A forgotten component of love
Feast of the Holy Family (C) | Fr Euan Marley says that trust is essential to learning to love.
I am told by my mother, that when the family moved to the housing scheme of Castlemilk, from the tenements of the Gorbals where I was born, one of the benefits was having a front garden. I was less than two years old but being already a seasoned escaper, I managed to get out of the garden and went missing. They found me in a small stagnant stream, outside of the communal square where we lived, happily floating around in a tin bath. I was tempted to feel proud of my precocious sense of adventure, but my mother then added that I spent the next ten days in bed suffering from dysentery. Oh well! There is no exploration without danger.
When I talk of my childhood, a later generation are astonished at the freedom that children of my time had. I would take the bus from the age of eight to the cinema, which was in fact outside of Glasgow, and some miles away, and this did not seem strange at the time. I think the hidden factor here was that children were much more tribal then, and while this could lead to clashes with other impromptu tribes of children, the fact was that children knew how to look after each other. If a child went missing, all the local children would happily join in the hunt. Usually there was a simple explanation but I don’t think it is true that those were safer times for children, as I often hear from younger people. In fact there was an intense campaign drumming into children that they should never accept lifts from strangers, and the dangers of traffic. Still if you look at these campaigns, they assumed a certain amount of responsibility in the children themselves.
This raises the issue of what I call in the title of this homily, a forgotten component of love. That component is trust. To love someone without trusting them is to love them imperfectly. Lack of trust is a sort of fear, and St John tells us that
‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love’. (1 John 4:18 NRS)
We should have limits to trust, that is undeniable, as perfect love is not of this world, except in a few cases. Yet we should also be constantly asking ourselves how much the limits we place on trust are more to do with our own fears than a reasonable assessment of our loved ones. Society too, as it grows more suspicious, starts to lose trust in its own people. I dislike the phrase, ‘trust has to be earned’. No it doesn’t, but the lack of trust has to be justified. The choice is to trust and this is what love is.
So we can see today’s Gospel as a meditation on love and the trust that it entails. It is not the case that Joseph and Mary have failed to trust in their son, who is also their Lord. They simply don’t see that the demands of love continually unfold, and trust, as part of love makes more demands as the years go by. Every parent will find themselves at some point challenged by this, as they see how their children grow and become their own person. The child begins as utterly dependent on their parents, and as such, they are a sort of extension of them. This is why the Church allows infant baptism. Evangelicals who say rightly, that baptism requires faith, do not see that the faith that precedes baptism in a very young child is the faith of the parents or carers. It is good for the child to be with Christ from the outset. Jesus is, as it were, with his own divinity. That is one of his titles after all, Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’. God is with us through Christ, so children should be given that divine presence from the earliest possible time. Still the same child will not be a child forever. Unless God calls them to himself early in life, they will grow just as Jesus himself does. Jesus in fact grows in wisdom, age and grace with God and men, as Luke puts it. To grow in love is to grow in the capacity both to trust and to be trusted, though there are many aspects of love, of which trust is merely one. When Christ is rejected, it is because the people fail to trust God. They cannot believe the wonder of the gift that the Father has given them. God gave his only Son, to be with us forever. He is entrusted to us, and in this trust, we must learn to love.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a window in the church of Little St Mary’s in Cambridge.