Love. . .bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7
When love lights our view of someone, we will put up with countless faults and failings, yet when we view someone in light of those faults, everything they do becomes detestable. We become enslaved to our narrow viewpoint, and any possibility of peace with our nemesis or joy in their presence dies with the death of love.
The first trailer in the original VHS edition of The Princess Bride is for the little-known movie The Whales of August. After watching that trailer at least a dozen times in my childhood, I finally watched the movie, which tells the tale of two elderly sisters (Bette Davis and Lillian Gish) who at their summer home on an island off the coast of Maine start receiving the loving attention of Mr. Maranov (Vincent Price). The elder sister Sarah (Gish), despite her age, still delights in the beauties of life, and in coming to know Mr. Maranov, she focuses on his kindness, genteel charm, and witty stories.
In sharp contrast, Libby (Davis) is a cantankerous blind woman who finds life burdensome and constantly focuses on how fast death is coming. She cannot abide her sister’s apparent naivete and her whole optimistic view of life. From Libby’s perspective, life fades and all things die. She persistently points out the flaws in Mr. Maranov, calling him a fraud who is only searching for a new place to stay. Sarah loves her sister and gladly serves as her caretaker, but Libby’s bitterness wears on her. After Libby speaks out particularly viciously against Mr. Maranov, Sarah simply says, “You can choose death if you like to, but life is not yet over for me.”
Libby refuses to see the good in the world she has grown weary with. For her, other people are only an annoyance, no matter how they try to help her out. She has her heart closed to love, and so has no patience for their imperfections. Her loveless life has become a living death, and she is blinded by this lovelessness to the good in all things, including Mr. Maranov. In contrast, Sarah takes delight in the good she sees. While she admits the many flaws that she still sees in Mr. Maranov, she recognizes the goodness in him and sees the flaws within the beauty of that goodness. Her love for all of the little things in life keeps her young. She has no fear of what may come because she contents herself with the blessings of today. Love of life frees her to cast out fear, and in the case of Mr. Maranov, it allows her to see him as he is, patient for his failings, and delighting in his many strengths.
How can love serve as such a powerful salve? Now, true love allows you to see a person as he truly is. A man infatuated in the beauty of a girl may irrationally think the object of his attention to be without flaw, but true love does not blind the lover to the flaws of the beloved. A true lover sees the good in his beloved and loves her for that. He hates her sins because he knows that such flaws are below her dignity. Nevertheless, he endures that evil for the sake of the good he sees in her. He takes delight in the good, and that delight gives the strength to endure any ill.
Only when we delight in the goodness of another do we have the eyes to see her faults rightly. Hating a person’s faults because they hurt me leads to the pusillanimity that amounts to the death of the soul; I become so inward focused that I can only see others in terms of how much they inconvenience me. On the other hand, hating a person’s faults because of the harm they do to that person whom we know in love and desire to see flourish amounts to the seeds of divine love.
God, knowing our sins and folly, seeing all the evil we have done against the goodness he created in us, sees through all of that filth. Perceiving the true beauty of his image in us, while we were yet in sin, he in love became incarnate, one of us, to patiently lead us from slavery to sin and into union with him through the Church, his bride. He, as “life descending from the heights,” came to take us from the death of our lovelessness, and by drawing us to himself, to lift us to the very loveliness in which we were created, the loving beauty of himself (St. John of the Cross, “The Romances”).
“True love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18), but it also casts out all impatience. We bear the faults of others because we see their faults in proportion to the deep-down goodness in which they were created. And so, in imitation of the Bridegroom, let us find some delight even in that person whom we find most annoying, in hope that delight might flower into divine love. To hate the sinner or love him despite his sin is, in the end, our choice. “You can choose death, if you like, but life is not yet over for me.”
Photo by Br. Joseph Graziano, O.P.