The Way of Love

Readings on USCCB

Lent is all about conversion in every moment. “Follow me,” Jesus said to Levi. There are little things, (which to God are actually big things), that we can do. Isaiah gives them to us: remove oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; give food to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; and finally, delight in the LORD on the Sabbath—do not seek your own interests, but delight in the LORD. As I read these and examine my own life it is not too difficult to see where conversion is necessary. The key is to look inwards, and to realize that Jesus is calling me (every part of me), just like He called Levi. “Let Me into all these inner places where you seek your own interests,” Jesus says to me. He wants me to recognize my sinfulness and repent. “Let Me into all these inner places where you are hurting and try to fix things on your own.” He wants to be in everything, and He is not repulsed by any part of me. All the “little things” matter. He wants to be in every little moment and every little thought. He calls to us all the day, says the psalmist (86:4). Anything and everything can be offered to Him, for He takes pleasure in our conversion (cf Ez 33:11), and will make us like a spring whose water never fails (Is 58:11).

It takes practice. It takes a gentle curiosity looking inward, rather than condemnation. In the Gospel today, as well in other Gospel stories, we witness the Pharisees looking to condemn. They don’t “see” the beauty of love and compassion offered by Jesus to sinners; their hearts are closed. Who of us wants to go to a physician who condemns us? Who of us will even approach the divine physician if He condemns us? This is not the way of Jesus, and it should not be our way as we look inside to examine ourselves.

Love is what changes any person. Knowing the love of Jesus is what draws me to Him. Patience and gentleness are the seeds of the Word that grow to be the abundant fruits of the Spirit. They are the means to conversion within myself and of others. They are the way of the Lord.

In sum, Isaiah gives us the things with which new should examine our Christian life. Jesus gives us the manner in which we should do it — the way of Love. He is patient, kind, and gentle.

The Kerygma, as given to St. Catherine of Siena by the LORD

From the dialogue On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor

The eternal Father, indescribably kind and tender, turned his eye to this soul and spoke to her thus:

‘O dearest daughter, I have determined to show my mercy and loving kindness to the world, and I choose to provide for mankind all that is good. But man, ignorant, turns into a death-giving thing what I gave in order to give him life. Not only ignorant, but cruel: cruel to himself. But still I go on providing. For this reason I want you to know: whatever I give to man, I do it out of my great providence.

‘So it was that when, by my providence, I created man, I looked into myself and fell in love with the beauty of the creature I had made – for it had pleased me, in my providence, to create man in my own image and likeness.

‘Moreover, I gave man memory, to be able to remember the good things I had done for him and to be able to share in my own power, the power of the eternal Father.

‘Moreover, I gave man intellect, so that, seeing the wisdom of my Son, he could recognise and understand my own will; for I am the giver of all graces and I give them with a burning fatherly love.

‘Moreover, I gave man the desire to love, sharing in the tenderness of the Holy Spirit, so that he might love the things that his intellect had understood and seen.

‘But my kind providence did all this solely that man might be able to understand me and enjoy me, rejoicing in my vision for all eternity. And as I have told you elsewhere, the disobedience of your first parent Adam closed heaven to you – and from that disobedience came all evil through the whole world.

‘To relieve man of the death that his own disobedience had brought, I tenderly and providently gave you my only-begotten Son to heal you and bring satisfaction for your needs. I gave him the task of being supremely obedient, to free the human race of the poison that your first parent’s disobedience had spread throughout the world. Falling in love, as it were, with his task, and truly obedient, he hurried to a shameful death on the most holy Cross. By his most holy death he gave you life: not human life this time, but with the strength of his divinity.’

Living Sacramentally.

I am back to readings reflections. In the first reading yesterday we hear from St. Paul, who is speaking about the “collection for the saints,” which is the collection for the suffering Church in Jerusalem. This is his reminder to the churches that we are part of a greater Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. We are His body, and as such, we are called to nourish every part of it. Everything we have and everything we are comes from the Lord. It is fitting to give back to Him in gratitude.

St. Paul is adept at using old proverbs to teach the lesson of generosity: “…whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6b; cf. Prov 22:9). Jesus, of course, is the original teacher of this lesson, (whether as the Word who has spoken from eternity or the Incarnate Word who dwells among us!) St. Paul speaks of giving according to the heart, and out of the love that we have for one another.

What (or Who) is the Source of this love?

It is the unending love by which all creation exists, and only one part of Creation is capable of returning this love in gratitude — man. The love of God freely flows into the hearts of His people for the purpose of freely flowing forward into life and abundance. For Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that all we have is from God in the first place! There is nothing…nothing…that is good, true, and beautiful…that is not foreseen or given by the Father. Paul quotes Psalm 112 to make this point: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Ps 112:9). He further makes the point and tells us of the necessary response of gratitude: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:13). Charity, ultimately, is giving back the gifts we have already been given. It is by grace that these gifts multiply.

The idea of “many thanksgivings” should cause us to think of the Sacraments, and in particular, the Eucharist. As we receive the Sacraments we receive the life of God — His grace — in abundance, and we continue to grow in grace upon grace. “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

I once asked a young person in my life, “Why do you think I go to Mass?”

“Because you have to; it is a rule that you choose to follow,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said. “It is because I want to. What we are doing when we go to Mass is giving of ourselves, our life, our time that has been given to us, back to the Lord, and He, in turn, gives us Himself in His Word and in His holy food. This food sustains me. It gives me life!”

Grace upon grace. That is what it is all about. A gift of the heart — given from the heart and received in the heart.

God continues to give Himself through the Sacraments (but not exclusively so), so that we can live in the freedom to truly love. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission to unleash the Gospel (cf. Mt 28:19), He called us to do the same. We are called to give of ourselves, sacramentally, to others. We are to be a visible sign of an invisible reality: Christ living within us. There are the actual Sacraments of the Church, through which God gives us life and love, and it is by this life and love that we, too, give others life and love. Our sacramental giving and receiving with Jesus is His means of sharing His life and love with the whole world, resulting in joy-filled gratitude!

This is the Sacramental worldview that we so need today. The Good News is that God has planted Himself into the hearts of His people, by our creation. We are made in His image and likeness, which means that His goodness is within us. If this were not true, then no one would ever turn back to Him. God is asking each one of us to share His love with others, that by our example, we can be a sacrament to others — a sign of His eternal love for the entire world.

He tell us this through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

See this adorable film clip from the movie, Hook. See how the little boys search carefully for the Peter Pan they once knew — the spark of innocence and joy. (Be like little children). We are to search for Christ in others the same way the little boys search for Peter Pan in Robin Williams’ character, Peter. (May he rest in peace in the arms of the Lord Jesus!)

https://youtu.be/EMIAIJg9Ftg

Power, Humility, Sobriety, Vigilance

“Clothe yourselves with humility
in your dealings with one another…

Be sober and vigilant.
Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:5b, 8).

What is the Christian vision when it comes to the words above?  

Jesus before Pilate.  Jesus on the Cross.  

“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above’” (Jn 19:11). 

It is a scandal. The devil tried to devour the Lord, indeed.  The devil is incapable of understanding the Law of Love. 

St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:22-25).

To look at Jesus before Pilate and see power and vigilance is foolishness to those who think that power is getting the most attention, getting the most votes, having the most people watch or listen to you, or having the most money. These are all worldly cares.  Signs are also “of the world” because those who see them are still tempted not to believe.  Our Heavenly Father gives us signs of His presence everyday and we discount these signs because of our worldly cares and attention.  

At least I do, anyway.

Power is the ability to see things the way our Creator sees things. It is living in the Spirit of God — living the law of God because it is written on our hearts.  Living the Law of Love means looking at the person across the aisle, the table, the Church, the border, the ocean…and forgiving them and seeking abundant life for them.

To be sober and vigilant is to choose to believe without seeing.  It is to choose to believe that God will take care of me, of us: to remember His promises, and to know, by faith, that we are in His hands.

This is foolishness to the world.  This is foolishness to politicians.  This is even foolishness to some Catholics and other Christians.  This is foolishness to anyone who seeks a worldly solution to a spiritual problem.  The root of the spiritual problem is UNBELIEF.

The letter from Peter quoted above also says, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you” (1 Pt 5:7).  

I am not sure it could be made clearer.  We are in a spiritual battle, which means that it is on the inside.  Jesus told us to follow Him.  He promised us abundant life if we follow His ways. Do we believe?

The inner battle against the powers that seek to devour us, to divide us, is found in our hearts and in our choices (free will).  Following Him means dying with Him.  This may or may not be a material death.  He, as the author of life, will determine that.  

There is no power of ours that can add a second to our lives.  There is no human wisdom that can trump even the foolishness of God.

It is the power of God, living in us, that can and will save the world from all its ills.  We unleash the power of God when we surrender to His love.