Bernardo M. Villegas
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Love Is Not Always Sugary

           Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be remembered by future generations as the Great Apostle of Love.  Many of his important papal writings had to do with Love.  As the Western World celebrated another Valentine Day last February 14, I would like to quote from a conversation Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger then had with German journalist Peter Seewald.  In the seventh chapter of the book “God and the World,” which is based on this conversation, the soon-to-be-Pope drove home the point that the ultimate meaning of life is Love.  For Christians, this is easy to understand because we believe that we were created to be ultimately with God in the Beatific Vision.  Since God is Love (Deus Caritas Est), then it follows that the meaning of life is Love.

          The Pope Emeritus states this truth in the most crystal clear way:  “Again and again in the course of this conversation we have, I believe, encountered the fact that our life tends in the end toward a discovery of love, toward receiving love and giving love.  And the crucified Christ, who presents us with love lived out to the end, as he himself says in the Gospel of John lifts the principle up into the realm of absolute reality.  God himself is love.  In this sense, love is indeed both the fundamental rule and the ultimate aim of life.”

          The kind of love that is celebrated every February 14 is usually the sugary type, giving the highest importance to sweet sentiments.  There is nothing inherently wrong in accenting feelings as part of loving.  Fortunately, however, in his conversation with Peter Seewald, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI went out of his way to talk about what we can call “tough love”, so necessary today in the upbringing of children and character formation of the youth.  He specifically refers to “spoiled children.”  He warns parents and educators that “spoiled children, to whom everything has been permitted, are often in the end quite unable to come to terms with life, because later, on life treats them quite differently, and because they have never learned to discipline themselves, to get themselves on the right track.  Or if, for instance, because I want to be nice to him, I give to an addict the drugs he wants instead of weaning him off them (which would seem to him very hard treatment), then in that case you cannot talk of real love.”

          What the Pope Emeritus had to say about knowing how to exercise “tough love” is especially important if we are going to save the present generation of “millennials” from the scourge of consumerism.  As Filipino families improve their economic conditions and increasingly move to middle class level, there is the great danger that overindulgence will create a host of weak-willed individuals, prone to all sorts of addictions.  In a recent forum on the pros and cons of the phenomenon of the Filipino diaspora all over the world, one of the negative consequences pointed out was the tendency of children of OFWs to be idle and unmotivated because of being spoiled by the financial largesse of their parents working abroad.  It would be tragic if we do not apply the necessary antidote against this possible demotivation of future generations of Filipino workers and professionals.    According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “it is important to recognize that true love carries with it a high seriousness.  It desires the true good of the other person, and therefore it has the courage to oppose him whenever he does not see what is good, whenever he is running headlong into misfortune….self-discipline is always a part of love, giving way oneself for the sake of the other, and, on the other helping him is always a part.   Helping him not to be wrapped up in himself, not just to take for himself, but to learn to come out of himself and to discover the way of the grain of wheat.”

          Last February 14, married couples should have been especially reminded that, in addition to the love of attraction and the love of friendship that should exist between husband and wife, there should be the love of benevolence that they should especially exercise as regards their children.  Benevolence literally comes from the Latin phrase “to will the good of others,” even at the cost of one’s sufferings.  Parents must learn how to suffer the consequences of tough love if they are to truly will the good of their children.  For example, as St. Josemaria Escriva advised parents during his lifetime, children, even among the richest families, must be always kept short of the monetary allowances allotted to them.  Their cravings for material possessions and comforts must be disciplined.  Since we are also in the Season of Lent, let us listen to the spiritual advice of the first Pope in the history of the Catholic Church to retire from the papacy:  “…a sugar-coated Jesus or a God who agrees to everything and is never anything but nice and friendly is no more than a caricature of real love…God has to do those things we refer to in the image of ‘the wrath of God,’  that is he has to resist us in our attempts to fall away from our own best selves and when we pose a threat to ourselves.”  God is Love also when he makes us suffer for our own good.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.