Love for God's Sake

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya

Love for God's Sake

Beloved in Christ,

Bernard of Clairvaux was a twelfth century monk who framed the spiritual life as four degrees of love we progress through on the path toward emotional and spiritual maturity. The first degree is love of ourselves for our own sake. This is, say, a baby’s tendency to focus on getting their own basic needs met. The second degree is love of another (or God) for our own sake. This is our tendency to love someone for what they do for us (I love you because you give me food!). The third degree is love of another (or God) for their own sake. This is an altruistic tendency we might take toward a child or a spouse, where we take delight in another and in their good without reference to what we get in return from them. 

The fourth degree of love is, surprisingly, love of our selves for God’s (or another’s) sake. This kind of love is not about being selfish or self-centered, but about learning how to see ourselves as God sees and loves us. God delights in us, God embraces us despite and in all of our many failures and shortcomings. When we learn to see and love ourselves the way God sees and loves us, then we are truly set free to participate fully in God’s mission of healing the world with love. When we learn to see and love ourselves as God does, we know that we are and we have enough, and we can let go of all our competing, comparing, and anxious striving, and meet everyone around us with the same curiosity and delight with which God meets us. 

In a world where we all have to carry small and large grief each day, in a world so clearly marked by massive injustices, chasms of inequality, where war still rages and where, just this past week, another mass shooting reminded us again how easily white supremacy’s violent ideations are propped up by our repeated failure to enact basic gun control laws, it’s easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed. What can we do in the face of so much? 

Whatever we do will only be good and faithful if it emerges from people who are so deeply rooted in God’s endless love that it permeates every encounter we have and everything we do. Bernard’s fourth degree of love is the stuff saints are made of, and what our world and our church need most is people whose lives brilliantly reflect the endless love of God. As we allow ourselves to be possessed and overtaken by that love and that Spirit, we can, little by little by little, join God in turning the nightmare we often see into the dream of Beloved Community. 

Grace and peace,

The Right Reverend Craig Loya
X Bishop
Episcopal Church in Minnesota