For dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return ~ Genesis 3:19 ~ Might as well detach from it all… right? Safer not to love at all? Better that I avoid the pain that seems to come hand-in-hand with love.
“Everything dissolves in meaninglessness when you think about the fact that impermanence is a really real thing.”
But God did not say, “for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return, so therefore be careful not to love anything too deeply.” Our hearts tell us this is a cynical and unfitting response to the world’s beauty, to the love we long for, even as we brace for its accompaniment, loss and pain. Our narrator is onto something. Love harder. Squeeze tighter.
However, we also know that the world can be schizophrenic. It sends us mixed messages about power, money, possessions and people, and especially about the meaning of love. But where the world sows confusion, Faith and Reason call on us to make distinctions:
1. To attach, or to detach?
We probably know one or two people who have chosen the cynical response. Buddhist detachment. MGTOW (“Men going their own way”). There can be a knee-jerk response to pain that tricks us into detaching ourselves from possible risks inherent in love and in being fully alive.
Christ, the Gospels and the Church teach us that attachment is human and good. Even necessary. Other creeds and philosophies have littered history proposing the opposite, but we understand that attachment is natural, and that love, family, friendship, community, and commitment are to be nurtured and cultivated as essential aspects of the good life.
2. What does attachment look like, properly ordered?
It is important to distinguish between attachment as virtue and attachment as vice. Our disordered attachments place any particular relationship above the one we cultivate with God. Understood within a hierarchy of relationships – the most important being our deference, worship and duty to our Creator and Redeemer – other attachments can certainly be good for us. The Ten Commandments sum it up pretty nicely for us. It’s when we mix up the order and/or misidentify instruments as people, or vice-versa, that things start to get messy.
As the Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “you must remember to love people and use things, rather than to love things and use people.”
3. True love IS suffering. Who better to teach us what True Love looks like than the Lord himself, and his mother?
The Blessed Mother would have known the sorrow and suffering that lay in store for her son (and for herself), and grown in silent contemplation of this inevitability long before the Garden of Gethsemane and the passion narrative began. As Simeon informed her upon the event of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:35) Yet she did not balk at the gift and responsibility – the miracle! – laid upon her at the Annunciation.
Meanwhile, the Crucifix itself ought to be our ultimate reminder: God, Love himself, entered into the world, took on human flesh, loved in a family and in a community – including all the light and joyful aspects that kind of “love” surely includes. But He also suffered humiliation, loss, abandonment, abuse, and physical agony beyond our comprehension as the fulfilling expression of Love – His purpose as Redeemer.
True Love is giving oneself away, to desire and to work for what is best for the other, not merely the extraction of pleasure (or any other benefit) for one’s own sake. In a fallen world, inherent in this dying-to-self is the reality of pain.
4. Acknowledgment of Christian eschatology: Death. Judgment. Heaven. Hell.
Contrary to the world’s message of LIVE IN THE NOW, it is healthy for us to consider endings, and the Christian framework points to it as an imperative. Does that mean confronting unpleasantness, fear, loss? Absolutely, but it is merely to be reasonable, for we know our lives will end, just as we know that blissful moments of joy and pleasure are always fleeting.
How do you want to look back on your life? Will that vision not shape the decisions and actions you make? When we are called to judgment – be it expectedly or unexpectedly – will we be ready with oil in our lamps? In this sense, NOT everything is ephemeral, merely passing away. The human soul is bound for eternity.
This longing for infinity that we sense when we experience the joy of love, it is a longing for our proper destination: Heaven. Blessed are we who have life in Christ, a treasure trove depository of faith in sacred scripture, the lives of the saints, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church
And so I find it heartening to imagine – in those moments of melancholy when I, like the narrator, feel palpably the fleeting nature of joy, love and life – this is but a mere whiff of heaven! Imagine the best moments of your life, the biggest, truest love you’ve known, then subtract the pain attached. Subtract the knowledge that it is – in that very moment – disappearing into dust. Then multiply that joy by 1,000,000.
That is our destiny – the Beatific Vision.
We cannot fathom or comprehend its bliss, but every little inkling of love we experience on earth is but a signal, lighting the way… even amidst the dying of the light.