Flame of Love

John Wesley, as quoted in The New Catechism (Question 7: “What does the law of God require?”):

Loving the Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is the first great branch of Christian righteousness. You shall delight yourself in the Lord your God; seeking and finding all happiness in Him. You shall hear and fulfill His word, “My son, give me your heart.” And having given Him your inmost soul to reign there without a rival, you may well cry out in the fulness of your heart, “I will love You, O my Lord, my strength. The Lord is my strong rock; my Savior, my God, in whom l trust.” The second commandment, the second great branch of Christian righteousness, is closely and inseparably connected with the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love—embrace with the most tender goodwill, the most earnest and cordial affection, the most inflamed desires of preventing or removing all evil and bringing every possible good. Your neighbor—not only your friends, kinfolk, or acquaintances; not only the virtuous ones who regard you, who extend or return your kindness, but every person, not excluding those you have never seen or know by name; not excluding those you know to be evil and unthankful, those who despitefully use you. Even those you shall love as yourself with the same invariable thirst after their happiness. Use the same unwearied care to screen them from whatever might grieve or hurt either their soul or body. This is love.

When I first read this passage, which is based on Matthew 22:37-40, I almost immediately thought about how it compares to certain “self-care” memes that are so common on Instagram. I have not ever seen a description of love like this on that ubiquitous medium. The love required by God is radically different from the modern therapeutic script to “cut the toxic person out of your life”; to surround yourself only with “positive people”; to insulate yourself from the bigots and haters of the world. The love required by God knows nothing of the contemporary prescriptions urging you to silence any critical voice, opinion, thought, or deed that threatens your self-esteem. This love, which Jesus Christ embodies, is passionate and brimming to the point of overflowing even to the ones who froth at the mouth in mocking you. It is a love which inevitably entails a kind of death, in that it requires sacrificing your right to vengeance when others unjustly revile you. Little wonder the story of Christ’s death on the cross is named The Passion (where the word passion derives from the Latin word for suffering).

Craigie Aitchison’s Crucifixion. In her book Art of Lent, Sister Wendy Beckett wrote a beautiful line about this piece: “In art, there are few crucifixions that stress the inner truth of Jesus’ death: that Christ accepted with enormous happiness that he had accomplished all that his Father willed.”