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Graceful Freedom


The topic of freedom and grace remains one of the most difficult discussions in Christian theology. When John Paul II writes about it, at the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart: what is the heart made for, how can it love, what model does it take? In the post Christian west, we are told that salvation is liberation, and liberation is at the service of the individual. But if freedom and grace are only ordered to the self, then it becomes clear that human dignity means nothing more than autonomy, and salvation is reduced to selfishness. If, however, human freedom exists to be at the service of others, then human beings ‘become like God’ when they empty themselves for the sake of everybody else. In light of this truth, JP II knew that it was counter-productive to present a God of triumph when, in fact, the mystery of the Christian God is that He Himself is a God of surrender. “In his intimate life, God ‘is love,’ the essential love shared by the three divine Persons: personal love is the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Therefore he ‘searches even the depths of God,’ as uncreated Love-Gift. It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift.” (Dominum et Vivificatem, 10.)


In the Holy Spirit, God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift! While all the power and progress of this world promises to move mankind toward some infinite pleasure or individual indulgences, Christianity, alone of all the world’s religions and philosophies, presents a man’s end as the God Who IS Gift. Who IS selflessness. And when choosing to make this fundamental reality of His existence known to men, He became a man and died, thus fully inaugurating a new law of Gift (or, in Latin, gratia, grace). JP II phrases it this way: “Christ is the centre of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfillment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants…Jesus himself is the living “fulfillment” of the Law.” (Veritatis Splendor, 16.) This new law of gift is the great revolution of our religion. Its not just about helping people or ‘making the world a better place’: it’s about making heaven a better place, or rather, making both heaven and earth a place where the King of Gift can actually be given something Himself. For grace (gift) is, after all, how Christians have access to the God who exists in the mode of Gift (grace).

Anyone familiar with Pauline theology or the evangelical applications thereof will know that this is no new theme in Christianity. In her most recent century, fundamentalists and street preachers commonly talked about it within the context of conversion. JP II’s himself approaches the topic of grace from the same angle; “The Apostle Paul invites us to consider in the perspective of the history of salvation, which reaches its fulfillment in Christ, the relationship between the (Old) Law and grace (the New Law). He recognizes the pedagogic function of the Law, which, by enabling sinful man to take stock of his own powerlessness and by stripping him of the presumption of his self-sufficiency, leads him to ask for and to receive ‘life in the Spirit.'” (Veritatis Splendor, 23) Once we ‘take stock’ of our own powerlessness, however, we are invited into a new freedom where we extend ourselves beyond the limits of our own person by giving of ourselves for the sake of the Other (‘the Other’=Christ and other humans). Therefore, JP II points out that “Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called….Human freedom and God’s law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom.” (Veritatis Splendor, 17.) No longer are we slaves to the things of this world, to sex, to food, to cloths, to the news, to politics, to even culture itself. All of these things are created good, culture included, but JP II knows that it is important that “man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being.” And the truth of man’s being is the truth of gift (grace).
Man’s graceful freedom can only come through the gospel of Christianity. This gospel is itself Christ’s gift: it is not an imposition or a burden. As JP II puts it; “On her part, the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.” (Redemptoris Missio, 39) To accept Christ’s word in freedom is to become free to live for others and the Other, for a destiny far greater than the autonomous self could ever provide. “Hence, human activity cannot be judged as morally good merely because it is a means for attaining one or another of its goals, or simply because the subject’s intention is good. Activity is morally good when it attests to and expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to his ultimate end and the conformity of a concrete action with the human good as it is acknowledged in its truth by reason.” (Veritatis Splendor, 72.)

GKC was fond of saying that you cannot argue with a man unless you can sympathize with his perspective. It’s not simply a matter of understanding his view, but truly feeling the pain he feels. In our day and time, there are many who feel that ‘the Church’ (it matters little whether they mean Roman Catholicism or merely the body of Christians) stands as an institution in contrast with individual freedom. The fact of the matter is that Christianity does, in a very real way, stand in contrast with (if not opposition to) our contemporary conception of freedom. If by ‘freedom’ we mean ‘privacy,’ than Christianity accepts it as only a condition of worldly existence, and a rather negative one at that. In heaven, there will be no privacy for there will be no ability to hold back a part of yourself from anyone else. It would be foolishness to stand before the pearly gates and say to God and the angelic court, the Saints and the Martyrs: “I will share anything with you except this small part. I need it for myself and would feel insecure were I forced to give it away.” Heaven knows nothing of such privacy. The Church admits of the right to privacy as she admits to the right to property: as a temporal affair. That is to say, she concedes to it as temporary, something that will disappear with the coming of the Kingdom. And she prays earnestly, each day, that the Kingdom come sooner rather than later.

In his writing, John Paul II certainly sympathizes with this situation in which Christianity and the world’s opposing ideas of freedom war for men’s hearts. However, he never let this sympathy (which is an emotion) interfere with his love (which is an action). He was willing to admit that complex modern realities, tied into the perennial scandals of humanity-this-side-of-heaven, leave Christianity an easy target of ridicule and suspicion. The question is whether or not we can separate the teachings of Christ from the communion of love he personally established, a communion called the Church. As he says in Veritatis Splendor, “At times, in the discussions about new and complex moral problems, it can seem that Christian morality is in itself too demanding, difficult to understand and almost impossible to practice. This is untrue, since Christian morality consists, in the simplicity of the Gospel, in following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church.” (119) In this self-abandonment, the human person breaths again, living not just for herself, but gracefully for the Other.

Epic Hope

I once wrote a reflection on the over-use of the word ‘epic.’ When I apply this term to the life and teaching of John Paul the Great, however, I do so in absolute confidence. There is really no other way to describe the hope of a smiling actor from impoverished Polandwhen he rose up against such towering forces of evil. Amidst the burning death of the holocaust, Karol Wojtyla wrote plays that burned with a brighter hope that outlasted the fires of Auschwitz. It was that same hope that brought color to his priesthood during the dreary years of Stalinist Poland. When he became Pope John Paul II, its luminosity acted as his spotlight on the world-stage. And though they’ve never been televised or presented from pulpit or balcony, these encyclicals of JP II bring the drama of this hope to the largest audience, to generations yet unborn. That the unborn found one of their greatest advocates in the great Pope, no one would doubt. The fact of the matter is that he acknowledged their plight and considered it part and parcel of the scourge of contemporary culture: what JP II called the ‘culture of death.’ To fight this death, he constantly exhorted us to ‘be not afraid!,” “For the mission of the Church is always oriented and directed with unfailing hope towards the future.” (Salvorum Apostoli, 31)


His use of such dramatic language shows that he had none of the blind optimism of the students and idealists: he was too much the professor. He had none of the platforms or campaign promises of the politicians: he was too pious a priest. Finally, and most powerfully, his warnings contain none of the dire pessimism of (false) prophets and preachers: he was too secure in sanctity to give up on humanity. “There is no justification then for despair or pessimism or inertia…(individual responsibility) is what is demanded by the present moment and above all by the very dignity of the human person, the indestructible image of God the Creator, which is identical in each one of us.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 47) This hope stands like light against a shadow precisely because JP II realized just how dark is the shadow that remains over our world. “In general, taking into account the various factors, one cannot deny that the present situation of the world, from the point of view of development, offers a rather negative impression…There are many millions who are deprived of hope due to the fact that, in many parts of the world, their situation has noticeably worsened. Before these tragedies of total indigence and need, in which so many of our brothers and sisters are living, it is the Lord Jesus himself who comes to question us (cf. Mt 25:31-46).” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 13)

I said last time that JP II seems caught up in the drama of the relationship between God and man. It is in the midst of this drama that he finds our source for hope. Any realistic look at the “wages of sin” reveals, not simply fallen creatures, but a frustrated creation and a sorrowful Creator. “The Sacred Book speaks to us of a Father who feels compassion for man, as though sharing his pain. In a word, this inscrutable and indescribable fatherly “pain” will bring about above all the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that through the mysterium pietatis love can reveal itself in the history of man as stronger than sin. So that the “gift” may prevail!” (Dominum et Vivificatem, 39) In other words, redemption is at the service of gift. Hope is at the service of love! 

His own life had taught JP II that is was not enough that Hitler be defeated, that abortion be repealed, that the poor be fed and that sins be repented of. The greatness of all of these epic and edifying goals can only be measured in relation to our conversion toward God. Often we may think of hope and love as autonomous actions (I converted to Christ, so now I can love my family), but JP II saw conversion and love as part of the same movement. “Conversion is the most concrete expression of the working of love and of the presence of mercy in the human world. The true and proper meaning of mercy does not consist only in looking, however penetratingly and compassionately, at moral, physical or material evil: mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man.” (Dives in Misericordia, 6) It is this “restoration of value” that JP II saw as the true goal of Christianity. Don’t become confused by the ethical connotation of the word ‘value’: JP II is not talking about a ‘return to family values’ or a spread of ‘Christian values.’ He means that human beings should find life as valuable and fulfilling, love as strong and solid as silver or gold, and a God with an infinite value and meaning.

When life fails to attain to this value, contemporary man finds himself adrift in a world of selfishness and cut off from his fellow creatures (i.e. separated from other humans, the environment, the community, the angels and saints, etc.) Yet, even here, in the midst of all the distractions of our noisy, overpaid and oversexed culture, JP II saw the glimmerings of hope. “From the depth of anguish, fear and escapist phenomena like drugs, typical of the contemporary world, the idea is slowly emerging that the good to which we are all called and the happiness to which we aspire cannot be obtained without an effort and commitment on the part of all, nobody excluded, and the consequent renouncing of personal selfishness.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 26) Emerging from these depths of pain and loneliness, man is given the opportunity to probe even greater depths. “Faced with the mystery of sin, we have to search ‘the depths of God’ to their very depth. It is not enough to search the human conscience, the intimate mystery of man, but we have to penetrate the inner mystery of God, those ‘depths of God’ that are summarized thus: to the Father-in the Son- through the Holy Spirit.” (Dominum et Vivificatem, 32) According to JP II, this is “the deep that calls to deep, in the roar of many waters” from Psalm 42. In the very depths of God is where the sufferings of humanity crosses over from shame to joy in the almost-instantaneous embrace of conversion. In JP II’s thought, this conversion results in a “Mature humanity” that has “full use of the gift of freedom received from the Creator when he called to existence the man made ‘in his image, after his likeness.’ This gift finds its full realization in the unreserved giving of the whole of one’s human person, in a spirit of the love of a spouse, to Christ.” (Redemptor Hominis, 21) Thus, hope finds its fulfillment in more than just ‘religious love’ or ‘spiritual love’ but in a real human love, a ‘spousal love,’ which has been transformed into a Divine love. Further exploration of JP II’s use of this spousal mystery is so broad a topic that I must leave it until my next reflection.

Excitingly Manly

I’m reading the encyclicals of JP II, all of them, back to back, and IT IS THRILLING! Not just interesting. Not just instructive. Not just edifying. Thrilling like a roller coaster is thrilling. Think of the experience of being on a roller coaster. There are the ‘dull’ moments, usually associated with the loading of the cars or with the slow making-the-way-up to the first or second drop, but after that it is all rush and wind and screaming. Well, that’s what reading a JP II encyclical is like. There are sections that are tedious or difficult to follow. They usually concern the setting of the historical context; “In 1890, my venerable successor Leo XIII wrote that…” and you can usually forgive the JP II because 1) like a good actor, he is trying to set the scene and 2) like a good Christian, he is trying to give credit where credit is due. So he lulls us into his pleasant nostalgia of papal documents that we’ve never heard of or historical situations that we could care less about. And then, with something like a whoop or holler, he brings us to the top of the track, shows us the horizon, and sends us flying on our way right into the heart of the abyss.

And at the heart of every JP II encyclical is the topic of God and man. The sheer substance of his discourse is their relationship, a relationship more dramatic, more mesmorizing and more unexpected than any relationship in any other writing. The trouble is that most contemporary authors ignore this relationship, or if they do write about it, they bring with them all sorts of hang ups, be they intellectual or emotional. The topic of God becomes so specialized, that reading about God and man becomes like an instruction manuel or, worse still, a cheap romance novel (The atheist authors tend to be the worse about this sort of thing, which is why I don’t read them much: its not just that they’re wrong, but that they’re terribly boring). To return to my first statement, it might not be difficult for you to believe that a theologian could find JP II thrilling precisely because I’m already acquainted with his particular language or ‘jargon.’ That idea is not exactly what I meant to communicate with my first statement, however. What I meant to say is that I, as a human being, as one of the actors in the great drama between God and man, I find these encyclicals thrilling. And you will too.
I know full and well that, in your life time, you’ve probably read as many papal encyclicals as you have tax forms, looking forward to both exercises with equal anticipation. Therefore, I only ask that you hear me out as I lay before you some of the thrills I have experienced.

1) The Incarnation in JP II’s words: “God entered the history of humanity and, as a man, became an actor in that history, one of the thousands of millions of human beings but at the same time Unique!” (Redemptor Hominis)
God as an actor!? Wouldn’t that infer that Jesus was just ‘playing around’ with us during the Incarantion? No! JP II means to shock us with this language (a language, I might add, that we was borrowing from an equally mind-blowing theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar). God’s becoming an actor in human history in no way demeans us, making the world nothing more than a stage, not because the world can’t be demeaned, but because God won’t be. Therefore, if he became an actor in the drama of human history, as a human, than that means our ‘roles’ have now been elevated to that of leads! Human beings are now the principle characters in the drama of creation, precisely because God took center stage as one of us. Thus, JP II concludes; “Through the Incarnation God gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from his first beginning; he has granted that dimension de-finitively—in the way that is peculiar to him alone, in keeping with his eternal love and mercy, with the full freedom of God.”

2) ‘Justice’ in JP II’s words; “Although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection, nevertheless love is “greater” than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love.” (Dives in Misericordia) Many people think that Christian love ‘defeats’ justice or ‘overrides it.’ JP II’s words make it clear that justice is not abolished by love, but ‘re-orders’ itself toward love. That is why the Christian must always strive for justice (overcome racism, fight abortion, end wars, etc.) at the service of love (have blacks and whites live together in love, mothers love their children, brothers live in peace with each other, etc). Read in this light, the great tragedy of injustice in NOT what it does to us and how it scars us, but rather what it prevents us from being able to do: love each other. Thus, JP II concludes; “Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill – will towards the one to whom He once gave the gift of Himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, ‘you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence.'”

I give these two examples of the thrill of JP II because they demonstrate perfectly just what type of excitment lies in store for the reader. Many of us feel like we know the gospel. We’ve heard that Christian thing before. We’ve gone to Church, gone to Catholic school, watched the movies, sat through CCD, stood through Christmas mass, slept through homilies…you can’t tell me anything new. JP II laughs at you! He says, “Ha!, You think you know Christianity? You think you know about Jesus?” And then he takes you on a theological roller coaster ride that is radically different, more inviting, more intimadating and ultimately more exhilrating than the grand majority of ‘religious writings’ in book stores. He does it all with that signature smirk. But you must be willing to talk with him. Over the next couple of blogs, I plan on sharing more tidbits from these writings of the late, great Holy Father. See them as a chance to take a look at Christianity from the perspective of a man who fought Hitler with plays, fought Stalin with poetry and fought the devil with the sloppy wet kisses he planted on the foreheads of thousands during the course of his pontificate. I think you will find, as I have, a new approach to the gospel, one that is faithful to its Founder because it is obcessed with His personhood and humanity.

Friday Thoughts – Canon Law and New Media

Now I’m sure Ed Peters has probably covered this in some sort of way or another, but something struck me in reading some of the canons in Church Administration class yesterday.
Canon 761

The various means available are to be used to proclaim Christian doctrine: first of all preaching and catechetical instruction, which always hold the principal place, but also the presentation of doctrine in schools, academies, conferences, and meeting of every type and its diffusion through public declarations in the press or in other instruments of social communication by legitimate authority on the occasion of certain events. (Italics added by me)

This is under the section entitled The Ministry of the Divine Wordas part of the teaching function of the Church.  Many of the previous canons are directed toward the ecclesial authority of the Roman Pontiff, the college of bishops, individual bishops, priests, and deacons.  Canon 759 references the ministry of the Divine Word entrusted to the laity.  The last two canons of this preface of the section, Canons 760-761, direct all the members of the Church, ordained and lay combined.   
This canon then is for all of us, bloggerss included.  It seems almost prophetic that Canon Law, codified in 1983, speaks of “other instruments of social communication” opening up wide for the possibility of proclaiming the Word of God through the social communication of weblogs, podcasts, vidcasts, and tweets.  We are called to use said means to proclaim the word of God, evangelize, and teach.   
“By legitimate authority” seems to focus on clergy, and indeed Pope Benedict XVI has directed priests especially to use these new means of social communication to evangelize.  

Now this certainly isn’t a definitive license or even explicit message for the use of New Media in Evangelization, but the fact the “other instruments of social communication” is mentioned in the Code of Canon Law is a juridical step in the right direction for us here on the digital continent.

Friday Thoughts – Secularism

I have started the mini-mester here at the seminary.  Our professor for the Sacraments of Healing has us reading Bl. John Paul II’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia.  I am thoroughly enjoying it.  It is backing up with theology what I have intuited.  Many things have struck me so far but JP II’s definition of secularism is spot on, so I want to share it with you.  (For you long time readers, i.e. me, this goes back to the beginning of the blog, sharing quotes)

“Secularism” is by nature and definition a movement of ideas and behavior which advocates a humanism totally without God, completely centered upon the cult of action and production and caught up in the heady enthusiasm of consumerism and pleasure seeking, unconcerned with the danger of “losing one’s soul.” 

Minister of Divine Mercy

The Congregation for the Clergy recently released a document entitled ‘The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy: An Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors,’ the full text of which can be found HERE. I immediately printed it and have been reading through it over the past couple of weeks and find it to be well-written and encouraging. While it is primarily a document for the clergy and addresses some things that help us in the ministry of counsel, it can bear good fruit for the laity who would read it as well. The first chapter, a discussion on the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession, gives a wonderful overview of the place of the sacrament in the life of all Catholics and helps us to understand more clearly the nature and necessity of that great outpouring of Love and Mercy. The PDF is relatively short and even just taking 30-45 minutes to read through the first section would prove to be a blessing indeed. Do enjoy!

Reflection on Love and the Eucharist on the Occasion of the Feast of Corpus Christi

Jesus gave this act of oblation an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He anticipated his death and resurrection by giving his disciples, in the bread and wine, his very self, his body and blood as the new manna (cf. Jn 6:31-33). The ancient world had dimly perceived that man’s real food—what truly nourishes him as man—is ultimately the Logos, eternal wisdom: this same Logos now truly becomes food for us—as love. The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God’s presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus’ self-gift, sharing in his body and blood. The sacramental “mysticism”, grounded in God’s condescension towards us, operates at a radically different level and lifts us to far greater heights than anything that any human mystical elevation could ever accomplish. Deus Caritas Est 13

God so loved the world. I don’t think we fully understand the gravity of that statement by St John. To Aristolte, the First Cause was drawing all things to himself, drawn by eros like a divine magnet. Aristotle never spoke of a reciprocity on God’s part. He only received the love of every material thing. In the Enlightenment, there arose in thought a concept of God known as the Divine Watchmaker, who set everything into order, wound it up, and stepped back. No love there. Some even have the concept of God who is judge alone who is taking notes on each sin in order to damn us to eternal fire.

The Holy Spirit rectifies these views with the words of the Apostle John, ‘God so loved the world’ and ‘God is love’. What is love but self-gift? God gives Himself to us, His children, unreservedly. He gave Himself to Israel,redeeming them from slavery, forgiving them for idolatry, but most of all, by becoming human flesh through the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was in love that the Incarnation occurred. By so many, God’s love is unrequited. In Jesus Christ love became flesh and blodd that we can love back.

As we saw in the Ascension, His flesh and blood had returned to the right hand of the Father. No longer could we see or touch or hear love Incarnate. But, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son’. In what way did He give His only Son? In the immolation and sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. Knowing that this was how He was going to be gift, Christ left us with a memorial of His offering, in which He, through His priests, re-presents Himself as gift, in love to us. ‘The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the dynamic of his self-giving’. In the Eucharist we receive love. The love we receive touches the very core of our being, as creation, but more importantly, as Children of God. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, reveals the fullness of love through the Eucharist. You are loved. I am loved. We are all loved in the mystery of the Eucharistic species. The most inconsequential media, unleavened bread and cheap wine, become the means by which we experience the infinite depths of God’s love for us. Let us open our mouths and our hearts to receive Love.

Erotic and Godly?

“There is a certain relationship between love and the divine: love promises infinity, eternity–a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence.” Deus Caritas Est 5
This quote is within the context of the Holy Father’s explication of eros. He refers back to the Greek understanding of an intoxication transcending into the divine so as to experience supreme happiness. He goes on to say this was enacted through various fertility cults, where men would go to a shrine and unleash their passionate desire upon a woman whose sole purpose was to be mediators of divine intoxication as objects of sexual pleasure. They were treated not as human beings, not as persons, but as objects for those men, objects for the sole purpose of pleasure.

This should sound familiar to us today. Pornography is not much different. Neither is prostitution. Pornography, though, seems to be exponentially more dangerous, if not for the sole reason of being much more accessible, but also from Matthew 5 where Jesus tells us that anyone who lusts after a woman already commits adultery in his heart. Pornography degrades, perverts, and deconstructs the idea and truth of eros. It divinizes eros instead of letting eros be a means to the divine. Furthermore, it destroys the God given dignity of the human person, who is himself an end (c.f. Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla).

Pope Benedict goes on to mention the Old Testament’s rejection of this cult because it is, as shown earlier, “a perversion of religiosity.” However, eros was not rejected, rather, its idea and enaction needed to be purified and tempered.

This desire, ultimately, for God is within us. Eros desires to transcend finite reality to be in union with the infinite, namely God. Aristotle had this concept in his cosmology. The umoved mover, whom he referred to as god, moved all things to itself. Everything moved in its own path back toward the unmoved mover. This can easily be translated into Christian terms. God moves “all creation together in Himself.” “Father, I pray that they may be one as You and I are one.” In the greatest sense, eros can be seen in this light.

However, “eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but also a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns,” (Deus Caritas Est 4). The tendency in our culture today is to direct this desire for the infinite, for beatitude, (happiness), toward finite things. These things, or persons, offer fleeting pleasure. Through a temperate direction of eros, we can experience a “foretaste” of eternal life in love. It is like tasting a crumb of the greatest cake ever to be made, and this crumb springs your yearning on ever greater for the whole cake. This foretaste, directed and mediated through temperance, incites full throttle the desire to be in union with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Reciprocal Love

“Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command,’ it is the response to the gift of love which God draws near to us.” Deus Caritas Est 1
Christianity is a contiuation of the Shemah. Pope Benedict shares this insight. The Shemah is the prayer of Israel. They have it on their foreheads and on their door posts. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your hear, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This was the command given to Israel from the Father at Sinai.

The devout Jew utters this prayer throughout the day reminding himself to follow the law. Jesus “came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it,” (Matthew 5:17). So what does this mean for us as Christians, this Shemah of Israel?

Well, with Jesus it takes on a new light. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be expiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10). This is the verse to which the Holy Father alluded. Not that we first loved God (we are not the initiators of this relationship between human and divine), but He first loved us. Therefore, our love for Him is no longer a command, as in the Shemah, but a response.

Our love for God is a response to His love for us. We first experience this love as children in the faith. We experience it most powerfully in our first conversion experience. We experience it at the proclamation of the Gospel during the Liturgy of the Word. We experience it even more so at the Liturgy of the Eucharist where that event is re-presented, becomes present for us. We experience it when we receive the sacrament of penance.

Then, what is our response but to love back. We give back to God what He has given us, by giving ourselves fully to Him just as He gave Himself for us. There is no holding back. It must be our all.

All You Need is Love

“Love only is always good.  Love is the only norm.  Love and justice are the same.” – Joseph Fletcher, from his book Situation Ethics, Westminster Press, 1966.

Pope Benedict said in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, “Today, the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words.”  We constantly hear the term love.  It is splattered across the airwaves.  It is on t-shirts and on the seats of girl’s pajama pants.  Every time I come into the Miami Airport, I run into the art display of “LOVE” in the concourse.  It is the cultural categorical norm by which this society operates.  Do you love him?  Then, it’s okay to engage is premarital or extra-marital affairs.  Love of a football team is more important, to some, than love of children or wife.  If it is done in love, then it must be okay.  The opening quote sums it up.  Hazel Barnes, from whom I got this quote, went on to speak of Fletcher’s concept as such, “He points out that every end, too, is relative and can be justified as such only if it serves the cause of love.”*  For love of country, we can rid ourselves of all that taint the country.  That was part of what drove Hitler. Or love is so free that anything goes.

To a Christian, the opening quote seems perfectly satisfactory.  The caveat given Barnes colors the quote in a totally new manner.  Why is there a difference?  For Fletcher, love is arbitrary, relative to the arbitrary arbiter.  It has a foundation in everything and therefore a foundation in nothing.  It has no stability.  It becomes pure multiplicity.  It ultimately will fall apart like a poorly made deck of cards.  For the Christian, love is based on a person, on three persons, in fact, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Deus caritas est.  God is love.  Love, for the Christian, has foundation in Truth, in Goodness, in Oneness.  The foundation is rock solid.

These two concepts butt heads often within out lives in the world but not of the world.  We might not be aware of the harmful consequences of the former understanding of love because it seems so pleasing and enjoyable.  It lacks responsibility, which due to our first parents, we never really want to take (just think, “It was the woman” & “The snake told me to”).  Furthermore, it exalts our weak egos lifting them to arbiter of our morality.  We can make ourselves.  These are what make the former understanding of love so popular.

The Christian understanding demands sacrifice.  It calls someone to go out of themselves and be for someone else.  It challenges to lay down ourselves in the law given to us by the creator.  It moves us to responsibility for our actions, those times when we rejected love or failed to act in love toward someone.

I would agree with the Beatles that “All We Need is Love.”  However, not love based on my arbitrary will but rather Love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has offered me redemption and eternal life, a lasting beatitude.

* Hazel Barnes, The University as The New Church, C.A. Watts & Co., 1970.