Chapter 4 — Love
The Revolution of Love
Christians are called to become icons of Christ, to reflect him. But we are called to even more than that. Ikon is the Greek word for “image of God.” We are called to incarnate him in our lives, to clothe our lives with him, so that men can see him in us, touch him in us, recognize him in us.
When we don’t live the gospel without compromise, or try to, we are skeletons. People do not care to deal with skeletons. The gospel can be summed up by saying that it is the tremendous, tender, compassionate, gentle, extraordinary, explosive, revolutionary law of Christ’s love.
He calls each one of us who calls himself a Christian. He calls us directly. There is no compromise in his call: “Whoever is not with me is against me. . . . If you love me, keep my commandments.” We can find umpteen quotations in the gospel that will vividly bring forth to our minds and hearts how simply and how insistently he calls us to be like him, and to accept his law of love without compromises.
His call is revolutionary, there is no denying it. If we Christians implemented it, it would change the world in a few months. The gospel is radical, and Christ indeed is the radix, the root from which spring all things. His commandments mean risk, great risk. They imply a lack of that security to which most men cling so tightly.
The security to which most people cling is mere illusion. We are not secure walking the streets of a large modern city. In planes we never know if we’ll stay up or not. Wars flare up in almost every part of the world. So where is that security that everybody is supposed to value so dearly? God doesn’t give us this material security. He offers instead faith, a faith which begins, in a sense, when reason ends.
God offers us risk, danger and a strange insecurity that leads to perfect security. His security begins when we start loving God with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul and our neighbor as ourselves. I speak of this so often but it is the only message that can never be overstressed. We must clothe the skeletons of our lives with the flesh of his love, or we shall perish.
For this kind of loving we have the Holy Spirit in us. With his help we shall be able to love our neighbor. With him we shall have the courage to risk loving the neighbor. It is a tremendous risk, because we must also love our enemies. Once we have entered into Christ’s law of love, we have the power and the grave, the charisms, to change enemies into friends and beloved neighbors. To love one’s neighbor is the ultimate risk, for it may even mean death for my brother’s sake if need be.
All this sounds very idealistic and perhaps quite unobtainable. Christ assures us it is attainable. It is through those strange little steps day after day that one slowly accepts the other as he or she is, begins to love totally, tenderly, compassionately. Once this has begun, the involvement becomes deeper and deeper and deeper.
As this involvement of love between brothers grows and deepens, we enter into a revolution. A revolution in which there is a violence directed only against oneself. There is much to be overcome, so terribly much, before we can say with St. Paul, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.” This kind of warfare truly brings about a revolution in the individual and in the community of mankind. The revolution of Christ brings about a whole new set of values.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I implore you before it is too late, clothe the skeletons of your flesh with the love of Christ. If we do, we can lead the world and humanity out of the terrible and hellish depths to which it has sunk. There is so little time.
The Gospel Without Compromise
Are Christians becoming a smaller group in this immense secular world, a group that doesn’t matter very much, a group that is merely tolerated? It all depends on one’s point of view. Sociologists, theologians and other specialists may thinks so. But ordinary lay apostles working in the heat of the day, in the unchartered frontiers of the Spirit, may not agree with these conclusions.
Daily, hourly, we deal with people whose hunger for God is unlimited, who will go to any lengths, march to any location, in order to find God.
Perhaps it is a bit farfetched to say that young rebels are pilgrims of the Absolute, that those who take drugs are searching for God. But we know that this is so because we meet them constantly and listen endlessly to their hunger for things spiritual, for a meaning in life; we see in the hurricane of their confusion the eye of the hurricane.
Listening day in and day out to the modern music of the young, we clearly hear the psalmist crying, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Hear the voice of my supplication.”
The longer we live, the more we realize that there is literally a massive search for God taking place—the God of the Christians. People are searching for the carpenter of Nazareth, the poor itinerant preacher, the God-man who died, literally, for love of us.
The problem does not lie in the fact that we seem to be living in a diaspora situation. The problem is that we Christians do not understand that the world is always hungry for the reality that is Christ.
Guitar Masses are interesting, but they soon pale. Change is exciting, but man cannot live on change alone. Change must be a road leading to the essence.
What is the essence? Christians who love on another and who form communities of love. Humanity today is the Doubting Thomas who wasn’t there when Christ appeared for the first time after his resurrection. Humanity today is a man who must touch the wounds of Christ in order to believe, to be converted. Then he will come to the Lord in thousands, perhaps in millions.
The only way to show these wounds of Christ to others is to live the gospel without compromise. Does that mean that we must turn our lives upside down? Does it mean a complete change of values? Does it mean the breaking up, the demolition of our comfortable way of life? Quite simply, yes, it does.
When we who call ourselves Christians show forth the gospel in our lives, the searchers for God, these pilgrims of the Absolute, will see him, will touch him, and they will believe.
It is time that we showed all men the face of the resurrected Christ in whom we and all creation have our being. It’s time that we cease to bemoan our miseries and begin to love one another, to form communities of love to which all others can come—communities where people can touch, see and feel the wounds of Christ. Yes, we who work in the heat of the day, in the front lines of the spiritual warfare, know that this is the true and only answer for a world which seeks so desperately for meaning in life.
The Gospel With Compromise
It seems that it is time for all of us Christians to face God and to tell him, “Yes, Lord, we are with you, for where else can we go?” or to say, “No, Lord, your sayings are too hard, and we shall not follow you any longer.”
A sense of deep sadness comes over me when I think of how Christians sit on the fence. What is the matter with us? Have we forgotten that we are followers of a crucified Christ? Have we forgotten that he was just the son of a carpenter, himself a tradesman, a strange itinerant preacher who crisscrossed the tiny country of Palestine, preaching his gospel to the poor? Have we forgotten that from the moment he began preaching he walked in the shadow of death? Have we forgotten that following him means to take the greatest risk that man can take? Have we forgotten that following him means living dangerously?
It seems that we have spent centuries trying to eliminate the risk and the danger of his call. It seems that we have cushioned the risk and practically eliminated any and all danger by drawing up a set of moral rules that give us security instead of holy insecurity; rules that lull our conscience to sleep instead of making it wide awake and ready to undertake the risks of being a Christian.
Christ said that if we are not with him we are against him. How do we measure up to this saying of his? Are we really with him? Are we ready to give up father, mother, sister and brother, in the sense he means it, that following him demands? Are we ready to lay our lives on the line of his law of love with its fantastic dimensions of dispossession and surrender? Do we truly love one another, beginning with ourselves?
I wonder how long we can sit on the fence of compromise. God is not mocked!
We have to begin to love one another in the fullest sense of Christ’s teaching. But to do so we must pray. It is only through prayer that one can follow Christ to Golgotha and end up onto the other side of his cross, and to become free through this ascension. The immense problems of war, of social injustice, of the thousand and one ills that beset our world, these can be solved only if we begin to love one another. When man begins to see love, respect and reverence Christ in the eyes of another, then he will change, and society will change also.
Christians must openly declare their allegiance to Christ, of their nonallegiance to him. The story of the disciples who had to choose is repeating itself today among us. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, for the other apostles, openly declared himself for Jesus. On another occasion, Christ’s words were too harsh, and other disciples admitted it and left him. It is time we did like wise and stopped fooling around. If ever there was a time when humanity needed followers of Christ and fewer fence-sitters, that time is now.
Love Is the Answer
Our world is certainly experiencing the storms of national and international turmoil. How tragic and pitiful it is that man cannot experience that inner peace which is his heritage from Christ. Especially is this true of Western men, most of whom are baptized and grafted onto the body of Christ.
How simple and how timely the gospel is. In it lie the answers to our problems. The gospel is like a light shining in the darkness. Why is it then that we who are Christians refuse to even try the clear answers of the gospel? Why do we wish to constantly compromise, water down and eliminate from the gospel whatever is too hard for us? Why settle for such a pale reflection of his strong words and loving teachings?
We seem to have tried everything that our intelligence and genius can come up with. But so far, if we are to be judged by the fruits of the tree, we certainly have not succeeded. Nor are we leaving our children a better world to live in. On the contrary, we are leaving them a more chaotic world than even the one we inherited.
Why then do we not try the way of love, the way of the gospel? Why do we not apply the gospel without compromise to our personal, national and international life?
Love could bridge the gap between Christians and Jews; after all, we Christians are spiritual Semites and the Old Testament was the forerunner of the New. The love of the Father became incarnate for us, and he was a son of Abraham.
Love could bridge the gap between Jews, Catholics and Protestants. We all believe in one God, the God of love. Why then could we not live by law of his love? What is stopping us?
Why can’t we believe that only Love, who is God, can walk upon the stormy waters of our times and quiet them? Love is the only answer, and it has to start in the mind and heart of every human being. Only them will it be effective.
Leadership in love must come from those who profess to be followers of Christ, of the God of Abraham, of Yahweh. Yes, let us cry the gospel with our lives and the whole world will enter into its springtime, and the storms will be hushed, and peace will reign among us.
Do You Realize God Loves You?
The greatest tragedy of our world is that men do not know, really know, that God loves them. Some believe it in a shadowy sort of way. If they were to really think about it they would soon realize that their belief in God’s love for them is very remote and abstract.
Because of this lack of realization of God’s love for them, men do not know how to love God back. Often they don’t even try, because it all seems so very difficult, and so very, very remote.
For too many people, the Christian faith is a series of dogmas and tenets to be believed, commandments and precepts to be observed and obeyed in a negative fashion. Of course Christians should believe in the dogmas of their faith; of course they must observe the commandments. But Christians must also realize, with a joy that can scarcely be expressed, that the Christian faith, in its essence, is a love affair between God and man.
Not just a simple love affair: It is a passionate love affair. God so loved man that he created him in his image. God so loved man that he became man himself, died on a cross, was raised from the dead by the Father, ascended into heaven—and all this in order to bring man back to himself, to that heaven which he had lost through his own fault.
Yes, of course, the Christian has dogmas he must believe in order to be a Christian, but all those dogmas concern love which is the essence. God is love. Where love is, God is. Dogmas and tenets of the Christian faith without love are dead letters, not even worth spelling out.
Yes, of course, the Christian must observe the commandments, the commandments given on Mt. Sinai to Moses. These same commandments were confirmed by Christ, luminously, forcefully, gently and vividly. But they must not be obeyed negatively, out of fear or compulsion. The essence of both Testaments, New and Old, the essence of all the commandments, is still love, always love, the immense love of God!
These commandments simply spell out the love affair which God asks man to engage in. The commandments simply tell man to love his Lord and God, the Tremendous Lover, and to love his neighbor as himself.
The greatest tragedy of our age is that men do not realize, or perhaps do not want to realize, that God loved them first, and that their whole peace and happiness consist in loving him back.
It is time we awoke from our long sleep, we Christians. It is time we shed our fears of God, or what is worse, our indifference toward him. Then we shall know true peace, true joy. The answers to our international and national problems will become clear in proportion as we love.
The Tremendous Lover
How strange that modern Christians seem to miss the greatest point of their faith! To so many, God is the “Man with the big stick.” The great commandment to love God with all one’s heart has been turned into a yardstick of implacable justice: “Toe the line or else you’ll go to hell!”
The love affair between God and man seems never to have touched the hearts of many religious people. They do not seem to realize that the fulfillment of religion is a return of God’s immense love for us. They do not see that the tremendous glad news is that God first loved us.
Because of this lack of awareness, because of their fearful attitude toward God, the lives of many Christians are full of fears. For these they seek many remedies everywhere except where the remedy can alone be found—in God. If only they began to love him back passionately, totally, completely, as Christians should, realizing that every word he has said, every commandment leads to true freedom, happiness, peace and joy—the very things that everyone is seeking so desperately everywhere.
It is quite clear that the task of every Christian is to be the leaven of the world by bringing this glorious, wondrous, joyful truth to the hearts of men. Everyone, every baptized person should go about the world proclaiming this one truth. God loved us first. Let us love him back. Let us learn to obey his commandments and implement his counsels so well that the world and the hearts of men will know, at long last, the peace of the Lord, and will understand and incarnate in their lives the immense truth that perfect love casts out fears, that it sets men’s hearts free and brings joy and gladness into the drabbest existence.
To understand that the Christian religion is a love affair between man and God, to begin to love God back passionately as he loved us, this will, if implemented and incarnated in the lives of Christians, also bring peace to our hapless world, and solution to the seemingly unsolvable problems of our marketplaces.
Let us begin now. Let us arise and meet the Tremendous Lover before it is too late.
Heartbeats and Love Songs
The liturgy is slowly doing away with many private devotions. Yet, it will never do away with the devotion to the Sacred Heart because the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the essence of the liturgy expressed in simple and human terms.
For man, the heart has always been a symbol of love. The liturgy was born out of love, Love who is a person, who is God. It is inextricably interwoven with that symbol of love, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Long ago and far away an ordinary man called John laid his head on the breast of Christ and listened to the heartbeats of the Lord. Who can venture to guess what that man felt as he heard the beat of that mighty heart? None of us can ever be in his place, but all of us could hear, if we would but listen, the heartbeats of God, the song of love he sings to us whom he has love so much.
If we love him back we can learn from everything, from every creature, the answering song of love that should dwell in our hearts daily. If we stop to listen to the liturgy of nature, to its rhythm, to its songs of obedience to the laws of the Creator, we could hear and learn how to sing our love song back to the God of love.
If we listened to the songs of the city, to the noises that sometimes irritate us, we would realize that even they, in their own way, praise God. The songs of the machines would praise God too if we kept them where they belong—as our servants and not our masters. Yes, even the machines could teach us how to return the love of the Sacred Heart. If we meditated deeply on the Eucharist and on the themes of the Liturgy of the Hours, we would distinctly hear the loving, powerful, immense heartbeats of God. We would hear more; we would hear that heart speaking to us.
If we meditated on the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist we would not only hear his heartbeats, we would hear our hearts beating in unison with his, we would be united with our Lord and our God.
So let us enter the great silence of our own souls. Let us pray there humbly, loving, plunging into the riches of the Sacred Heart. Then we shall know God in a way that no book can tell us or teach us. Then we will love him so passionately, so tremendously, so utterly and completely, that it will become simple for us to be the kind of Christians we must be. We will not have to say very much. We will only have to walk upright, crying the gospel with our lives, reflecting our Lover in our faces.
The world needs the Sacred Heart. The world needs human hearts united to the Sacred Heart. Without love the world is very dark. Let us arise and resurrect the world by bringing love to it and it to God.
Love Is Someone
Many people today are trying to define both what love is and who God is. The two can never be separated. It is because men today separate God and love that we have confusion, turmoil, doubts and so many chaotic situations, not only in the Catholic Church but in all Christian Churches.
From the pulpits, God is preached and love is preached as perhaps never before, and yet the essence of love seems to escape those who preach and listen. Perhaps this is too strong an indictment. The Lord said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” What are the fruits of the average church going Christian? Oh, I’m sure there are many wonderful fruits, but too often they remain hidden, buried somewhere. Perhaps it’s good that this be so, and yet the Lord also said that we should not hide our lights under a bushel basket.
Christians go to church and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but often forget the words of St. Paul: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
How can we come to understand what love is, who God is? It is plain that we cannot understand if we desecrate his Body and Blood in each other. Until we fully understand that God is love, that love is not a state, not an emotion, but a person, we shall never understand either love nor God.
It would be better to stop calling ourselves Christians-followers of Christ who is Love-than to scandalize our brothers and sisters by going through the motions of being Christians, rendering lip service only.
First, Love the Lord Your God
From much of the current religious literature, one definite notion seems to be taking hold of Catholics and other Christians: that we must seek Christ in our brother. The notion seems to imply that the personal approach to Christ in the sacraments and other so-called “old-fashioned ways” is obsolete. The concentration of the Christian seems to be on justice, on abolishing poverty, on social work, on interpersonal relationships, encounters and so on. More and more, one reads that the best way to encounter Christ is in and through another human being.
Here is where the question becomes acute: “How can I find Christ in my brother if I do not know him personally first?” It seems to me that I cannot recognize him in others if I do not first meet him personally.
What do I mean by this “personal meeting?” Perhaps I mean the very essence of the mysterium of our faith. He gave us two commandments: to love God, and to love our neighbor. In that order! But to love someone I must know him. To know him I must meet him. Then I will recognize him in others.
How do I get to know him, so that I can love him and continue to love him in my brothers, and to love my brothers because I love him? I know him because I was baptized into his death and resurrection, and because he knew me first. I know him in the Breaking of the Bread. I know him in the sacrament of repentance (which the Russians call “kiss of Christ”) when I kneel in sorrow in confession. I know him through the Holy Spirit who came to me in his immense power and Confirmation, and who abides with me always.
I know him in prayer, prayer of all kinds, but especially in the prayer of silence. In the inner silence of my own heart he comes with his own intense silence. There he breaks open my heart, quiets the noise, and inspires me to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Yes, I could learn much about him through study, books and other tools of the mind. But there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Only those to whom he reveals himself know him. This brings us back again to prayer and the sacraments.
It is through these that we make a vital contact with Jesus Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. It is through these that we get to know God. Only then, it seems to me, can we go forth to others, to our brothers, to all humanity, and there recognize him in men.
This seems to me to be of the essence. All the rest of what I read seems to be peripheral, like a moth flying around a flame. How can we love men if we do not love God first? How can we love God first, if we do not seek to know him, to meet him as a person? How can we possibly recognize him in men if we have never met him?
If our love of God, the fruit of which is our love for men, is not present, why do we not call ourselves what we are—humanitarians—instead of Christians? “How can I find Christ in my brother if I do not know him personally—if I do not love him first?” I have given my answer. If anybody has another, I’d be glad to hear it.
Real Love Isn’t Easy
With all the current talk about “love-ins” and discussions about “love” in general, love still remains a mystery to modern man, especially modern youth. Perhaps it remains a mystery because they try to dissect it as if it were a butterfly which can be caught and analyzed chemically and classified under its proper species. Love eludes such intellectual approaches because love is not a thing, love is not a state. Love is a person. Love is God.
It may help us if we reread what Jesus Christ has said about love. It might help if we meditated on his words and made them our own, made them both the way and the goal of our lives. For he told us first to love God with all our hearts, with all our being, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves, which implies that we must first learn to love ourselves well. He also said that “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Finally, he said, “Love your enemies.”
Yes, he defined all the ways of loving. He not only defined them, he lived them. He was Love incarnate, and he showed us in truth that “greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends.” Love has no limits.
Perhaps that is why there is so much talk about love, so much experimenting, and so much disappointment too with what we imagine love to be. Because deep down in our hearts we know that his way of loving is the way of the cross, that it is painful, and that it demands an emptying of ourselves. Without his loving us, none of us could love the way he wants us to.
Christian love is allowing Christ to love with our own hearts. But in order to do this we must make room within ourselves to allow him to grow to his full stature. That means emptying ourselves from our self-centeredness, our egoism, from the desire to have all our needs fulfilled. It means that we must get busy filling the needs of others.
True, all this spells pain to us moderns who take sleeping pills and tranquilizers by the ton to alleviate the slightest anxiety and pain. But if we arise and follow this road of love, we shall know joy beyond the telling. Incredible as if it may seem, if we follow most of our modern problems. Charity, whose other name is love, will then prevail among all Christians, and the problems of religious orders, priests, families and even nations may solve themselves in an atmosphere of peace and joy.
It seems as if the world needs fools—fools for Christ! Fools for God’s sake! For it is such fools that have changed the face of the earth.
To Love or Be Loved—That Is the Question
Why is it that we do not understand the word “love”? Why is it that it is always used with connotations of starry-eyed lovers, roses and sentimental music so prevalent on radio and TV?
Yes, love can be equated with martial love for, like all real loves, marital love has its source in Love who is a Person, who is God. The scriptures make this comparison in a profound and beautiful way. There is the Song of Songs which describes the love between God and his people in terms of the love of man and woman. Yet, in our modern world, even marital love suffers desecration by gooey sentimentality and tragic unrealism.
Love is a Person. Love is God. Where love is, God is. Where God is, love is. All vocations are vocations to love. A vocation to marriage or a vocation to the religious life, to the priesthood or to the single life, all are vocations to love.
But the word is so misunderstood. Because it is, infinite tragedy stalks the world. Marriages are broken up every day, smashed, because men and women have never understood what loving means, who love is.
The result of a recent poll taken among both sexes by a Catholic lecturer in a Catholic college revealed one rather strange and frightening reply. The question: “Why do you want to get married?” The overwhelming response: “To be loved.”
It was an informal sort of survey, but its results brought fear into the heart of the lecturer. The real answer should have been: to love.
If a young person enters into the holy vocation of matrimony “to be loved,” and both partners have the same idea, then who is going to do the loving? The problem is profound indeed. Perhaps psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, priests and theologians should come together to find out why our modern youth understands so little about the vocation to love which is the vocation of every Christian.
Psychiatrists say that “to take and not to give is the sign of emotional immaturity.” It is normal for a child between the ages of one and four. But real emotional maturity is equated with an attitude of giving and not of merely taking all the time.
Long before this world knew anything about psychiatry, the Lord of Hosts, the Son of God Almighty made man, the Great Physician gave us our Christian vocation. He gave us the unfailing recipe for Christian joy and Christian happiness. He simply said, “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole mind and with your whole soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Simple words, yes, but of infinite depth; words that describe love exactly. This definition of love does not connote sentimental love songs. Rather, it shows love as something strong and beautiful. Love does not ask to be loved in return but it serves, knowing that is a reflection of him who is Love, who came to serve and not be served.
True happiness is found by forgetting the word “I” and remembering the words “he,” “she” and “they.” The time is ripe to teach our youth the true meaning of that, at one and the same time, little and immense word—love.
The Theology of Self-love
In these fantastic days (which often seem more like dark nights than days) we go about talking of love, especially love of our neighbor. It is true, many of us have finally decided that to know Christ is to truly arrive at love of the neighbor, and in this meeting alone we can find our Lord and God.
There is truth, of course, in this statement, or is it only a half-truth? Christ gave us two commandments, to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There is a lot of talk about the neighbor, but few mention the fact that before this we must love ourselves, “your neighbor as yourself.”
What about this loving of ourselves? It doesn’t take a vast sociological survey to tell us that very few people accept and love themselves in the proper way, love themselves so as to be able to properly love God and their neighbor.
I don’t know if there should be a “theology of loving oneself.” It is doubtful because so many theologies exist already. That we leave to the psychiatrists and psychologists. In the meantime, we keep very busy with our involvement in the ghettos, our M.A. and Ph.D. programs, all of which we do presumably in order to love and serve our neighbor better.
Could it be that in much of this we are running away from ourselves and don’t want to meet ourselves? Are we busy running away from the Trinity within us who waits to teach us how to love ourselves, so that in truth our hearts may be open to God and man in a godlike way?
We don’t take time to stand still and listen to the voice of God within ourselves. We are afraid of being alone with ourselves. We have forgotten that man is never alone. Man may leave God out of his life, but God does not leave out man.
No Love, No God?
Where love is God is. But can God be present where there is no love? We talk much about love. The word is in our songs, discussed on TV programs, lauded in sermons!
But how much love is present in the hearts of men so that God can really enter them and be at home? It is becoming more and more difficult to listen to the word “love” be bandied about so constantly and be so little incarnated in the daily, nitty-gritty living of human beings.
The heat of the day gets more intense. The noonday devils are indeed roaring lions all around and about us. Humanity walks in contradictions and paradoxes that tear its soul apart!
All around the world millions of human beings are starving and dying. Why is it that massive relief from all countries, from everywhere, doesn’t pour in from the hands of all those who talk so learnedly, so constantly, so theologically, so beautifully about love, about God?
Where love is, God is. Is he absent, then, from nations that kill one another, waging hopeless wars that lead nowhere except to the death of thousands? “The agony of Christ continues unto the end of the world,” wrote Pascal, the French philosopher. It continues in his Mystical Body.
Whenever there is no love, Christ is rejected and killed again on a thousand Golgothas that are going on almost all over the globe with most of its people not even noticing.
In every large city of the Western world the poor are still stretching out their hands for crumbs which fall from the rich man’s table. There is no love from the rich to the poor. A few crumbs fall, but never enough to make the poor feel loved. Doesn’t anyone see that in each of the poor it is Christ who begs?
When, oh, when, shall we who call ourselves Christians begin in truth to be Christ-like, and to love as he commanded us! “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Showing the Wounds of Love
Today, across a confused world, man seeks Christ! He seeks the reality of Christ, or, to put it another way, he seeks the real Christ, the Christ of the gospel, the one he has read about but cannot seem to find.
In this seeking men ask one another, “How do you find Christ? Where is he? Where can I find him?” Who, then is this Christ that they seek? Why does he seem to be so illusive, so unreal, so difficult to meet? It seems to me that the answer to these questions is exceedingly simply: We meet Christ in a real Christian.
What a strange and seemingly simplistic answer! Yet, it is the true answer, and I don’t think there is another. Man has to be shown. The time of mere talking is over.
After his resurrection, Christ showed his disciples his wounds and they believed. These wounds were visible signs of Christ’s love for them and for all of us. No one needed to say anything, least of all Christ. Thomas the Doubter was the only one who spoke.
Today, it seems to me, we must likewise show the wounds of Christ to men, for then they will believe. This is what men are seeking today: someone who will show them the wounds of Christ so that they may touch him and be reassured!
But we must go further. Christ prepared breakfast on the beach for his friends. We, too, by our service, must show how much we love our brethren, all those who are seeking the Lord.
But even all this—to show the wounds, to prepare meals—is not enough. One must open one’s heart with a lance by taking that lance in one’s own hands. We must accept all human beings as they are, without wanting to change or to manipulate them. It is a benediction and a joy in itself that they come to us.
Men will not know God unless we, their neighbors, their brethren, show Christ to them in the tremendous love that Christ had for them. This is the acceptable time, so that people may once again say what was said of the early Christians, “See how these Christians love one another”—and us!
Yes, we must open the doors of our hearts. We must open the doors of our homes. We must accept people as they are. We must serve them, and we must show them the wounds of our love. Love is always wounded because love and pain are inseparable. Even as a young girl barely falling in love is worried about her boyfriend traveling on a wet road to Chicago, so in the love of people for each other, pain is interwoven. There is no love without pain.
But how do we acquire these wounds that we must show? Where do we get the strength to cook a supper for someone when we ourselves are already exhausted by the day’s toil? How do we get the strength to open the doors of our heart which we so readily want to close against the noise of our incredibly noisy world?
How, how, how? The answer comes irresistibly. Let’s face it. We cannot hide from it or ignore it or make it disappear. The answer is always the same: prayer.
We cannot love the way we ought to. God alone can love us that way. So we must empty our hearts of all the things that are not God.
The Lord said we must love our enemies. Until we do we cannot show Christ to other men. We must go further: We must lay down our lives for our brethren. By emptying ourselves, according to his commandments of love, and with his grace, we can allow God to love in us.
No, words are not enough. But a loving glance, a wound, a breakfast cooked for a friend, a welcome through an open door into an open heart, these will do it. It is only then, when my brother has been filled with my supper, when he has beheld my wounds of love for him, when he has experienced a totality of acceptance, only then will he be open to glad news!
People of the Towel and the Water
“What are we to do about Christianity?” Perhaps that is the wrong question. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, are we Christians? For some it is an excruciating question, for others tragic, for still others it is superficial. For some people it isn’t a question at all.
To be a Christian means to love in such a faith, in such a commitment to Christ, that it will revolutionize, turn upside down not only our lives but the lives of others.
To be a Christian means to incarnate, actualize, literally implement the teachings of the gospel. It means preaching the gospel with one’s life. This alone would be a revolution, a spiritual, intellectual, political revolution!
True, certain signs of an awakening are becoming visible. The charismatic movement is sweeping the world. The hearts of men have been opened to the Holy Spirit. The churches are beginning to show more concern for the poor, the so-called useless ones, the retarded, the halt, the lame and the blind. It is also true that the churches were always on the side of such people, but the climate has changed somewhat. Today Christians are coming to the poor more as servants than as benefactors.
Yet, something is still missing. A vibrant, passionate totality of commitment seems to be missing. A cry out of the very depths of our souls for an increase of faith that would transcend all limits of time and space is missing. What is missing is the vision that deals with every event of life in the light of Christ’s teaching. What is missing is a discernment which can distinguish between security which depends on man and the security of faith which is the heritage of the Christian.
It is true, prayer is flourishing. Praised be the Lord! But if we touch God with one hand, so to speak, we must touch humanity immediately with the other, or God shall walk away. For he has incarnated himself in order that he might give birth in our hearts to the law of love for one another.
The law of love demands that we become people of the towel and the water, that like Christ we wash the feet of our neighbor. This simply means that we wash the feet of one another when we implement the gospel. That and that alone is the true revolution that will change the face of the earth. It is late in the day. What does it mean to be a Christian? I means to revolutionize the world the way Christ wanted it to be revolutionized. When shall we begin?
Taking Courses in Love!
Sensitivity! Interpersonal relationships! Fulfillment! Involvement! Encounter! Commitment! Doing “my thing”! This is the vocabulary of today, at least part of it. The majority of these words are used by Catholics in their discussions and conferences. What is even more tragic is that people are even taking courses in sensitivity, interpersonal relationships, in order to achieve fulfillment and to understand commitment and involvement. It is as if people want to take a course in love!
But there are no courses in love, because Love is a person. Love is God himself and one cannot take a course in God, no matter how theologically instructed one may be. One is like a baby learning to say “mama” and “dada” when one speaks of God.
One can take a million courses about God who is Love. But that doesn’t mean one will know God or know Love, for the Lord does not reveal himself to those who seek him with their intellect alone. He reveals himself to those who seek him with reverence, on their knees.
Sensitivity, interpersonal relationships, involvement, dedication, since they are all children of Love, will never be learned in courses. Only in simply loving! Also, there is a Book from which these things can be learned, provided that one reads that Book on one’s knees, provided one prays and meditates about what one has read!
If one commits oneself totally to Christ, then everyone will be sensitive to the other, and interpersonal relations will not have to be taught for money which could go to the poor. Strange as it may sound, if we not only cry the gospel with our lives, but also live it to the hilt while proclaiming it, we will be fulfilled to the brim, and overflowing with fulfillment. Most certainly, we shall be involved with our neighbors whoever they might be. To love is to serve, to be involved.
It is amazing how far a human being can deviate from a goal he is seeking! True, the path that leads to what most Christians seek is very narrow and steep. It involves, above all, faith. It is hard, though joyous. It does not permit tranquilizers and euphoriants. It demands the ability and the maturity to look reality in the face.
Perhaps it is because we do not want to do these simple things that we take so many courses which lead us nowhere, except on a merry-go-round without any music, turning us ’round and ’round and ’round!
Let’s Stop and Notice One Another
Man today is crying out for recognition. He wants to be a person among other persons. He wants to be noticed, not in any ostentatious way, not because he might have or not have money, but just because he is a human being, a person.
Each man is on a pilgrimage, seeking to encounter others like himself who have the same needs. The greatest need of all is the need to be loved. But we pass by one another without noticing, without stopping, without the slightest sign of recognition. This is why modern man daily comes closer and closer to despair, and why he frantically continues to search for the one who will love him.
His search is for God. But God isn’t easily found if he isn’t reflected in the eyes of men. It is time that Christians began to take notice of each person they meet. Each person is a brother or sister in Christ. Each person must be “recognized.” Each person must be given a token of friendship and love, be it only a smile, a nod of the head. Sometimes it may require the total availability of one person to another if they are to fulfill a particular person’s hunger for God. Such love and recognition must always be given with deep reverence, irrespective of the “status” of the person encountered.
Reverence, understanding and hospitality of the heart—these are the immediate, intense needs of men today. Are we Christians going to wake up and act as Christians, incarnating the law of love into our daily lives in real depth? Or are we going to compromise and allow men to continue to plunge into their dark nights looking for someone to say to them: “My brother, I am here. Come. I have water and a towel. Sit down. Let me wash your tired feet that have pilgrimaged for so long. Yes, I am here. I know you. I revere you. I recognize you as my brother. I love you.”
These meetings are the true crossroads of time and history. When we meet there, will we act as Christians or not?
Hospitality of the Heart
What the world needs most today is the hospitality of the heart. True, some of the young “hippie-types” are hospitable to one another. But the hospitality that is needed is much more profound. The hospitality of the heart means accepting all others as they are, allowing them to make themselves at home in one’s heart.
To be at home in another person’s heart means touching love, the love of a brother and sister in Christ. Touching the love of another means realizing that God loves us. For it is through the other—our neighbor, our brother—that we can begin to understand the love of God.
This is especially necessary in our strange technological loneliness that has separated us so thoroughly not only from our neighbors, but from our fathers, mothers, grandparents, in short, from our relations. Yes, our technological age has begotten a terrible loneliness! We must begin to give the hospitality of the heart. In other words, we must open ourselves to a sharing of friendship that is rooted in the very heart of Christ whom we call our friend.
We have to shed our “stiff upper lip.” We have to be open to the other, share with the other, express our love for the other. This can only be done if we open the doors of our hearts. Let us do that now, before the doors of our hearts are frozen shut by some new technological achievement!
We Need Violent Christians
For a time there was much talk about nonviolence. Much was written abut it. Young people of the campus world and people in all walks of life talked about it. Certainly the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King—one a Hindu and the other a Christian—served to focus the interest of the world on this deeply spiritual way of bringing peace to a world filled with hate and violence.
Someone wrote recently that “It is hate that makes the world go ’round.” How can one remain nonviolent in the face of hatred, hostility, bodily attacks? How can one stay at home, passive, noncommitted, noninvolved when confronted with attitudes that endanger both life and sanity?
Yet, it is true, in the midst of all this violence, the hunger for peace grows, the number grows of those who elect to embrace nonviolence as a means of eradicating violence. Perhaps men are beginning to understand that when we cease to burn with love the world will then truly turn cold.
To put it another way, true nonviolence has its roots in love, a love that really believes that it must lay down its very life for the other. The nonviolent must be motivated by a dream, and there must be nothing wishy-washy about that dream. I must be rooted in faith—faith in a cause, faith in a Person, faith in God.
Without faith, nonviolence is impossible. There will come a moment of choice, a moment of standing at the crossroads of decision. A decision that may well entail life or death. Strange as this may seem, to be nonviolent, to make such decisions, to be ready to lay down one’s life both for the other and for one’s beliefs, demands violence.
Yes, violence to oneself. For heaven is taken by violence. True nonviolence must begin with violence to oneself. The nonviolent of whom Christ spoke are the pure of heart who will see God. They are the meek who will inherit the earth.
What does violence to oneself mean? It means to be humble, to be poor, to be meek, to be pure of heart, to be empty of self, of selfish motives. It means to have a dream that is dreamt in God.
It is this novitiate of preparation and cleansing that includes prayer and fasting, as was the practice of Gandhi and King. Only through this kind of novitiate is the ability, the grace, the charism of nonviolence achieved.
Yes, one must become violent in regard to oneself with a violence that is gentle and persistent and which comes from the Holy Spirit. It urges one to cleanse oneself from everything except love, and to create within a climate that will give birth to an unconquerable courage. It is this burning with love which alone will enable us to preach nonviolence and to be nonviolent!
Like One Another As I have Liked You
Is it possible to love all humanity? Does God want us to love all humanity? Collectively? Individually? Should Christians, men and women religious, for example , break up into smaller groups? It seems, they say, that one can love better in smaller groups!
Aren’t we confusing words today as well as their meaning? When we talk about small groups, large groups, loving better, etc., do we mean liking or loving?
Obviously, Christ didn’t mean liking, for he told us to love our enemies whom we obviously don’t like. His commandment also obviously means to love all men, because he told us to love one another as he loved us. He loved all men. We too are called to love all men, those we like, dislike, even those who wish us positive evil.
“Liking” is an emotion, while “loving” is a Person. God is love, and where he is, there is love. But if we allow “liking,” the emotion, to guide us in the choice of whom we are going to love, then we end up loving no one, except perhaps ourselves, and that in the wrong way.
If a few people come together in a small group because in some natural way they “like” each other, then they will merely be fulfilling the needs of one another. There will be no need to turn to Christ. There will be no need to fulfill the one need for which we have been created—our union with him.
Yes, for our wholeness, for our mental health, each man must have a friend. But what is friendship? It is never exclusive. It is two people, hand in hand as it were, going to God—but never forming a closed circuit and simply feeding on each other. They always have one hand free to hold anyone who comes into that friendship.
Even marriage is subject to this rule. Husbands and wives will have happy marriages if they are also friends! But their circle will increase very quickly, and they will have to have two hands open to clasp the hands of their children. The family—husband, wife and children—will have to have, at both ends, open hands to grasp their neighbors’. Eventually, then all will form a community.
Is it possible to love all humanity? Indeed it is, and the sooner we begin, the sooner the global village will become a nice place to live in.
The Christian’s Unique Role
The paradox of truth, of God, of Christ, marches on. Today, the teachings of Christ, as never before, are penetrating the whole world. In face, “Caesar” is applying them on an immense scale. Christians and non-Christians are caught up in the luminous fruits of Christ’s teaching, in an ever-growing realization of the dignity of man. There is a growing effort at the just distribution of goods and at least the beginnings of a hunger among men for unity. On the other hand, there is a proclamation that “God is dead”!
Thus, our time in history is at one and the same time a rejection of God and an acceptance of his teaching. The word “love” is heard all over the world, but he, the source of all love, Love itself, is being rejected, reckoned as dead, and, at times, even buried in effigy!
There wan an age of faith once. At that time there was no questioning of God’s existence. There was a beginning of the effort to apply his teachings to men. Social justice, the equality of men, their dignity—-all these were “on the books” so to speak. But these things were not yet incarnated, whereas faith was universal in the Christian world.
Today, it sometimes seems that just the opposite is happening. Faith is on the wane, and yet the teaching of Christ is incarnating itself even deeper. “Caesar,” the governments of the world, have taken over the corporal works of mercy, the works of love, the fruits of God’s teaching: these used to be the firstfruits of faith in the age of faith.
Education is passing from the hands of clerics and lay Christians into the hands of Caesar. Thus, our economic and political ideals, which are deeply rooted in the teachings of Christ, are being disseminated across the world. The paradox of the truth, the paradox of the gospel, continues. We accept the teachings of the God-man, whereas we crucify him again. If we do not crucify him, we simply declare him dead!
What, then, is the role of the people of God, the people who realize that by their Baptism they are meant to preach the gospel with their lives? We are all apostles of the Lord. What is our role today in the midst of this paradox?
It seems that our role is to show that God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is more alive today than ever, and that the resurrected Christ is in our midst, and that we live in him. This can be done only by showing to others the face of God. We must establish communities of love. First, each Christian must make contact, a primary contact, with the eternal community of love which is the Trinity. Having made this contact, he will be able to make a community of love with everyone he meets. This means first of all his primary community—family, religious community—and then any other community into which this love will lead him.
Essence and Heart of Love
“Greater love than this no man has that he lay down his life for his friend.”
Jesus spoke these words. But what is more, he incarnated them, dying for us a tortured and painful death.
Everyone speaks of love, everyone writes about it. Everyone asks, what is love? The answer can be found in the scriptures as to what love is.
“If I speak with tongues of men and of angels but have no love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have no love, I am nothing. And if I give away everything that I have and if I deliver my body to the flames, but have no love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, is kind; love is not envious or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on having its own way; it is not ill-humored, it does not brood; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the truth.”
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Prophecy will end, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will pass away. For our knowledge is partial, and we prophesy in part. But when what is perfect comes, what is imperfect shall have an end.”
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I reasoned as a child. But when I became a man I gave up childish ways. Now we see in a mirror, obscurely; then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. Now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13).
Can anyone add anything to this? Let us stop the “childish and ill-humored” ways. Let us stop brooding. Let us begin to bear many of the things we will have to bear through our ever-changing civilization. Let us continue to hope, never losing hope. Let us endure all things, for love never fails. Then and only then will we be able to call ourselves Christians and celebrate the Eucharistic paschal mystery which is the essence of our faith and the greatest fruit of love.
Catherine Doherty, “Love.” Chap. 4 in The Gospel Without Compromise. 2nd ed.
(Combermere ON: Madonna House Publications, 1989), 71–98.