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Franciscan Mysticism (Update)

In a reflection for America, I remarked upon an aspect of the Pope's conversation with Father Spadaro to which I do not think sufficient attention has been paid.

[O]ne appreciates the pope’s striking evocation of the mystical dimension of Christian life. Like Benedict XVI, Francis insists that Christianity cannot be reduced to a moral code. It is preeminently about relationship with a person: the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, his contention that Ignatius of Loyola (who figures prominently in this conversation between two Jesuits) is not in the first instance an ascetic, but a mystic. And that the much-praised Ignatian practice of discernment is not a technique mechanically applied, but “an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and to follow him more closely.” 

Here too we can situate the pope’s challenging presentation of Blessed Peter Faber as model. What is compelling about Faber is his ability to join “interior experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform” in an inseparable unity. As with Faber, so with Francis.

As with his namesake, the poor man of Assisi, at the heart of Pope Francis's mysticism is the cross. He had already affirmed this in his very first homily to the Cardinals the morning after his election. And he reaffirmed it this morning in his homily at Santa Marta:

The Holy Father spoke of the different attitudes that a Christian can take: who follows him to a certain point and who follows him to the end. The danger you run, he warned, is that of giving in to “the temptation of spiritual well-being”, of thinking that we have everything already: the Church, Jesus Christ, the sacraments, Our Lady and thus, no need to search for anything. But this “is not enough. Spiritual well-being,” the Pope explained, “is fine to a certain point”.  What is missing is “the anointing of the cross, the anointing of humiliation. He humiliated himself unto his own death and a death on the Cross. This is the touchstone, the measure of our Christian reality.  Am I a Christian of the culture of well-being or am I Christian who accompanies the Lord unto the Cross?”

Update:

In this morning's homily at Santa Marta, Pope Francis continues his meditation on the cross. In what follows I have corrected an inaccurate translation:

The Cross causes fear even in the work of evangelization. Pope Francis observes: There is the “rule” according to which, “the disciple is not greater than the Master. There is the rule according to which there is no redemption without the effusion of blood.” There is no fruitful apostolic work without the Cross.

“Perhaps we think – each one of us can wonder: ‘And to me, what shall happen? How will my Cross be?’ We do not know. We do not know, but there will be one. We must pray for the grace not to fly from the Cross when it comes: with fear, eh! That is true. That scares us. Nevertheless, that is where following Jesus leads. The last words that Jesus spoke to Peter come to mind – in that Pontifical incoronation at Tiberias: ‘Do you love me? Feed ...! Do you love me? Feed...!’…but the final words were these: ‘They shall take you where you do not want to go!’ The promise of the Cross.”

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Thank you.

I did think it was interesting that he said Ignatius was a mystic, not an ascetic - I agree.  Also interesting his mention of the discernment of spirits.  I'm no expert but I wouldn't say discernment is  an instrument of struggle but a method used to make good decisions - it can be kind of mechanically applied in some circumstances:  see this by John Veltri SJ - but still it's about basing choices on interior feelings of consolation/desolation that help you discover  God's desire for you.

I don't think Francis' mysticism is typically Jesuit though - he's mixed it with what seems like a more conservative devotional mysticism ... his interest in the Comunione e Liberazione movement, for instance.

It was Karl Rahner, an SJ, not an OFM, who said, "In the days ahead, you will be either a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or you will be nothing at all." I heard a homily, very recently, on the theme of "everything in moderation." It seems that that is an old adage of the Church that unfortunately (?) has not been heard much lately.

On the other hand, in a discussion of a bunch of ordinary guys last Wednesday, when the famous interview came up, one of them said: "When you follow the path Pope Francis is pointing to, you have to take up your cross, and you end up with maybe martyrdom. Does that becomes the deal killer?"

Someone else asked if any of us would put on war paint, dress in appropriate colors, grill brats a tailgate party in the church parking lot, go inside for a three-hour Mass and then go home and watch a football game on TV for 45 minutes. Francis has ordinary guys talking like that, which suggests, to me, that some people are  resonating to what the pope is saying about what they are seeing and are thinking about giving mysticism a chance.

If pew sitters try to go beyond the culture of well-being, will they be led by their annointed leaders, or will they have to figure it out themselves? And if they figure it out themselves, what will that do to the institutional church's authority? Frankly, I was surprised at the impact Francis had on one particular group -- hardly a representative sample of everybody, but still....

"Francis insists that Christianity cannot be reduced to a moral code."

Agreed.  And moral codes should not be reduced to culture wars, either.

To the extent that Ignatius was nourished at the fonts of Francis and Dominic, yes Franciscan mysticism or Dominican mysticism.  But that is to stall at an inceptive moment,  for what he drew from them he transformed into Ignatian mysticism.  Anyone not willing to dwell on this aspect of Pope Francis' spirituality has missed the boat.  He is thoroughly Ignatian. Any attempt to assimilate him to Francis or Dominic is simplistic and misses the point of the more complicated Ignatian mysticism which Francis embodies.  Let us respect all the forms of mysticism that contribute to the entity we call Church and resist trying to reduce them to one or other.

Pope Francis has a strong devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. In that famous briefcase that he carried onto the long Rome-Rio de Janeiro flight were two books, his breviary and a recent study of the spirituality of Therese. Perhaps that's why the he chose 1 October, the feast of the Little Flower, as the opening day of the meeting with the eight cardinals.

Bishop Patrick Ahern, who had an important role in having St. Therese declared a Doctor of the Church, would be delighted.

line 3: delete "the" before "he"

Agree, Alan C. Mitchell.

I remember hearing from my Benedictine teachers in parochial school, decades ago, that all Catholics incline to one of the major orders or another in their spirituality.  Some are natural-born Dominicans, Franciscans, or Benedictines.  I can't remember if they mentioned Carmelites and Jesuits.  

Third orders, oblates, associates, etc., provide a good way for laypeople to express those inclinations.  

(I prefer the Benedictine path and found retreat masters who presented the Ignatian way incomprehensible.  I enjoyed the exuberance of Redemptorists but disliked Dominican and Vincentian priests.  I've had little experience with Franciscan spirituality, but I think Francis is easily molded to fit whatever his devotees want him to be.)

When we talk about "mysticism" here, wouldn't it be a good idea to say what sort of "mysticism" we're talking about?

 

It's extremely difficult to talk about "mysticism" in general because there doesn't seem to be anything which all experiences called "mystical" have in common, except, perhaps that they're all *unusual or strange* human experiences.   

 

The objects of the experiences so named vary wildly -- they include everything  from magical gems to ghosts to visions of future events  to meeting transparent extraterrestrials,  not to mention "mystical" experiences of lower level things such as human souls, and the highest sort of mystical experience of God as He is in Himself.  But even experiences of God or the Absolute vary widely.  There are experiences of the absolute Self of the Hindus, the absolute non-person of the Buddhists, the Triune God of the Christians, and there's the meeting with the God-Who-Is-Love whom mystics at different times and places and in different religious traditions claim to have met personally.  These latter experiences are always said to be ecstatic and basically indescribable.  

 

R. C. Zaehner, a great Catholic scholar of mysticism, clarified the mystical field somewhat by showing from the writings of the greatest mystics from different religions that there are three basically different sorts of experiences which are *called* "mystical" and "religious" but which have essentially different objects.  Some of  them can be produced by drugs or ascetic practices and really have nothing to do with God.  Only one kind is, in fact, an experience of God.  Surprising to some, Zaehner says that this essentially religious kind is sometimes had by non-Catholics, including among others, Hindus, Muslims and Jews.  Such mystics define their experiences as extraordinary, ineffable, ecstatic and gifts of a God who is Love.  Few people have these.  

 

I should also note that for Zaehner so-called "contemplation" of the Christian mysteries is not included in mystical experience because a lot of contemplation is not exclusively about God -- it includes thoughts about the contemplative herself and  the physical world, though such prayer is also, of course, about God.  Such contemplation is *religious* but not mystical.  On the other hand, to complicate the terminology, some "contemplatives" (people who devote their whole lives to prayer) typically do contemplative prayer but sometimes some contemplatives also receive the gift of mystical experience in the highest sense.

 

Bernard McGinn,  another great Catholic scholar, includes among mystics those who have the extraordinary, ecstatic experiences that are directed solely towards God, but he also includes those lesser lights (especially some medieval women) who described visions they claimed were sent to them from God or the saints.  (These mystics are called "visionaries".)  Their visions are purportedly messages of spiritual importance for both the mystic and those who accept her visions as true somehow.

 

I suspect that these days many Catholics mean by "mystical" an experience of a kind of prayer which is, as the old catechism put it, "a lifting of the mind and heart to God", but it is intended to somehow go beyond our concerns with the material world and meet with God on a purely spiritual level.  (And, yes, there seem to be many spiritual levels.)  I'm thinking of Centering Prayer.  These prayers are more than a prayer reflecting only our mundane concerns or a prayerful process of discernment.  Maybe we could call such more ambitious prayer "meta-mundane" prayer, or something like that.  Any suggestions? 

 

My point is that just talking about "mysticism" doesn't communicate much.  We need to say (or try to say) what kind of prayer or experience we're referring to.  Distinguishing discernment, visionary experience, contemplation, and meta-mundane prayer would be a start.

 

I suspect  that Pope Francis is into several kinds, but he hasn't been too clear about any of it either, except the discernment.

 

Sorry to go on at such length but the field is vast and murky.  It needs clarifying, starting with our daunting semantic problems.

Ann Olivier,

Well if you want the latest from the best scholars on mysticism, I recommend the book that my wife, Julia A. Lamm editied, The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism. http://amzn.to/1fRwcgW

The book was glowingly endorsed by Bernard McGinn.

Pardon my proud boast, but my wife is really brilliant.

 

 

I wonder who the intended audience is for The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism. The list price is $199.95. Even with Amazon's discount, it's $157.72. And with the Kindle version priced at $149.83, it's the first Kindle book I have come across that costs more than a Kindle! There must be a lot of wealthy mystics out there. 

Ann:

I did some of my graduate studies on spirituality and mental health and a chapter was devoted to mysticism (apophatic and kataphatic). I was interested in Ignatius and Eckhart. There has been a lot of neuropsychiatric research on the mystical mind and how certain methods, techniques, and processes produce a "God" consciousness or an apprehension of reality. 

I think that there is a theological point as well. In that the immanentists might be on to something. That is to say that God gives birth to the "world" in the consciousness (arguably that could be the term that was meant by soul) of the human person.

In that sense while God is outside of creation as Creator, the apprehension of the divine has to somehow occur within the consciousness or world of that we inhabit. I realize that this is like panentheism but I lean more towards panentheism than the traditional view of the operation of the Creator in the world.

The medieval mystics can, therefore, be read according to strides in neuropsychiatric research. I do not see this as in anyway reducing theology to psychology. Their methods are useful in terms of assisting us to achieve heightened mental health and better adaptation to society and ultimately transformation of it.

But I do think we have to avoid a certain magical thinking whereby God somehow magically intrudes on our mind. In this respect, I think Eckhart's spark of the soul and his work is among the best and certainly deserves more prominence among the Dominicans. Also that whole Rhineland school, Mechtild of Magdeburg and many of the Beguines should be mined.

Mindfullness is really big in psychology and learning today. It is connected to emotional self regulation which has been shown to be an important contributor to success in learning.

I think the work of updating the language of the mystics is an important contribution for mystical theology today.

David Nickol,

Welcome to the world of academic books.  All of the Wiley "companions" are similarly priced.  Books are expensive especially specialized volumes, which may be purchased by only a few.  Hopefully, you can read it in your local univerity or publis library. Trust me it is worth the read at any price.

 

 

Thank you, Alan, it looks splendid.  Just what I've been wanting -- more about the Eastern Christians and especially about contemporary mystics and questions.  

I don't think McGinn is ever going to finish his mammough work.  At first he projected 3 volumes, and it's  now up to 5, and  not finishshed yet.  Sigh.  But the field is so huge.  

Given the interest in Christian mysticism from the very beginning  and even past the Reformation (though on a smaller scale) I can't help but believe that the time is ripe for lay Western Christians to take it up.  And, with all their foolishness at times,  I think we can mainly thank the New Agers for the current interest,  and, of course, Merton was ahead of his time.  But the interest is definitely there -- you'll nevere guess where I just ordered a copy from --  Walmart!!  See?

David N. --  I think the Nook version is less expensive than the Kindle one.

 

George D. --

 

If you're in the mental health field you must, must, read Zaehner's "Mysticism: Sacred and Profane".  He shows very clearly that some so-called "mystics" have an intuition which *in its logical structure* cannot be distinguished  from a certain kind of schizophrenic thought.  (Such mystics are what you call "pan-en-theists", I think.)  The psychiatrists have known for a very long time that schizophrenics have  trouble classifying things, and this results in their identification of things which could not possibly be classified in the ways the schizophrenic classifies them.  For instance, a schizophrenic might think this way:  'Dogs have tails, and pigs have a tails, so dogs are pigs, and my dog Fido is a pig", or 'The maid cleans things, and my tooth brush cleans things, so the maid is a tooth brush'.  (I should mention that this is not the only sort of thinking problem that schizophrenics have.)   

 

Some schizophrenics identify *all* beings with all other beings in the whorl.  This pattern might go like this: 'The Sun is a being, I am a being, so I'm the Sun, and the lamp post is a being, so the lamp post is the Sun and it's also me, and  everything is everything, and I am everything, and I am  God and God is me, and also the lamp post, etc.'.  Such thinking is totally irrational, of course, but the pan-en-henic mystics find it to be an overwhelming experience, and they often remain convinced that the intuition is true. Zaehner himself had such an experience, but was otherwise quite normal (so far as I know:-)   Often such mystics are otherwise quite normal.  Zaehner doesn't go so far as to call them (and himself) crazy.  But the similarities of the logical structure of their intuitions and that of some schizophrenic thinking are undeniable -- they're identifications of what is not  identical.   

 

These experiences are accompanied by -- or possibly are caused by -- a change in brain wave pattern.  Some people, like Zaehner, have such an experience only once in their whole life, while others, such as the poet Tennyson, have them often.  And, by the way, drugs can cause such experiences, and so can some physical and mental exercises.

 

I should note that the neuroscientists whom I read a while back (e.g., Gazziniga et al) are interested in the "cosmic" type only.  They don't even seem to realize that there are other kinds!  They're missing the essentially religious kind which Zaehner considers (which happens in the depths of the soul) and the kind which Zaehner calls "isolation mysticism" in which the mystic focuses inward, into her own beautiful soul, whom she sometimes mistakes for God.  Those experiences have nothing to do with nature or the cosmos.  

 

I think there's a *second* kind of genuine meeting with God, one in which the mystic becomes aware of the presence of God in nature but does NOT identify nature and herself with God.  I've run across several writers who describe being gloriously aware of God's presence in the world without thinking they're God.  They include Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan theologian who loved nature so much, and also an English woman, whose name I forget, as well as Thomas Merton who experienced God-as-compassion at a Buddhist site in Asia a couple of weeks before his death.  Interestingly, they were all Protestants to begin with, Merton having been initially raised as Anglican.

 

Complexity, complexity, complexity.

Anne:

Thanks I will check out the book.

I am thinking particulary of D'Aquili and Newberg who have researched the mystical experience in terms of its psychodynamic quality and change in brain patterning.Theologians have long puzzled over the entire imago Dei and how is it that we participate in the life of God who is existence. The entire ens/esse distinction if I recall my undergraduate philosophy was a big debate. Is "esse" a noun or a verb? 

But if you remove God as an absolute that stands outside of existence (for the sake of pure empirical psychological evaluation), you are left with the studying the process of prayer and meditation on the brains. This has been done with Carmelite sisters, Zen monks and so on. In fact, I recall where there was a study of how Gregorian chant had a kind of psycho-hypnotic effect on the mind. The results are that these types of meditations and practices do indeed have signficant impact and people who meditate regularly do have less addictions and generally better mental health outcomes. I am not saying that meditation is necessarily a treatment in an of itself but it certainly has positive effect. This might be due to the fact that people who are likely to be disciplined in meditaton are probably more likely to eat right, exercise, live simply and so on. But that would have to be studied.

Now the connection of God with the creation is not necessarily schizoid. It can be ecstatic. Bernanos has his hero in The Diary of a Country Priest exclaim that grace is everywhere just before he dies.

In the mystical process there is a kind of psychotic break with reality however this break does not lead to dissolution, fragmentation, fear but instead towards integration, connectedness and wholeness. There has been at least some research done on finding clinical criteria to distinguish the shizophrenic experience from the mystical one.

Mystics like Eckhart were brought up on charges of heresy for flirting with some of these ideas and the official teaching Church has always had an ambivalence around mysticism; in part due to fears of superstition, new age charltanism, etc but also because authority is vested in places outside of the official institutional Church. I think the church can provide an important critical weight so that enthusiasm do not go too far but they can also squelch the movement of the spirit as well.

 

 

Ann commented early on: "It's extemely difficult to talk about 'mysticism' in general." Ensuing comments have made interesting points, but it seems to me they have neglected the specificity of Christian mysticism (whether Franciscan, Dominican, or Ignatian).

The point of the post (and I dare say of the Pope) is to suggest that Christian mysticism is always cruciform, in this it is deeply rooted in Pauline soil: "Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal 6:14).

Louis Bouyer's "Introduction to the Spiritual Life" (which is being reprinted and is due out in November) makes the point that Christian mysticism is not some exotic flower, but the grace-endowed fulfillment of the new life initiated in baptism.

The real "complexity" of Christianity remains the scandal of the cross.

Complexity, complexity, complexity.

I prefer:   Mystery, mystery, mystery.

"The real "complexity" of Christianity remains the scandal of the cross.

Exactly. All the other verbiage is confusing. Maybe we need the 200 dollar book to figure it out. But I wonder if anybody here gave a clear definition or description of any of the so called mysticisms. In general I mistrust mystics.  

Thank you so much, Fr. Imbelli, for passing this along. "The temptation of spiritual well-being" is a fabulous phrase, because I take it he doesn't mean spiritual smugness or self-satisfaction, but actual spiritual well-being. I occasionally find myself in discussions of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism, and this strikes me as a phrase that would start a good conversation. The way of the cross is preached in the gospel right to the end, and the agony in the garden on the night before is experienced precisely by the most spiritually advanced guy in the room.

A chilling thought: as a preacher, I'm pretty sure no one would hear the "prosperity gospel" in my sermons, but I'm not so sure about the spritual-prosperity gospel, rooted in images like "a tree standing by streams of water, which bears fruit in due season." Spiritual well-being as itself a temptation is a very deep (and foreboding) place to go in a 10 minute sermon, but then just a couple of weeks ago we heard about Jesus look around at the large crowd in front of him and leading with ""Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." Somebody remind me of this around Ash Wednesday!

I guess I'll never understand why the cross is more important than what Jesus preached or than his resurrection.

Crystal, 

The cross includes all that he preached and led to the Resurrection. The Cross is important because it preeminently places the life of the Spirit over all temporal greed and ambition. The Cross is intrinsically linked with the last shall be first and the humble shall be exalted. As in today's Gospel. Lazarus lives while the greedy rich man perishes. 

That definitely clears things up.

http://i.imgur.com/vbnLh.jpg

 

Well Abe that is a really funny image. I think it underscores that we have not done the best job we could have in explaining the cross, as part of discipleship, in decades.

But Crystal is right in that it needs also be inserted within the totality of the paschal mystery including, and especially, the resurrection.

George,

our preaching of the mystery of Christ crucified is always inadequate; but we should not have any illusions: the cross remains "a scandal to Jews and folly to Greeks" ... and, of course, to ourselves.

Crystal,

of the innumerable ways of pondering the mystery of the cross, one is to take Pope Francis's episcopal motto: "Miserando atque Eligendo" -- "Having Mercy and Choosing." The cross is the sacramental sign of God's mercy upon us and of choosing us to become God's beloved sons and daughters in Christ. God's love for us becomes transparent in the self-gift of Christ, as Romans 8 proclaims.

Thanks everyone for the replies.   I can't help wondering if much of what we find significant in Jesus dying via torture/murder is a result of  early Christians needing an explanation for why things had gone so terribly wrong.  Would it be so much different if Jesus had died a natural death in old age and then was resurrected? The atonement idea - that Jesus had to suffer/die for our sins - seems another way of saying that if we had not been bad, there would have been no incarnation (felix culpa).  An interesting article ...  http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac1202.asp

"As with his namesake, the poor man of Assisi, at the heart of Pope Francis's mysticism is the cross."

"The point of the post (and I dare say of the Pope) is to suggest that Christian mysticism is always cruciform, in this it is deeply rooted in Pauline soil: "Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal 6:14)."

 

Fr Imbelli --

 

You seem to think that for Pope Francis suffering is a major point of "Christian mysticism", even its foundation.  I have to wonder just what Francis' meaning of "mysticism" is.  Surely in the mystical experiences of Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross there was no suffering there among the lilies.     

 

Does the Italian word he used have a somewhat different connotation from the meanings of "mysticism" in English?  Does it mean something even more general, e.g.,  "spirituality"?  Or something narrower, maybe.   (In English, as i wrote above, it has many different meanings.)

"No suffering among the lillies"? John of the Cross wrote most of two of his greatest works in a prison, into which fellow Catholics had thrown him for disturbing the faithful. You have read his gamboling deer against the background, or all you get is a gloss on the Song of Songs.

'I have to wonder just what Francis' meaning of "mysticism" is. Surely in the mystical experiences of Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross there was no suffering there among the lilies. '

 

I guess one question is whether for Francis "mysticism" encompasses something larger than "mystical experience." A phrase like "Dark night of the soul" suggests that suffering was involved at some point in the process for John of the Cross.

Thanks to Ann for prompting me to return to the first volume of Bernard McGinn's magisterial work on Christian mysticism. As I understand him, he speaks of mysticism in the Christian tradition as a heightened awareness of the presence of God mediated by Jesus Christ in his paschal mystery. Thus McGinn expands the notion of mysticism beyond "extraordinary experiences."

It is this that I sought to underscore when I mentioned above that Christian mysticism is rooted in the soil of baptism and is its grace-endowed flowering.

I find that two participants in this blog, Larry Cunningham and Frtiz Bauerschmidt, have written very helpfully about mysticism understood in this sense. Larry's article in Commonweal (October 2, 2011), "Near to God: Demystifying Mysticism" and Fritz's "Introduction" to his book, Why the Mystics Matter Now.

And I agree with Tom Blackburn and Mark Preece that one cannot evade the purifying and transforming nature of The Living Flame of Love. For the self-love of illusion and addiction must be purged before true union can be achieved. Or in Ignatian terms, one cannot detour around the third week of the Exercises to arrive at the joy of the fourth week. For otherwise, the "God" we find in all things may too easily be an idol of our own fabrication.

The cross may entail suffering, but it is not suffering for the sake of suffering, but for authentic love of God and neighbor.

 

It's true that there can be no resurrection without death, but it's the necessity of suffering to a good spiritual outcome that I question - that badness is needed to make good better.

Crystal --

As I see it, badness is necessary to repair badness, not make goodness better.

Hi Ann,

I'm just thinking about why Jesus being killed (as opposed to dying of natural causes) is so important to so many - why it's not the resurrection that's important instead of Jesus' suffering beforehand.  It seems as though many think that the suffering made Jesus' death more significant.  This implies that God needs evil (suffering) to make a good outcome (the resurrection) better than it would have been otherwise.  David Bentley Hart said of this idea ... "To suggest that evil can serve to increase the good sounds marvelous and dramatic; it is also quite heretical and quite philosophically incoherent."

But if evil (and suffering) is transformed in love, as Jesus does on the cross, then the good is not destroyed but vindicated. And the God of love raises his Son, Jesus, from the dead.

Crystal --

But Jesus' acceptance of suffering ^showed us how to love^ others by suffering with and for them so that they won't have to suffer.  It's the acceptance of suffering for the sake of someone else that makes it something more than just pain.  By HIs suffering he showed us how to love others, or, I should say, one way to show our love of others.  But we resist that lesson --  we just want to hug babies and cheer our loved ones and other pleasant loving acts to show our love.  But the acceptance of pain for/with the sake of others is the surest way to show love, I think.  It doesn't *pay* for something good, it just shows willingness to put the other first even when it hurts. 

 The pleasant ways of showing love can be faked easily, though love can be faked in many ways.  We can even fool ourselves that we are being loving of others when we're really loving ourselves.  I think once more of Walt in the last episode of BB when he finally admits "Everything that I did, I did for myself"".  He faked his love for his family, or at least they really came in second for him, until the very end when he saw himself as he really was.  (That show is obsessive! :-)

Thanks Ann and Fr. I. 

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.