Edith Stein family

The Summons of Love

6:00:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

“Who am I meant to be?”
Spring brings with it days of glorious sunshine and restful breezes. The world comes alive with quick-growing greenery, blossoming flowers, and singing birds. The earth takes a breath, as it were, inhaling the stale and chill winter air and exhaling a warm and reposeful wind. We too fill our lungs, breathing in this refreshing breeze. Sighing deeply, our lightheartedness turns to inward reflection. On a holiday weekend, perhaps, we are given the opportunity to ponder our lives. We ask ourselves: How have I come to this point in my life? Why am I here? Where am I going?

At significant points in our life we pause to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. Perhaps you are a teenager full of expectation at all that life holds for you. There are so many possibilities. Or you could be a young adult, just starting out your first job, wondering where it will take you. This young married couple is beginning a family, and one or both parents are hoping for a career opportunity that can support their children. Or maybe at ten or fifteen years down the line, you have been led along, compelled by necessity to work one odd job after another.

Or yet again, you may see yourself at the midpoint of your life. You fulfill your duties each day to boss, family, and friends, but it all seems empty and meaningless. You did not desire this career. You are fed up with working so hard only to make ends meet. And then, you might be retired, dumbfounded with how to use your new free time. You spent so long coming to this stage in life desiring the freedom to do whatever you pleased. But now you doubt whether you approached your work with the right motivation.

Moments of relaxation and leisure in the midst of a busy life provide us with the time necessary to reflect on our situation. This is a chance to re-discover ourselves and who we are. We think of the meaning of our life and what difference we will make to the world. Hopefully, up to this point there have been family or friends who love us as we are, showing us our intrinsic worth. The value of each human person in their full individuality and unique beauty cannot be taken away, cannot be overwritten. Each one of us deserves to be loved. Yet this love also challenges us, it calls us on. He who loves looks upon the beloved and sees her true potential, the height of virtue to which she is called. Love says to the beloved: Become who you are.

It is only in love that my true potential is revealed. Love shows me that I am important, that I am valuable: I have a noble beauty all my own. So too love sees into the core of my being. Love realizes the possibility for my growth and realization of deeper values. Thus only the lover has the power to disclose to me who I am called to be. Whether it be a loving parent or sibling, a good friend, or a spouse, it is the one who loves me who is able to glimpse the meaning of my life and to help me to see it as well.

File:Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo - The Holy Family with a Bird - WGA16356.jpgSeeing my gifts and talents, love realizes the greatness to which I am called. The lover begins to see the outline of my being -- the potential for perfection in a specific way of life. Thus your friend might tell you some career in which you would excel. “You are really good at fixing cars; maybe you should become a mechanic!” “You are driven and efficient; you would make a great businessman.” Even more significant for my life than my ideal career is my overall way of life. How am I called to realize love in my own life? In loving us, our parents and our friends may see something noble in us, the promise of a generous life. “Have you considered missionary work? You are always concerned for the needs of others.” “You love tenderly and can bring forth a man’s best; maybe you should get married!” “You have a giving heart and you love children; you would make a great father.”
Love speaks a word of summons to the depth of the heart: you are meant for greatness, all you must do now is act upon it. Become who you are. Become who you are meant to be. The beloved receives an intimation of the meaning of their life, of who they are as a person. How has this special power fallen to love? Love looks upon the life of the beloved, which previously has appeared pointless and empty, and sees the richest possibility. Love perceives an orientation to perfection, to a beautiful way of life.

In my last few posts I have been reflecting on insights from Hildebrand, Scheler, and Stein on personal being and development. In one sense it may be said that the meaning of my life is discernible in my specific potentialities, in my personal nature. My gifts, skills, and talents orient me to a virtuous way of life. But in the difficulties and confusions of life, I often fall short of the greatness to which I am called. I may fail to realize my true potential. Yet love reveals our potential. Love shows us what we are capable of. Love elicits our desire for greatness and gives us the courage to pursue it.

Image 1: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). 1817-1818. Kuntshalle, Hamburg. (source) Image 2: The Holy Family with Bird, Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). 1650. Prado Museum. (source)

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