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Q & A with Father Anthony

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Can a person really feel like they're in love with Our Lord?

Emily asks:

Dear Fr Anthony,

Can a person really feel like they're in love with Our Lord? Last year, in August, I just suddenly realized that I was head over heels in love with Christ.

Dear Emily,

Your question is very interesting because of how you express it, and it is going to take standing back from it a little to give a good and useful answer.
On the surface yes, a person can feel like they are in love with Christ.

But I hope I don't offend you if I say this not at all that matters - the feeling, I mean. Much more important and the only thing that truly matters is to actually love him. There is a huge difference between the two, and it is this: when we ask ourselves if we feel like we love Christ we focus our attention on the feelings we have inside us, and which by their nature are subjective and fickle. But when we put aside our feelings and ask ourselves if we really do love Christ we stop looking inside ourselves, and we can only find the answer by examining our actions and motives, and asking ourselves: do those actions please him, do I do them for him, do they show he is at the center of my life, and - very importantly - do I persevere in them even when my feelings are not helping and at times even seem to be pulling in the opposite direction, away from him?

It may be easier to see this in an example. It is frustratingly easy to feel like we love Christ because for some reason we feel good when we do religious things (like going to Mass, spending some time in Adoration, etc...) while at the same time being totally self-centered when it comes to our dealings with our parents or siblings; or we might love to gossip, and tear our neighbor to shreds in the process. We can easily feel holy and even a little smug when we see that we do things others don't (as in the Pharisee and the tax-collector, "I do all the proper fasting, I give tithes, I do all my prayers.") and then turn around and despise them for it ("I'm not like that man over there..."). But we know that's not what Christ would do.

So, if we don't do what he tried to get us to do (and he set the bar much higher than avoiding conflict or gossip…, he told us that he came to serve and to save by giving his life for us, and we should do the same) and we focus exclusively on our warm and fuzzy feelings, we will be liable to make the mistake of thinking we love Christ for the simple reason we feel like we do, while all the time we our actions are saying quite the opposite.

On top of this, our feelings change. One day you can feel fantastic and enthused because everything seems to be going your way, and the next you can be down and dejected because your friends make fun of you and your beliefs.

So, if the feelings are not important, what is? Love. Real love.

Love is not a feeling, although it is often packaged in feelings when we first become aware of it. You really love someone when you actually give yourself to that person, when you willingly make that person the center of your life and you would do anything for him. Just like Christ loved us. You truly can say you love when you are faithful to that first impulse of giving yourself and do it over and over, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, it difficulty and ease, all through your life.

If we focus on our feelings it would be quite possible to say, for example, I feel like more happens inside me when I contemplate nature than when I go to Mass, I don't get anything out of Mass, and so instead of going on Sunday I'll take a stroll in a park or climb a mountain. Or, I don't get anything out of Mass because of the way the priest says it, so I won't go unless it is said exactly the way I like it. Lots of people say these things, but does it please or displease Christ if I avoid eating at the table of his sacrifice? Will his life be in me if I don't eat his Body and drink his Blood? So our feelings are very poor guides when it comes to living Christ's life within us and telling if we love him. They simply are not a major factor. When they are favorable they make it easier to express our love, when they are adverse they help us see more clearly if we really love the other person or only the feeling of love. We have to accept that sometimes they will help, and sometimes they will hinder, and as they arise we need to deal with them accordingly.

To love (both to show our love and to grow in it) we need to do the things Christ would have us do, and do them out of love, when we feel good doing them and also when we feel rotten.

And now here is a wonderful thing that we easily forget: When we are faithful to our love despite the absence of feelings, when it is difficult but I still act out of love and do what I know I would if I loved, we enter into a whole new level of feelings that comes from the satisfaction of knowing we are faithful to our love. This is the joy the world cannot take away from us. This is why the persecutors could never understand why the martyrs went to their deaths full of hope. Just like Jesus himself told us, "the joy I give you no-one will take from you."

God bless.

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