Tough Love

19 June 2009 Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Hos 11, 1-9; Isaiah 12; Eph 3, 8-19; John 19, 31-37

I texted a friend of mine for help. I asked him how to handle certain cases with addictions. Among other things, he told me what they need is tough love. What is tough love? There may be some understanding of what tough love is: there are those who would find it mistreatment of adults towards their children. So let me define what I mean. When a person who genuinely loves another treats them rather sternly and harshly so that they will be helped in the future is practicing tough love. There is love and affection, but in a specific situation a “soft” love is not called for. For example, in drug addiction, parents may have to cut off their financial support for their child unless they enter rehabilitation. In our ordinary life, we discipline our children or students by delaying gratification: we have to let them study even if asking them to stay put and read their books will be “hurting” to them. The coach of a basketball team have be hard and strict to instill discipline. Not all expression of love is pleasurable. When we wish to grow in a relationship, pain is part of the package. As the Gospel tell us blood and water gushed out of the body of Christ. To love is to willfully decide to be claimed by death.

First, tough love has in its very roots a love that is borne out from pain. You need a large heart to accommodate someone who is difficult to love in the first place. In the first reading from Hosea, Israel here is seen as a wayward child. And Yahweh is now seen as a loving parent. For many Scripture scholars, this image of God in the ‘warm flesh of human parenthood’ is the supreme revelation of divine love in Hebrew Scriptures. Hosea writes also in view of his love for his wife who is unfaithful. He has to overcome his anger knowing the illegitimate children of his wife. He has to remove from his mind the sexual excesses of Canaanite fertility rites. So that he could reach the depths of compassion. Meaning, should he forgive his wife and give her another chance as demanded of divine and heroic love or to submit to death as a consequence of adultery according to human law (Deut 21, 18-21)?

In the first reading, Hosea sees God as compassionate and forgiving despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. Here, Hosea uses the image of God as maternal and as healer to Israel and to its sins. Isaiah 49 says how could a mother forget her child. But the love of God is far greater than this. Paul encourages us to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” and to have the strength to comprehend, the “breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love for us. To me, the Sacred Heart of Jesus tells assures me of God’s constant and personal love for me, despite my sinfulness and wayward ways.

Second, tough love requires the lover to further stretch that love even if the heart is already bleeding. The heart is stretched to its limits. The realization of the breath, length, height and depth of God’s love should encourage us to strive to have a love as God’s. There are times when God disciplines us: when we commit mistakes, he allows us to rise up again, as parents allowing their children to fall on their first steps so that they learn how to stand. When we fail, we are allowed to be hurt so that we would learn from them. Ask parents: when they discipline, it is not just their children who are hurt. The disciplining is also painful to them. But they have to do it. If they don’t, they will not instill the values the children need in the future. The pain is necessary for growth. Tough love.

Our faith must permeate all of our lives. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus makes us bask in the breath, length, height, and depth of God’s love for us. But it should also help us love another, including those who are difficult for us to love such as our enemies, the nuissance, the pest, the troublesome and the unmanageable in our lives.

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