Loving as Jesus loves

by Guest Contributor

Fr. Cireneo “Dodong” Matulac is a Columban priest from Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay. He lives and works in the Philippines and reminds us to be like Jesus in the way we live our lives, and the way we relate with others, sharing the love of God with others.

In a consumer society, loving means an addition to what the self has already accumulated. One of the manifestations of it is in our entertainment industry when a celebrity marries another celebrity, they would sign a pre-nuptial contract in which each partner has no claim to every-thing the other partner owned prior to the marriage.

But this is not the only example. In ordinary life, there is a sense that one only commits oneself to a relationship or friendship if the other party is totally submissive to the whims of oneself. For instance, a rich man marries a beautiful woman, showers her with everything, and the woman, on the other hand, is more interested in his money than himself. It is based on the idea that love is like a commodity that can be consumed, a claim to total passivity on the other, to feed only one’s desire.

Relationships like this, one that is based on submission and passivity and compliance, always end up in disasters or regression. A lot of power relationships operates in this way, actually, especially government or state – in exacting compliance on the people rather than participation in democratic process. The philosopher Byung-Chul Han (The Agony of Eros), in exploring love relationship, says that “the minimum condition for true love is possessing sufficient courage to accept self-negation for the sake of discovering the other.”

Here, self-negation means (in Webster dictionary) tending or serving to negate or deny one’s own wishes, needs, value, or importance.

Han postulates that in love relationship, one is drawn towards the other but the other is never reducible to one’s definition. The experience of love then is shot through with powerlessness – the price to be paid for all revelation of the other.

In other words, the acceptance that the person that I love, is totally different from me, and cannot be reduced to merely fulfilling my own desires and wishes. That is why, parents who allow their children to carve their own future, of course with their support and guidance, are life-giving to their children.

I met this Filipino couple in Chicago and they have two children. The couple work as nurses. In my few years there, they would invite me to go out with the whole family. The eldest, a daughter, was finishing her senior high school. In one conversation where I was present, the daughter was talking about visiting different universities. She was top of her class so getting into a good university was not a problem.

She said, “Mom and Dad, these are the courses that came to my mind, and there are the universities that I am invited to, I like this one, and I like that one, what do you think?” The parents are more practical. The father would say, “Oh, well, make sure you have decided on the career you really want, and maybe think of a good university that suits you, and also think whether we could afford it.” It becomes a dialogue.

She eventually decided to go to Marquette University, a Jesuit university, because she could also get a scholarship.

I think that is an example of self-negation through the other, whom one loves. One is not reduced to the whims and desire of one party. In fact, the other is experienced as negative. The other that cannot be controlled but only al-lowed to flourish. Again, this does not mean, for parents, lack of support and guidance from them.

I think that is the dialectic that was shown in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. Jesus is proposing to them a life of fulness but they are free to respond to that invitation. In fact, one of them totally negates it and that led to Jesus’ death. Jesus accepts that he has no control and power over the response of people to his invitation but nevertheless offers it to them. There is no threat of punishment or wrath but simply an invitation to love.

In the gospel of John Chapter 15:12-13, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In John, the way to the Father (God who is love) is always by means of his self-giving love on the cross.

If Byung-Chul Han is right that the minimum of loving is self-negation, then self-giving of Jesus through his sacrificing love in death is truly radical and revolutionary.

The French philosopher Alain Badiou says that, “love, the essence of which is fidelity to the meaning I give to this word, demonstrates how eternity can exist within the span of life itself.” (In Praise of Love).

May we learn the way of Jesus in the way we live our lives, and the way we relate with others. May we continue to respond to his invitation to live life fully so others may also have fully lived.