“I plead with you -- never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” -- Pope St. John Paul IILoneliness is a tempting option. Confronted with all the pain and suffering that the risk of love entails, loneliness presents itself as a way to opt out of this difficulty. At least such was the experience of the character Adam from Karol Wojtyla’s play Radiation of Fatherhood. (1) Adam is a father who finds himself overcome with misery at his lot in life. He questions why love for his family must be so difficult. Couldn’t he just live on his own, isolated from the world?
He finds himself on the frontier between loneliness and fatherhood. He is caught in a tension, the tension between despair and hope, between misery and expectation, between apathy and love. The character Adam chooses to be lonely because he does not want to accept the suffering associated with vulnerability. Thinking through loneliness, he considers: “It is easier for me to feel lonely than to think about death.”
This dilemma is not unfamiliar to us. We all live within this tension. We are given a choice -- will we succumb to despair or will we boldly face our fear of suffering in order to love? We come to an intimation that the meaning of our life is not, at bottom, loneliness. Love in all its nobility and grandeur beckons to us. Love promises that joy, greatness, and beauty for which we long. And so, love captivates our freedom and invites us to transcend our solitary state.
But is this a false hope? Does not every love, in the end, disappoint? To our great dismay, human love often fails. We feel constrained by our own imperfections and exasperated by the imperfections of others. When we lose love or fail to love others in accordance with truth, we experience all the intensity of love’s power but now in pain and bitter sorrow. In the moment of difficulty, we question the ultimate significance of love in our lives -- is it all worth it? What is the final word about human life? Is it hope, joy, love? Or is it despair, sadness, apathy?
Each one of us seeks happiness and fulfillment in our lives. We long to participate in a higher creativity, to have lives that are abundantly fruitful, to bring a greater share of true happiness into the world. In the depths of our hearts we will not settle for superficial substitutes. While the quasi-culture of momentary hookups and hedonistic drugs attempts to arrest our attention, we yearn for so much more. The beauty of love whispers to our broken hearts, even amidst the cacophony of sin and use and failure.
Nothing less than love will satisfy our deepest desires for fulfillment and consolation. Nothing other than love can lift our souls from the pit of darkness and despair. It is love which gives our soul wings to ascend to the heights of life. But love is not ready-made. It is not easy. Love demands careful reflection and commitment to virtue. Love is an ideal, a principle which one must live up to in one’s conduct.
Love is the highest deed to which we can commit our freedom. Our personal potential is realized most fully through love. Love is that act which realizes (makes real) our potential to the fullest. But just so, with great power comes great responsibility. We are responsible for cultivating our love and protecting those entrusted to us. (2) In order to love rightly we must be educated in love.
While we all must seek to be educated in love, in the final analysis love cannot be taught. It must be learned through action: through risking love. Nothing is more difficult to learn than love, but there is nothing more important for man to learn. Love is the very meaning and direction of our lives. The greatness of a man is determined by how much he has loved.
Is there hope in love? Can love ever transcend loneliness? Even in the shroud of darkness and despair, even in the midst of sorrow and brokenness, from love there glimmers forth the light of hope. This light pierces through the walls of our misery and warms our stony hearts. Yet love does not eradicate suffering. This is a truth realized in Radiation of Fatherhood when Adam remarks: “Loneliness opposes love. On the borderline of loneliness, love must become suffering.”
Borrowing the words of one of my collaborators: "In hope, we transcend earthly, finite limitations, we liberate ourselves of the attitude of "it’s all over" and trust that this darkness will be changed into light, that this death is a passage toward resurrection." (3)
Love requires nothing less than our death. Love demands suffering. We are finite creatures yearning to participate in an infinite love. If man does not embrace suffering in perseverance, he cannot bear the fruit of love. But herein lies hope. In the crucible of trials, love is transformed from sorrow to glory. The way from loneliness to love passes through suffering because love requires our very self. Love is a gift of self which leaves the lover and the world changed forever, illumined with the light of life. Though faced with pain and suffering, trial and tempest, catastrophe and failure, if we allow suffering to transform us, we will come to the truth that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1. Karol Wojtyla, Radiation of Fatherhood: A Mystery. Accessible online here.
2. This is the basis for Karol Wojtyla’s work Love and Responsibility. It is also an influential idea in Hildebrand’s work The Nature of Love.3. Annie Foster, “Hope against hope,” Truth from the Heart Blog, May 1, 2014. Image 1: Self-Portrait (Madrid), Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). 1498. (source)
Image 2: Harvest Moon, 'globed in mellow splendour, Helen Allingham (1848-1926). 1879. (source) Image 3: Hope in a Prison of Despair, Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919). (source)