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Stages of Growth in Love

An Expanding Love

Stages of Growth in Love
Sunday, March 14, 2021

We’re told by developmental psychologists that there’s a staging in our growth in love. We have to start with self-love and respecting the self. If we don’t respect ourselves, we won’t know how to respect anybody else.

Then God moves us to group love, family love, which is basically the love of people who are connected to us or who are like us. A lot of people don’t even get there. They don’t know how to love their family or those close to them or those in their group.

From there, God moves us to the third level, which is universal love; I’m afraid a much smaller number of people get to this place. As we see in politics, in our country, and throughout the world, at best most people just get to the second stage of knowing how to love people who are like them: their race, their nationality, their religion, their political party. When we stay at this second stage of group love, we clearly don’t create a healthy society. We see this in the rise of white nationalism and the violence at the U.S. Capitol that took place earlier this year. Many of us who identify as white in the United States are just coming to understand that it was this second level of exclusive love for our own group that was the foundation for most of the oppressive systems of our nation.

In Acts 10 we see how even the so-called first pope, Peter, had to be taught by the Holy Spirit how to grow in love. Peter was at the stage of group love, believing that God only loved the Jewish people. And then this strange thing happened where the Holy Spirit fell upon Gentiles! Peter looked around and said, “Oh my gosh! God seems to be for everybody and not just for the Jewish people!” He understood that it was okay to include Gentiles into what we eventually called the church. In spite of this, most of church history has not really imitated Peter’s insight. We pulled back into group think and group love.

Peter said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. In any country, whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable” (Acts 10:34–35). At that moment he became both a Jewish and Christian heretic! Peter himself began to recognize that God works with all people of goodwill—not just people in his group. But he had to be pushed there. Little by little, God leads him to universal love.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Self Love to Group Love to Universal Love,” homily, May 6, 2018, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Story from Our Community:
I’ve been searching for my true self for many years now. I know it’s somewhere in me and I’m waiting for the moment that God tells me: you have waited long enough; rest in my arms. All I know is I don’t know. However, I learned that when I can be totally vulnerable and let go, I feel liberated and I feel light. . . Thank you for all you do to help people like me. — Jin K.

Image credit: Dorothea Lange. (1936) “Bum blockade.” All heading north. South of King City, California. Difficult to get a record of this movement because these men wouldn’t be photographed as a result of Los Angeles police activity (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Who do we shut out from our love? May we walk bravely into the horizons of love allowing our hearts to expand and radically include.
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