Every real relationship, if it is to grow, requires surrender, the gift of self. To love another person requires that we turn away from seeking only our own good, and, flowing from the total gift of self we have first offered to God, we sacrifice ourselves for their flourishing.
I think of this every time I am blessed to celebrate a wedding of two faithful Catholic young people. The Church teaches that, in the sacrament of matrimony, it is the couples who are what we call the “ordinary ministers” of the sacrament, cooperating with God to confer it upon one another, while the ordained minister of the Church serves as a witness, because it is their vowed act of surrender to one another which forges the lasting union of marriage.
I encourage you to read or re-read the Catholic wedding vows, to let their beauty resonate with you again. At their heart, they articulate this: “I no longer live for me. You, and what you need, are the driving force of my life. I will choose this more than anything else. I will do whatever is needed for the sake of your good. You are worth it.”
One of the reasons marriages are in decline today is that the prevailing culture promotes focusing on ourselves and fulfilling our desires before sacrificing for others. Because of this cultural background and our fallen nature, it takes heroic determination and supernatural grace to limit our freedom, and abdicate “control,” to experience the deeper blessings which can only arise from narrowing our options.
Today, instead, “what I want” is the dominant driving cultural force. One of the intellectual fathers of post-modernity, Friedrich Nietzsche, put voice to this secular mentality when he proclaimed that the path to human flourishing is the “will to power,” finding personal fulfillment through the total ability to subjugate others to my wishes. Jean-Paul Sartre, an atheist philosopher from the first half of the 20th century, famously concluded his play, No Exit, by having one of the main characters explain the demonic conclusion of this philosophy: “Hell is other people!”
If the goal of life is to accomplish my own will, then others, with their own needs, dreams, and desires, will always get in the way.
This is the anti-Gospel. It is the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ shows us is the way to personal greatness when he offers the real path to human flourishing, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Surrender is at the core of our Catholic faith, and it is God himself who has led the way and “gone first.” Jesus tells us, “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18).
One of the central mysteries of our faith, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, reveals that God continues to surrender himself each time the Mass is celebrated. He has given himself to us completely — body, blood, soul, and divinity — until the end of time. St. Francis of Assisi, contemplating these mysteries, used to cry out in the streets, “Love is not loved!” That is because our only response to what God does for us in the sacraments is to pour out our own lives completely to him in return.
If we are to grow as disciples and bear fruit as a Church, we must learn how to surrender to God again. To give love, for love. Surrender is a lifelong process, in which we surrender our hearts, minds, wills, bodies and souls to the Trinity.