Saturday we listened to Msgr. Chester P. Michael talk about his new book A New Day. We also celebrated his 89th birthday. Fr. Chet” was pastor when we moved to Charlottesville in 1970. His life has enriched ours.
Here is his description of unconditional love:
“When we harness for God the energies of love we endeavor to love with the same unconditional love which God practices. Unconditional love is present when we consistently put the needs of God and others ahead of our desires. Notice, this does not say that we should put the desires of the beloved ahead of our desires, but only the needs of the beloved. Each time we love, unconditionally we have to make a reasonable judgment whether it is a legitimate need the other person has. If so, then it must be placed ahead of our desires.
A problem arises when it is a choice between the legitimate need of the beloved and our own legitimate needs. A decision must be made regarding which need is the greatest and most important.”
While this is very helpful, it opens up the question of discerning our own needs and comparing them with others.
Many people feel that unconditional love means that they must always set their own needs aside. The result is often disastrous. A parent, or teacher, with unmet needs can inflict terrible damage on others. We need to remind ourselves with the second half of Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus' repetition of this commandment is found in the gospel for Oct 23. (Mt. 22:37). Love of self requires meeting our legitimate needs.
Sometimes people unhesitatingly set aside even their own need to survive, following the example of Jesus: Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) Some people even train to be able to make this sacrifice – if the situation requires it. We have only to look to the New York City Fire Department on 9/11 for an example.
The task is one of daily discernment of needs, those that are ours and those that that belong to others. As I look for answers as to how to do this, I reach back to a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to a group of ministers in September 1862.
"...it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it! These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect for a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right."
Lincoln often pondered the will of Providence and ultimately concluded that each of us must do as we see best by acting "...with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; and always remembering that “the Almighty has His own purposes.”
In short, we seek God’s help; ask for Our daily bread (Mt. 6:11); do the best we can, and don’t worry about the result. This is a tall order. At best we can claim progress, not perfection.
Note: Readers not familiar with Msgr. Michael may want to visit his website. If you would like to read his other books please order these two from Amazon.
Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types. This book has sold over 100,000 copies).