The online retreat exercise for Holy Week is to write a story about the most passionate thing I’ve ever done or the most passionate thing I’ve witnessed. I use “passion” in the sense of love that perseveres in the way Christ’s love persevered through misunderstandings, people’s weaknesses, even his own torture and death.
My own stories of such passion are too personal to share publicly, so I’m revising the assignment for the purpose of this article. I’m asking the question: When and how do I finally get to a passionate quality of love, to that love that perseveres no matter what?
In remembering my own experiences requiring such love, I have to say that before I ever got to the passion, I had to first burn through lesser qualities. When life is hard, first you access your own resourcefulness—maybe the right idea or plan will alleviate the situation. When none of that works, then you try simply to be patient, to not let things bother you so much. Before long, you learn how little patience you actually possess.
Then comes the determination. This struggle has become a matter of principle, and of pride. I will get through this! I will do the right thing! Depending on your personality and family background, there may be a fairly deep layer of sheer stubbornness from which to mine acts of doing good, acts of love and charity.
But sooner or later, you will run out of everything—the resourcefulness, the patience, and the iron will. The situation continues to require love, but you’re all out. Now all that’s left is one of two things, and sometimes an odd combination of both: despair and anger. Emotionally, you are unable to produce kind or generous feelings. You find it harder and harder to face the day and this ever-present situation. Or you face it while simmering and sputtering and flashing ire everywhere. If you remain this way long enough, you will actually come to resent love and the demands it makes upon you. You will resent everyone involved in the situation because they represent your grand failure to love endlessly and perfectly.
Finally you come to a crucial point. You are empty and exhausted and yet you see clearly that a choice must be made: will you love, or walk away? Even if you stay physically, you can choose to walk away from the friend or child or sibling or partner or neighbor who needs your passion, your untiring love.
And it is at this juncture you realize that if there is no source of love outside of yourself, then this story will not end happily. It is here that you begin to understand why God has invited you to participate in the Divine enterprise of love. There is that greater Love that really is endless, and that Love is available to you; it is the love by which you will find the capacity to stay and love those who need your passion.
What’s tricky about this, though, is that before you can channel that love through your life to others, you have to accept it into your own. You want to be the passionate lover for people around you. But are you willing to be passionately loved by God? Can you receive help, allow comfort, be weak and needy for that love? Can you let down your guard and let Divine love undo you, overcome you?
Passion cannot be drummed up from our desire and desperation; it can only be received and embraced and cultivated. If we are fortunate, then one or two people we grew up with received this love and cultivated it in front of us. Even so, we don’t really inherit Divine love, but we can develop the ability to recognize it and thus desire to experience it for ourselves.
If I want to live out of passionate love, which sacrifices and endures and hopes through all things, then I must open my soul and let Love rush in.