combine into a single “super” force just after the Big Bang. All of these forces act on particles both fermions and bosons. As the universe cooled after the Big Bang the super force would break down into the four forces we know today. So I asked: “This primeval super force right at the Big Bang, is there a force even more fundamental than that?” Well, it seemed to me that there should be a more fundamental force. A force that creates ex nilo everything that which it acts upon. At that point it seemed to me that this “creative force” was just another description of the creative attribute of God: creating all from nothing. ” Of course, God is love, everything that exists was created out of and from love.