“Loving, not being loved, is the most central fundamental part of being human,” said Rev. Michael Himes at the latest installment of Agape Latte—a monthly faith-based speaking event hosted by Campus Ministry and the Church in the 21st Century (C21)—last Wednesday, Nov. 5. Himes, a professor within the theology department at Boston College, discussed the family construct and familial love to a full Hillside Cafe.
In his talk, Himes noted that he believes a family’s main purpose is not only to create a loving environment, but to offer the opportunity for children and family members to learn how to love.
Himes grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he became a diocesan priest. He received his Ph.D. in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago.
Agapic love, according to Himes, is particularly difficult within a family because of how well each person knows one another.
“A family is perfectly designed to hurt us,” he said. “We all know exactly where the chinks in the armor are to place the daggers to do maximum damage.”
Himes then stated that family shows us how connected we are to other people, holding that human nature typically cannot reject family and at the same time accept ourselves.
“But to accept the family means to accept a group of people who frequently drive us nuts,” he said. “It requires immense forgiveness.”
Himes described the various Biblical families and their issues, including the stories of Cain killing Abel, Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac, and Jacob tricking his brother Esau out of his inheritance. He used these examples to illustrate what he called the serious problems all families experience.
“No family is a perfect family,” he said. “So, we need to be both extremely forgiving of a family, and therefore constantly willing to extend ourselves, to open ourselves, to give ourselves away to others.”
Courage was his subsequent topic, as he argued that courage is a fundamental component of Agapic love.
“The single worst pain that people experience is the pain of being an unrequited lover,” he said. “Of genuinely giving yourself to another, and the other says, ‘Oh, thanks,’ and puts you on the shelf.”
Himes said that because the concept of unrequited love can be so painful, the temptation is to never give that kind of love again. He said that true courage is taking that chance again.
“To be willing to say, ‘Yes, that was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’ll risk it again’—that requires extraordinary courage,” he said.
He then reverted the conversation back to family, and said that living within a family teaches each person to take that risk of love continuously with people who know how to hurt them.
“That requires extraordinary courage and extraordinary forgiveness,” he said.
Upon concluding his talk, Himes opened the floor for questions, during which one audience member asked Himes how he defined family, and whether families were necessarily related by blood.
“No, I don’t think they are,” he responded. “A family is a circle of people formed around us by our ability to love them … and their sometimes-limited ability to love back.”
He highlighted that the key part of any loving family is delight in each other’s existence, and that delight is what brings together a true family.
Another audience member asked how Himes would apply his points about family to situations of mental illness, alcoholism, and abuse within a family. Himes responded that it was another opportunity for forgiveness.
“Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything goes back to square one,” he said. “We always carry our past with us.”
Himes did, however, encourage the audience to choose forgiveness in such situations.
“Reach out with forgiveness,” he said. “Recognize that you will never forget this, and then to be able to say, ‘but we go on from it.’”
Featured Image by Clare Kim / Heights Staff