The Message: Opening or Closing the Door to Perfect Love
“For I am convinced,” St. Maximos tells us in these pages, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is God’s promise to us and the ultimate source of hope in our lives.
Yet, while the most unsurmountable physical obstacles cannot prevent us from God’s love, the obstacles that lie within us—thoughts and passions— can eventually take control of our lives and drive away God from our lives. Dispassion is the only pathway to God’s love.
If you are not indifferent to both fame and dishonor, riches and poverty, pleasure and distress, you have not yet acquired perfect love. For perfect love is indifferent not only to these but even to this fleeting life and to death.
To be united to God, we must follow the commandments—“living the angelic life on earth, fasting and keeping vigils, praying and singing psalms and always thinking good of every man.”
This is the synopsis of St. Maximos’ message here. Yet his focus is on how to convert this message into practice and implant it in our thoughts. To this end, he addresses head on our possible objections and delves into human psychology, starting with motivation.
How realistic is it to love our enemies?.
St Maximos anticipates our resistance to God’s commandment to “love your enemies … do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you’ (Matt. 5:44).” How can this be possible in real life? Could we really love the boss who fired us? The ex-husband who abused us? Corrupt politicians? How about Hitler?
St. Maximos asks the question before we do, acknowledging its “irrationality” by flawed, human standards: ‘Why did He command this?” The answer he provides is simple and commonsensical:
To free you from hatred, irritation, anger and rancor, and to make you worthy of the supreme gift of perfect love.
He continues with a reference to Matthew:
And if anyone sues you in the courts, and takes away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And if anyone forces you to go a mile, go with him for two miles’ (Matt. 5:39-41).
Why did God say this? St. Maximos asks again and answers:
Both to keep you free from anger and irritation, and to correct the other person by means of your forbearance, so that like a good Father He might bring the two of you under the yoke of love. by
And he puts love in perspective reminding us:
St Paul says that, if we have all the gifts of the Spirit but do not have love, we are no further forward (cf. 1 Cor)
From a passion-dominated life to a life ruled by God.
Do we remember instances when we were ruled by passions such as cutting ourselves off from others because our hearts were filled with anger and resentment? When our sense of entitlement and self-pity led to depression and listlessness? Or when we couldn’t relish the beauty of a spring day or rejoice in a child’s smile because our thoughts were obsessed with memories of offenses against us and plots of revenge? This is the face of a life dominated by passions and cut off from love. And it happens “when the intellect associates with evil and sordid thoughts it loses its intimate communion with God.”
“…Fighting against the thoughts of things, St. Maximos tells us, “is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through outward action.’
It is in our thoughts where the transition from passion-driven to God-ruled lives begins. And St. Maximos’ advice gets to the heart of the, usually unacknowledged or hidden, battles we fight daily, starting with our fragile egos and distorted perceptions of offence:
Shun all suspicions and all persons that cause you to take offence. If you are offended by anything, whether intended or unintended, you do not know the way of peace, which through love brings the lovers of divine knowledge to the knowledge of God.
St. Maximos delves even deeper, striking at our very definition of personhood.
“You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their character,” he says. He continues: “for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason, you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person.”
At first, this is stunning. For most of us “character” is synonymous to personhood. St. Maximos corrects us, asking us to go beyond character to the image of God in all of us.
“ Perfect love does not split up the single human nature, common to all, according to the diverse characteristics of individuals; but, fixing attention always on this single nature, it loves all men equally.
And you cannot attain such love if you do not imitate God and love all men equally. For God loves all men equally and wishes them ‘to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).”