Who loves perfectly?27 September 2022
I don’t know if, in other eras, people experienced confusion regarding words, that is, that they said one thing and meant another. Despite the great achievements of scientific progress, technological development, the shrinking of distances, and tremendous communications, I think that, in our own age there’s the following particular contradiction: although we’re always waxing lyrical about love (in songs, poetry and prose), in reality we don’t know what it is, because, of course, we don’t live it.
Insularity, self-interest and egocentrism are the main characteristics of our own times, in young and old alike. The sense of loneliness, the indifference to living or dying, isn’t seen only in some individuals, somewhere; it permeates the world and is confirmed by many people.
Self-interest is taken as genuine interest, egotism as love. ‘I love you’ is interpreted as ‘I want you for myself, for my own needs’. Any movement towards helping someone in difficulty is a precursor of a demand for help for yourself when you need it in the future.
When all’s said and done, is everything dark? Does nobody really love? Does everyone function out of self-interest and self-regard? Certainly not. There are always some who are ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. These are people who love perfectly and truly.
The holy Fathers offer us a mirror in which to look at ourselves and see whether we love truly, if we think we love and if we want to know perfect love.
Saint Maximos the Confessor says: ‘People who change their attitude towards others in accordance with their characters have not yet acquired perfect love. They may love one person and hate another, or even sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person, for the same reasons’ .
He goes on to explain ‘perfect love’, saying that we’re all people, with the same nature. All of us are good and bad. And God loves all of us with the same intensity, even if we ourselves don’t understand this.
The Fathers aren’t content merely with identifying the problem, but also tell us the way to deal with it. In other words, they not only make the diagnosis, but they also offer the cure. Saint Maximos tells those who wish to acquire perfect love: ‘People who don’t scorn human glory and humiliations, riches and poverty, pleasures and sorrows, have not acquired perfect love. Because perfect love is not only above all those considerations, but it also takes no account of this fleeting life, nor even of death itself’ .
This might seem difficult for us, to the point where we say ‘That’s not for me. I can’t’. Certainly, if I accept that it’s too difficult for me to climb a mountain, then I won’t try to do so, in which case I’ll miss out on the pleasure of the view. If I submit to thinking that perfect love is not achievable, I’ll never make the effort and then I’ll deprive myself of the joy of experiencing it.
Christ didn’t come to burden us with guilt, nor to ask of us what is beyond our powers to do if we want to. He also says that, with his help, we’ll be able to achieve things that would not be possible on our own. He’ll give us not droplets of his grace, but whole rivers, so that thereafter we can slake the thirst of the world around us, through the great love of our great God.
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