Anthony de Mello, the late Jesuit priest and spiritual writer, describes the nature of true love in this way: “Take a look at a rose. Is it possible for the rose to say, ‘I shall offer my fragrance to good people and withhold it from bad people?’ Or can you imagine a lamp that withholds its rays from a wicked person who seeks its light? It could only do that by ceasing to be a lamp. And observe how helplessly and indiscriminately a tree gives its shade to everyone, good and bad, young and old, high and low; to animals and humans and every living creature – even to the one who seeks to cut it down.” (The Way to Love, p.77)
These are the qualities of love, says de Mello:
1. Love is indiscriminate; it is given to all. “That is why we are exhorted to be like God, ‘who makes his sun to shine on good and bad alike and makes his rain to fall on saints and sinners alike; so you must be all goodness as your heavenly Father is all goodness. Contemplate in astonishment the sheer goodness of the rose, the lamp, the tree,” writes de Mello, “for there you have an image of what love is all about.” (p.77-78)
2. Love is gratuitous. Like the tree, the rose, the lamp, it gives and asks for nothing in return. When we love only those who can give us what we want and are negative or indifferent towards those who don’t, our so-called love is really just “a camouflage for selfishness and greed.” (p.79) “If you love only those who love you, what reward to do you have?” says Jesus, “Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” Offer love to all whom you meet, asking nothing in return.
3. Love is unselfconscious. “Love so enjoys the loving that it is blissfully unaware of itself. The way the lamp is busy shining with no thought of whether it is benefitting others or not. The way a rose gives out its fragrance simply because there is nothing else it can do, whether there is someone to enjoy the fragrance or not. The way the tree offers its shade. The light, the fragrance and the shade are not produced at the approach of persons and turned off when there is no one there. These things, like love, exist independently of persons. Love simply is, it has no object. They simply are, regardless of whether someone will benefit from them or not. So they have no consciousness of any merit or doing good.” (p.79-80)
4. Love is free. “The moment coercion or control or conflict enters,” says de Mello, “love dies. Think how the rose, the tree, the lamp leave you completely free. The tree will make no effort to drag you into its shade… The lamp will not force its light on you… “ (p.80). In the same way love is given freely, without coercion or control.
This is how God has loved us.
God’s love is given to us all – it is indiscriminate. “The Lord hates nothing he has made,” the Scripture says.
God’s love is gratuitous – it is given even whether or not we respond in return.
God’s love is unselfconscious – because God’s very nature is love, everything God does is done in love.
And God’s love is free – it does not coerce or control, nor does it force itself upon us. It is offered to us freely, as a gift, completely gratuitous.
When we receive this love and let ourselves be transformed by it, we can become channels of God’s love to others. “We love because God first loved us,” says the author of I John. “Love one another,” Jesus says, “as I have loved you.” When we love as God has loved us, we become love, just as God is love. Like the rose, the lamp, the tree, love will become our very nature and we will be exactly what we have been created to be.
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