In today’s culture it is considered loving for families to end the lives of their loved ones instead of allowing them to suffer and thus to suffer with them. We kill the unborn instead of giving birth to a disabled child, we starve and dehydrate the severely handicapped who are unable to communicate with us, and we hasten the death of the elderly and the terminally ill. All to avoid or eradicate suffering. But is this true love?
Mother Teresa once said that true love means to “give until it hurts.” This is the true meaning of “consolation”. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict explains that the Latin word con-solatio, consolation, “suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude” (para, 38). True love means sacrifice – sacrifice which requires the renunciation of self in such a way that we not only love the one who suffers, but we actually take on another’s suffering as our very own.
Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love. (38)
To become a person who truly loves is to suffer with the other and for others out of love. There is another quote from Mother Teresa that goes:
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
This is the paradox of the Cross which we celebrate today. Love grows through suffering. Mother Teresa surely lived this out in her work with the poorest of the poor, no doubt using for herself the model of Christ’s Passion and death which is the model of true love and consolation. As Pope Benedict writes:
God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood—as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus’ Passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God’s compassionate love—and so the star of hope rises (39)
The Cross is for Christ a burden of love for all humankind. We are called to this same love as Christ has said, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:12). There is “no greater love” than to lay down one’s life for another and, I would say, to “suffer with” the other. By taking up our own crosses and those of our suffering brothers and sisters, uniting them with the Cross of our Salvation, not only will all truly be consoled, but also our love, and our capacity to love more, will grow as a result.
If we ever want to see the image of true love, we have only to gaze upon the Cross.