Leaning into love


9 Mar 2022

Love and its twin sisters tenderness and kindness require a good deal of hard work, training and discipline.

The Feast of the English Jesuit Martyrs – Fathers Edmund Campion SJ, Robert Southwell SJ and their Companions is collectively celebrated on 1 December. Campion’s story is well known – his gifts as an orator, his courage in refusing to renounce his faith, and his fearless ministry to the abandoned Catholics of England in the 1570s and 1580s.

Southwell’s story is less well known but no less courageous. Again, his indomitable spirit in the face of severe torture was so extraordinary that the Queen’s chief Minister, William Cecil, commented: ‘There is at present in prison one Southwell, a Jesuit. Thirteen times most cruelly tortured, he cannot be induced to confess anything – not even the colour of the horse whereon on a certain day he rode; lest, from such a clue, his adversaries might guess in what house or in the company of what Catholic he was on that day.’ (Brian Moore SJ, Men for Others, p108).

Where I love, I live

Southwell was also a gifted poet and one of his famous lines is: ‘Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live.’ They are the words I chose for my mother’s memento card and her headstone in the Cheltenham cemetery in bayside Melbourne.

Many couples preparing for marriage choose among their service readings the famous chapter 13 of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which focuses on love and its practical manifestations. Some of you might have read a most interesting book launched in 2018 titled provocatively, The Attachment – a book of correspondence between a senior priest friend of mine, Tony Doherty, and a younger woman playwright, Ailsa Piper.

In talking about friendship, Ailsa wrote: ‘Loving well is a life’s work, isn’t it?’ How true that is, and that is what St Paul is saying to us in his Letter to the testy Church of Corinth. If I can put on my English teacher’s hat for a moment, love is a verb, not a noun. Love is a doing word. ‘Love is patient and kind; love never gives up; love is not jealous, conceited, or proud.’ Without love I am nothing, even if I have all the gifts and talents in the world. If I have not love I am an empty shell. If you wish to put it into sporting metaphor, love is a marathon of the heart, not an emotional sprint. As with every marathon, love requires a good deal of hard work, disciplined training, and much endurance. Love is really tested in the hard yards.

Love is a daily choice

There was a senior priest of my acquaintance in Melbourne who used to say to young couples coming to him for marriage preparation: ‘This marriage won’t work, you know.’ After they picked themselves up and got over their surprise, he would add: ‘No. This marriage must be made to work.’ Love is a choice we need to make every day – to be patient, kind, merciful and forgiving.

In his wonderful TED talk via video feed to Vancouver’s technopreneurs in April 2017, Pope Francis made bold to say that our beautiful but troubled world needs ‘a revolution of tenderness’.

In other words, we need ‘a love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears, and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future.’ It is ‘being on the same level as the other . . . Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.’

In similar vein, well-known social psychologist, Hugh Mackay, puts us on notice when he writes about the need for a revolution in kindness in his latest book, The Kindness Revolution. ‘Revolutions never start at the top. If we dare to dream of a more loving country – kinder, more compassionate, more cooperative, more respectful, more inclusive, more egalitarian, more harmonious, less cynical – there’s only one way to start turning that dream into a reality: each of us must live as if this is already that country.’

Spiritual depth in everyday lives

Another perspective on kindness can be found in Julie Perrin’s wonderful little book – Tender – Stories that lean into kindness. As the title suggests, it is a collection of ordinary tales – beautifully written, and revealing the spiritual depth lurking in our everyday lives. Set largely in Melbourne, there is great variety in the brief reflections on all manner of things – birthdays, dogs, taxi drivers, eggs, Port Fairy, quilters, Victoria Market, Women’s AFL, kindness, neighbours, trams, Christmas carols, and many more!

To conclude, let us end with a prayer that might help us lean gently into love alongside its twin sisters, tenderness and kindness:

Lord, help me to understand that
Kindness is not just a single act,
But what I do in word and deed repeatedly
to build a climate of love around me.
Kindness is a candle to keep burning brightly.
It is respecting and encouraging others,
standing up to defend them when they face bullying and intimidation.
Help me to continue learning the lesson that
Life is about living generously in the service of others.
Life is about who I am and how I love.
May we allow the risen Christ to infuse our minds and hearts with the grace of His kindness.

(from C. Gleeson SJ, Springboards – A Deeper Ignatian Way, Michael Wilkinson Publishing, 2020, pp.6-7)

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2022 edition of Madonna magazine, which was themed around charity.

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