Monday, May 27, 2013

Great Responsibility

The Great Responsibility of Religious Leaders

This article has been deleted for now by the author, Father Joseph Dwight.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Evangelization VS the Trilogy of Devils

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Evangelization VS the Trilogy of Devils in the Church: Triumphalism, Clericalism and Juridicalism

How can we evangelize today? Why do only about ten percent of the baptized Catholics go to Sunday Mass regularly? Why are we so preoccupied with the problems in our parishes, such as the tension between the parish and ecclesial movements, instead of being more worried about the ninety percent of the people who do not frequent the parish? There are many fish in the sea! The document on new religious movements (1986) suggests that we look at what is lacking in our parishes so as not to loose more parishioners as well as to attract new people. It is not easy to criticize oneself in order to discover the causes of the problems as well as the solutions. But the Church actually succeeded in listening to her critics and then translated this into a self criticism precisely at the Second Vatican Council. The Church arrived at a rather high level of maturity at the council. But has this maturity arrived yet in our dioceses and in our parishes after fifty years since the council?

What Is Lacking?
What is lacking in our parishes that stifles the attraction of new people or what is the cause of so many Catholics leaving the Church? What can the ten percent of the people which frequent the parishes regularly, along with those in the ecclesial movements, do in order to attract the ninety percent of the people who do not frequent the parishes regularly? Perhaps we can discover what is lacking in the parishes by looking at the Second Vatican Council. One of the most striking interventions at the beginning of the council was that of Bishop de Smedt of Bruges, who attacked the general tone of the first draft of the council. He boldly expressed criticism against triumphalism,[1] clericalism, and juridicalism within the Church. After his intervention the council Fathers “threw out the schema on the Sources of Revelation, and they went home determined (or so one hoped) to destroy forever the image of a Church dominated by the trilogy of devils that Bishop de Smedt of Bruges openly named as clericalism, juridicalism, and triumphalism. This was one of the Council's classic speeches and will be remembered far longer than many words in most of the decrees."[2]

Are these three devils still present in our diocese and in our parishes? I, for one, think so. I think these three devils take on many different forms in our diocese and in our parishes. How often does it happen that people who live in the parish boundaries and want to participate and serve in the parish are not really listened to or welcomed on the part of the pastor or the others in the parish and so these new ones stay away from the parish and end up talking bad about the parish while offering there energies somewhere else. Often what is lacking is the human capacity on the part of the persons in charge in the parishes, and so the relationships with the ones in charge are more of an expression of distrust towards any new ones. Often there is an arrogant attitude of the ones in charge of knowing everything and so there is no interest in the opinions of others, even though the others are allowed to speak or to give vent to their frustrations or ideas; the program is already decided. Many people, especially those who are more sensitive and intelligent, feel this suffocating and humiliating attitude. The program is more important than the persons. How many priests and lay men and women in the parishes know how to speak about God and the Gospel and about theology and about the “kerigma” and about love and community, but in practice they do not realize that they do not live what they say and thus so many people stay away from the parishes. How many priests and laymen and laywomen do not know how or do not have the patience to attract the others toward God freely with their example and so end up trying to use their positions in the structures of the Church or in the ecclesial movements in order to oblige or force the others to do their wills. These insecure ones in charge seek to maintain a showy display and a certain distance of authority over the others in their little kingdoms. But did Jesus act this way? The immature ones in charge desire to have around them only those who do exactly their desires without asking questions or explanations and without criticizing even in a constructive way; they let the others go or they send them away. And so there are not people in the parish that can express the fundamental problems to the pastor or to the ones in charge who are closed in their little self-made kingdom. Perhaps we are too comfortable and complacent in our little kingdoms as if it were our own special club. Does the parish or a religious congregation or an ecclesial movement exist in order to satisfy the ones in charge, or to evangelize and serve the people of God? Perhaps it is quicker and easier to command, but do the fruits last when it is done in this way? If parents freely attract their children towards God, above all by their example, the fruits last! Often the ones in charge are afraid to loose or change their programs and so they do not communicate the necessary information to help the others enter into the decision process; they are not transparent, they do not put the cards on the table. Jesus did not act like this with his closest collaborators, the apostles (Jn 15:15)! Years ago many adults and youth put up with this type of behavior. But today? It seems that something does not work in many parishes, otherwise our churches would be much fuller.

God never forces anyone to do his will! Never! The Church insists that we must not ever force people (VCII, AGD, 13). When the laymen and laywomen discover that the pastor is habitually attached to his own ideas and uses the meetings, such as the parish council, for the sole purpose of convincing and motivating the others to put into practice his ideas already decided, the ones more capable and intelligent walk away because they are not treated as trustworthy or credible people. One feels like he or she is working in the parish for the kingdom of the pastor instead of for the kingdom of God, together in “our parish”. How many young people enter the seminary in order to be an important person, as they perceive their pastors to be, and then end up imitating the authoritarian pastors that take advantage of the parish for his own praise instead of for the glory of God? “Those who feed the sheep of Christ must, above all, be on their guard against this vice of self-love lest they look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ, and put to the service of their own greed those for whom Christ shed his blood” (St. Augustine, Dec. 6 in the breviary). How many laymen and laywomen come to the parishes, or enter an ecclesial movement, in order to acquire some of this glory for themselves instead of for the motive of serving others in humility? Or how many laymen and laywomen come to the parishes or ecclesial movements for good motives but later seek a higher position in order to command or dominate the others? How many priests and laymen and laywomen and the heads of the ecclesial movements (or even superiors in religious congregations) have never learned to make themselves one with the others or to identify with others or to put themselves in the shoes of the others by forgetting themselves, and so they end up compelling or forcing the others to do their will? Jesus said to the apostles to not dominate the others as “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them” (Mt. 20:25-28; Lc. 22:26). He who commands does not love. How many of those in charge decide everything by themselves without saying to the other: “What do you think?” “How does it seem to you this idea or proposition?” One cannot have Jesus in the midst alone; it takes at least two (Mt. 18:20)! Thus what is often lacking in dioceses and in the parishes and in the ecclesial movements and in religious communities is above all love and humility in the true sense of the word, in the Christian sense of the word. The saints tell us that without humility there is no virtue! Jesus admonished his disciples: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy!” (Lk 12:1)

Not only does fallen human nature contribute to the problem but unfortunately a great number of the ones in charge in the civil world as well as in the Church have never received a formation based on the freedom of the children of God (Rm 8:21; Gal 5:1; Jms 1:25). Thus they do not know how to offer or give what they do not possess. This type of formation and lack of an atmosphere of a trusting a loving family or community results in a basic insecurity making it difficult for those formed in this rigid structure to open up in trust, love and humility especially when confronted with others who do not see things the way they do. When these people are in their highly structured environment surrounded by those who do exactly their will without question, they are better able to come out of their shell and even love a little bit.

Also very often insecure people seek positions of authority and esteem (and false securities such as money and power) which perpetuates this type of negative clericalism in the structures of the Church and in the structures of society. Those who do not have this problem of insecurity usually do not have a desire to seek these positions and titles of authority and prestige. Very often too the ones who offer constructive criticism to these insecure superiors are sent away, and thus the religious congregations or ecclesial movements do not improve and mature but continue in the perpetuation of this type of closure. Thus without this base of freedom, the ones lacking in this maturity naturally resort to forcing, pushing, manipulating and even threatening those under them to do their will and to implement their programs. But what is more important, the person or the program? Does anyone like to be pushed, forced or manipulated to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or for that matter any group including the Catholic Church or an ecclesial movement? Proselytism is not an act of charity! How many of the ones in charge in the civil world as well as in the Church, with this lack of formation in the freedom of the children of God, no longer succeed in cultivating the youth today? The ones in charge do not know how to freely attract the youth above all by their example of true love in the freedom of God. These insecure ones in charge do not know how to become one with the youth, to put themselves in the shoes of the youth and thus they do not know how to discover TOGETHER the will of God for each person. After these little dictators have suffocated the life out of the groups directly under them, they seek to manipulate and draw under their control the flourishing groups based in freedom, and then end up destroying them as well; e.g., Mussolini took the freedom away from the Scouts in Italy and forced them to serve his goals during WWII, just as Hitler and every dictator does. Many insecure superiors would have us believe that only those under the superiors can break or destroy unity. But what kind of unity are we talking about here, a unity like that created by Hitler or Stalin, or the unity that Jesus prayed for at the last Supper (Jn 17:21)? Do these ones in charge feel they, and they alone, have a direct line to the Holy Spirit? As a Catholic, I thought only the Pope has this promise of Jesus Christ of being the rock on which he founded his Church and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Mt 16:18)! Every human being was made in the image and likeness of God and thus free to choose either “an opportunity for the flesh” or “through love be servants of one another” (Gal 5:13; 1Pet 2:16). Thus every human being desires to discover and be attracted freely to true happiness which they can find in God’s perfect plan and design for each person. It is much easier and expedient to dictate and rule from our thrones rather than to lower ourselves and go to the people individually and discover together the will of Jesus among two or three who are united in his name (Mt 18:20). “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Cor 3:17).

Unfortunately even when the pastor is mature and knows how to loose, there are always people in the parish, not mature, that accuse the pastor of not listening to them even though the pastor truly expressed what Jesus, present among those who love each other (Mt. 18:20), wanted in that occasion or situation; the ones of good will know this instinctively. There will always be those who do not want to learn to detach themselves from their own ideas or from their “position of honor” (or of command) as in the world and also unfortunately in the Church. Precisely for this motive, many pastors do not take this risk of letting the laymen and laywomen enter into the decisions, so that afterwards the laymen and laywomen do not have to detach themselves from something that they do not want to loose. But if we do not take this risk or if we do not make this walk of maturity and charity together there will be very few, if any, fruits that last, and there will be less and less people in the parishes. I believe that it is better to do things together less perfectly, with more patience, than to do things alone perfectly and more hurriedly.

This tendency and human weakness to dominate others has always been present in the world and in the Church. We have our human nature tainted by Original Sin. During the homily of Pope Benedict to 23 new cardinals (11-24-2007) he said: “True Christian greatness, in fact, does not consist in dominating, but in serving. Jesus repeats this today to each of us that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Behold the ideal that must orient your service. Dear Brothers, becoming part of the College of Cardinals, the Lord asks you and entrusts to you the service of love: love for God, love for his Church, love for the brothers with a maximum and unconditional, usque ad sanguinis effusionem, as is recited in the formula of the imposition of the head cover and as is displayed by the color red of the habits that you wear.”

Before the Council the Church was conceived in a pyramidal way – the Pope, the Bishops, the Priests and the people. The Council made a reversal, and it did this in the constitution Lumen Gentium by putting in the second chapter at the summit the people and under the people, in the service of the people, the Priests, the Bishops and the Pope, Servant of the servants of God.

Also Cardinale Ratzinger exhorted the Bishops to “make themselves one”!
The world congress of the ecclesial movements, which took place in Rome in 1998, was inaugurated by an important intervention by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. In that report Ratzinger, after having exhorted the movements to avoid unilaterality and absolutization, he turned also to the Bishops, reminding “that it is not permitted for them to indulge in any pretence of absolute uniformity in the organization and in the pastoral planning. They cannot cause to rise up their pastoral projects like a rock to that which the Holy Spirit is allowed to work: before mere human designs it can happen that the Churches render themselves impenetrable to the Spirit of God, to the force of which they live. It is not licit to pretend that all might be inserted in a determined organization of unity: it is better less organization and more Holy Spirit!”

The talk of Pope John Paul II to the bishops of the Episcopal conference of Antille (France), in the “Ad Limina Apostolorum” visit, May 7, 2002 (L'Osservatore Romano, May 15, 2002) (
“The involvement of the laity becomes a form of clericalism when the sacramental or liturgical roles that belong to the priest are taken over by lay faithful or when the laity start to perform tasks of pastoral governance proper to the priest. In such situations, what the Council taught on the essentially secular character of the lay vocation is often disregarded (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 31). It is the priest who, as an ordained minister and in the name of Christ, presides over the Christian community in the sphere of her liturgical and pastoral activity. The laity assist him in many ways in this work. The primary place for the exercise of the lay vocation is the economic, social, political and cultural world. It is in the world that lay people are invited to live their baptismal vocation not a passive consumers but as active members of the great work that expresses what is distinctively Christian. It belongs to the office of the priest to preside over the Christian community so that lay people can carry out their own ecclesial and missionary task. In a time of continuing secularization, it could seem strange that the Church emphasizes so forcefully the secular vocation of lay persons. It is precisely the Gospel witness of the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church's response to the malaise of secularization (cf. Ecclesia in America, n. 44).”
“The involvement of lay people is politicized when the laity become absorbed by the exercise of "authority" within the Church. This happens when the Church is no longer seen in terms of a "mystery" of grace that characterizes her, but in sociological or political terms, often on the basis of a misunderstanding of the notion of "People of God", a notion that has deep and rich biblical roots and was so opportunely put to use by the Second Vatican Council. When it is not service but power that shapes every form of government in the Church, whether exercised by the clergy or by the laity, opposing interests begin to make themselves felt. Clericalism for priests is the kind of governance that comes more from the use of power than from the spirit of service; it always gives rise to all sorts of antagonism between priests and people. Such clericalism is found in forms of lay leadership that do not reasonably respect the transcendental and sacramental nature of the Church and of her role in the world. Both these attitudes are harmful. On the contrary, what the Church needs is a deeper and more creative sense of complementarity between the vocation of the priest and the vocation of lay people. Without this, we cannot hope to be faithful to the teaching of the Council nor find a way out of the usual difficulties with the priest's identity, the people's confidence in him and the call to the priesthood.”

A superior in any type of group may fail by imagining the community to be there for him and not the other way around, that he is the "minister and servant of all." Hence proceed lordly ways, domineering, preferences, and all that goes to make a superior a cold official and less a warm, loving father in Christ, ready to forgive and to forget, sympathetic with human weakness, big and hearty toward all. Often by excessive authoritarianism immaturity is actually fostered; this is not of God. When this happens in a parish or in any group in which the members are not bound to stay by a vow of obedience, most often they leave.

How Can We Evangelize Better?
I believe that there are many people of good will that live within the boundaries of the parish but do not participate in the parish activities. What can we do to overcome the fundamental difficulties, indicated above, in order to evangelize better? I believe that for many pastors and people in the parishes and in the ecclesial movements and religious congregations, there is needed a 180 degree conversion which is very difficult because they do not realize the need of conversion; they feel they are OK. We must pray above all for humility and true charity. We must diminish so that each of us might be able to realize that we do not have all the solutions in our own heads and that we must discover the will of Jesus together each time there is something important to decide in the parish. If the pastor and the other ones in the parish are capable of detaching themselves from their own ideas and proposals to be able to listen better to the other people, there is a good chance to be able to discern and discover the will of Jesus for each situation and problem. In this way everyone feels good to have contributed and discovered together the will of Jesus, not imposed from on high, and so one works with more enthusiasm and energy. The pastor becomes the loud speaker of the will of Jesus among them (Mt. 18:20) instead of only his own ideas! One senses the difference! One is willing to do the will of Jesus in the midst instead of the will of the one in charge even though the one in charge (the pastor, the catechist, etc.) must express the decision. It is a beautiful experience! Is this not the way to be humble and charitable?

It is difficult and time-consuming in this walk of maturity with the more involved ones in the parish; but in this way the fruits are lasting. Slowly the laymen and laywomen discover that they are really involved in the decisions of the parish, and so others come into the parish, those of good will that are not seeking a position of command or honor but rather of service in the true sense of the word as Jesus said to the apostles (Mt. 20,25-28). The parish belongs to everyone, not just to the pastor or to a few influential families or to those who want to put themselves above the others with a critical and authoritarian spirit, always ready to judge. Is this not the way to have the presence of Jesus among us (Mt. 18:20) in the parish so that it is truly Jesus in the midst that brings forth and gives rise to the growth of the parish instead of a pastor all alone or someone who wants to control the parish? Was this not the secret of the early Christians who loved each other reciprocally (At 4,32; 2,42-47)? Is this not the way to build on the rock rather than on sand (Mt. 7:26-27)? If there is not this habit of loosing or of humility or of detaching oneself from ones own interests, especially on the part of the pastor and those in charge in the parish, there is no Jesus in the midst, but instead there is the pastor or the one in charge in the midst and nothing else. Jesus in the midst is truly an efficacious presence of Jesus that does not come automatically, but rather this special presence is earned, loving reciprocally together as Jesus loved us even to the point of death. This is what is meant by the words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20)!

Referring to a type of small religious group with a superior Chiara Lubich said: "One should not notice who is the superior. Because all of you are brothers. And there is one in charge; but he must act in such a way that the command be in charity. That is, first love the other, even to death. And then with this love in place say: "It would be necessary to go there to do ..., what do you think?" The other feels loved. One establishes the presence of Jesus in the midst. The other does not feel any longer that the superior commands, but that it is the will of God. It's logical. It is Jesus in the midst that asks him to do this, and he does it. But he doesn't obey dully, as one says, with a long face and goes away, etc. He is content because he goes to do the will of God, not so much his own will or the will of another human being. Charity animates all. All is animated by charity..." (Ecumenical Congress of the Orthodox; 3/30/89).

The saints had great humility and emptiness before another person. Thus they were able to make themselves one with the others or to identify with others or to put themselves in the shoes of the others. Then with a lot patience they waited for the other one to respond in their turn to this love and humility, in like manner, so as to have the presence of Jesus in their midst Who enlightened them about the will of God in a particular situation. We who are certainly not saints, with very little humility and emptiness before others, are very slow and unwilling to even begin to make ourselves one with the others or to identify with others or to put ourselves in the shoes of the others, because we have so little humility. Without humility there is no virtue of any kind. Thus there is not even the foundation or possibility to have Jesus in our midst Who enlightens us and guides us. The saints who were instruments of God to bring to the earth a great charisma had great humility to be instruments of God and thus they respected the freedom of others (as God always does). So many followers of these founders, instead, do not respect the freedom of other under them and seek to manipulate, constrain and force others to do their “great program”!

When I met Pope John Paul II for the second time, the thing that really struck me was that his attention for me gave me the impression that for him, in that moment, I was the only person in the world who existed even though he had so many responsibilities and things to do. How often this humility, this emptiness before others, this capacity to make oneself one with the other and this patience is lacking and so we superiors resort to forcing, pushing and manipulating other people to do our will. How many people have we driven from the Church or from the ecclesial movements due to this lack of humility and charity while we were imposing our program on others in the name of God or in the name of unity? Is this difference between most of us and the saints not similar to the difference between the socialism practiced by the early Christians, who gave of their goods FREELY to love others, and the socialism of our modern dictators who FORCE people to relinquish their goods and property?!?

There are many people in ecclesial movements and religious congregations who, unfortunately, do not live their respective charismas but often end up at least serving as channels of the charisma which arrives to others of good will who render fruitful these precious gifts from God. “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Mt 3:9; Lk 3:8).

St. Peter exhorts the elders to “tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock (1Pt 5:2-3).

It is true that the Church is not a democracy. In the parish the pastor is the one to express the decision if he is mature, i.e., detached from his ideas listening well to the others involved in the parish, or if he is not mature, i.e., habitually attached to his own program without inviting or taking into consideration that which the more involved ones in the parish say. Moreover it is important for the bishops and priests, in union with the Pope, to proclaim with courage and unambiguousness all the truths proclaimed by the Church which also includes those truths that regard moral behavior; one must also maintain a great reverence for the sacraments and for the religious cult of God. “Christ asks you to confess before men and women his truth” (Benedict XVI to the new cardinals, 11-24-2007).

But the vast majority of the decisions in the parishes are not a question of truth but rather practical decisions. If we do not treat adults as adults, with our truly mature example, the churches will become even more empty and we will suffocate the life of the parish that still exists. The parish must not be a type of military camp but rather a family with Jesus in the midst who generates true fruits. The Church has always maintained the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.

The saints Ciril (monk) and Methodius (bishop) gave us a great example, many centuries ago, of this model of adapting and making oneself one with the others, which we can call enculturation. One of the most important jobs of a good pastor in the parish is to encourage and protect the lambs (i.e., the humble ones that want to serve) from the wolves (i.e., those who want to dominate and to use the parish for their glory). With the good example of the bishop, the priests and seminarians will have a model from above to follow and to imitate, as it should be in the parishes.

No one is born a saint. If the one in charge, even with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and seemingly good motives, is not mature and not really living the Gospel himself especially by loving ones neighbor as one self, it is presumptuous to assume that those under him have already reached a high enough state of maturity and holiness to overcome this oppressive situation of being coerced into implementing the program of the superior, or capable of embracing and accepting this suffering and pain in union with Christ crucified without falling into depression. It takes time, grace and a lot of good will to arrive to this state of maturity and holiness. This is why it is so important to choose and find mature Christian leaders to give an example of humility and charity as well as the ability to draw and lead others to God and virtue freely and patiently without forcing or pushing in any way. One must lead others first of all and above all with a true Christian example; words should only be used to describe the example, the life that is lived. One of St. Francis of Assisi’s best known quotes is: “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” You can lead a string nicely but if you push the string it all crumples up.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29), came to serve (Mt 20:28). It takes a certain Christian maturity on the part of all involved which requires time and patience. But I believe that this walk of maturity is the fundamental key for the “new evangelization”. It is precisely in this walk of maturity that we become saints together in the parishes and which produces true and lasting fruits! We must walk this path of maturity with lots of patience, humility and love. As the bishop of Trent once said: the world has already heard many things about Christ; to re-evangelize the world this time, we will have to first “be” Christians and then speak about Christ.

St. Antony of Padua wrote: “Language comes alive when it speaks by deeds. Enough of talking; let actions speak. We are bloated with words and empty of works. That is why we are accursed by the Lord who cursed the fig tree on which he found no fruit but only leaves. “It has been laid down as a law for the preacher, says Gregory, that he should practice what he preaches.” It is useless for a man to boast that he knows the law, if his behavior contradicts his teaching (Office of Readings, June 13).

Rev. Joseph Dwight

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[1] "The manifold Catholic attack against triumphalism goes hand in glove with a desire to sustain the spirituality of the Church. This is one of the essential elements of the new ecclesiological way of thinking apparent at the council. It wanted no new dogma, no new definition of the Church that would clarify everything. Rather, with the hierarchy in mind in a most existential sense, it was a summons to complete and utter humility. The Church was being told to remember that it followed the Lord who came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45), G. C. Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1965), p. 184.
[2] Bernard C. Pawley, ed., The Second Vatican Council (Studies by eight Anglican Observers) (Oxford University Press, London, 1967), p. 114. See also Floyd Anderson, ed., Council Daybook - Vatican II (Session 1, Oct. 11 to Dec. 8, 1962, Session 2, Sept. 29 to Dec 4, 1963) (National Catholic Welfare Conference (Pub.), Washington, D.C., 1965), p. 275.

The Hope of the World!

The Hope of the World!

Today there are many problems in the world. It is enough to turn on the TV and listen to the news to see that the world is in bad shape. The countries of the world as well as the United Nations propose their solutions, but are things really getting better because of these proposals or sanctions? Are we to give up hope and just crawl into a hole in the ground and wait for the third world war or the second coming of Jesus Christ? Is there something concrete each of us can do to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?

What can we as Christians offer to the world as a solution for its most fundamental problems? Who is more powerful, Jesus or Satan? Did Jesus leave us a key for each of us to be able to contribute to the solutions of the most difficult problems today?

The Primitive Church
What was it that even the pagans could see or notice that was so special among the early Christians? What was it that the pagans did not have and envied in the early Christian community? Jesus was seated at table with his friends. It was his last supper before he left this world, the most solemn moment for him to disclose his last wish, almost a will: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Throughout the centuries, this was to be the distinguishing mark of Jesus' disciples: from this everyone would recognize them (Jn 13:34-35).

And so it was, from the very beginning. The first community of believers in Jerusalem enjoyed the good will and respect of everyone precisely because of its love and unity, (Acts 2:47; 4:32; 5:13), so much so that more people joined its ranks each day (Acts 2:47). Even a few years later Tertullian, one of the first Christian writers, reported what was being said of the Christians: “See how they love one another, and how they are ready even to die for one another.” It was Jesus' words coming true: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, If you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). In the time of the apostles … there was something in those assemblies that one does not find anymore, at least not normally. There was fraternal love and joy. Those who gathered together put everything in common, not only “the heart and soul”, but also their needs, goods, meals (At 2:42-47; 4:32). They put into action a true fraternal communion and thus they all had joy.” It was not “an ordinary community, purely conventional and juridical, as are so many parishes and even many religious communities” (Raniero Cantalamessa). Their love was not that of the pagans; there was something special!

The Efficacious Presence of Jesus
And what was this special something that attracted the pagans? Was it not the full and efficacious presence of Jesus in the midst of those who love each other? How can we have the presence of Jesus as did the first Christians? “Gathered together in my name” (Mt 18:20): what does this mean exactly? Already the Fathers of the Church, in the first centuries, asked themselves repeatedly, offering different but convergent answers. For Basil, the essential condition is living according to the will of God; for John Chrysostom, it is to love our neighbor as Jesus did; for Theodore the Studite, it is mutual love; and for Origen, it is harmony in thought and in feeling, which arrives at that concord which unites, and contains the Son of God. In Jesus' teachings there is the key for allowing God to dwell among us: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). Mutual love is the key to the presence of God. “If we love one another, God lives in us,” (1 Jn 4:12) because “where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20), says Jesus.

Thus, in a community where life is deeply rooted in mutual love, Jesus can continue to be present and active. And through the community Jesus can continue to reveal himself to the world and make his influence felt. Jesus tells us: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Thus if we want to seek the true sign of authenticity of the disciples of Christ, if we want to know their particular characteristic, we must identify it in lived reciprocal love.

In the past we often thought of the presence of Jesus in our brother in need: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40); or in the ministers of God: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Lk 10:16); or in the Church: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). But also this presence of Jesus among those who love each other as Christ does is not less certain or authentic; we have the assurance of the same word of Jesus. In fact, when there is reciprocal love, as indicated above, one truly enters into a new reality, not just human, but also divine. All is transformed. One breaths in the air something so special that one would say: “Lord it is well that we are here” (Mt 17:4); a beautiful atmosphere that one would wish that it would last forever. Whoever has even a minimum amount of spiritual sensitivity is struck by this special presence of Jesus even if one cannot put it into words. It is a certain foretaste of the joy of Paradise where Jesus is all of our full and definitive delight.

It is a gift so great that we do not want to squander it. And it is within our reach always and in every place on earth. The way is simple and clear: to put into practice the new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).

The Qualities of Christian Love
This divine love from God is not an ordinary love. It’s not just simple friendship or philanthropy. In fact it is nothing less than the love which was poured into our hearts at baptism. This love is the life of God himself. It is the life of the blessed Trinity of which we participate.

So love is literally everything, but if our love is to be authentic we need to learn something about its qualities as they are described in the Gospel and more generally in Scripture. A few fundamental points sum them up.

In the first place, Jesus died for everyone. By loving everyone he teaches us that true love is to be given to all. Often the love in our hearts is simply human. It confines itself to relatives, friends and a few others. But Jesus wants our love to be free of discrimination, having no regard for whether people are friendly or hostile, attractive or not, adults or children. This love doesn't notice whether people are members of my Church or of another one, of my religion or another. True love loves everyone, and we should do the same: LOVE EVERYONE.

True love makes us want to be THE FIRST TO LOVE instead of waiting for someone else to love us. Generally speaking, we love because we are loved, but the Father sent his Son to save us while we were still sinners and therefore not loving. So true love takes the initiative. In other words, we should love everyone, and we should be the first to love.

True love SEE JESUS IN EVERY NEIGHBOR. At the final judgment Jesus will say to us, "You did it to me", (Mt. 25:40) and this will apply to the good that we do and also, unfortunately, to the bad we do.

True love makes us LOVE both friends and ENEMIES alike, praying for them and doing good things for them. Otherwise we must not say anymore the Our Father because we will be hypocrites: “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Jesus wants the love that he brought on earth to BECOME MUTUAL so that one person loves the other and vice versa, in order to achieve unity.

True love means LOVING OTHERS “AS” WE LOVE OURSELVES. This should be taken literally. We should truly see the other person as another self and do for them what we would do for ourselves.

True love leads us to suffer with those who are suffering and to rejoice with those who rejoice, carrying other people's burdens. As Paul says (1Cor 9,19-22), it causes us to MAKE OURSELVES ONE with the person who is loved, so it is not just a question of feelings or words. It involves real action.

People of other religious convictions try to do the same thing by putting into practice the so-called ‘GOLDEN RULE,' which can be found in all religions. It wants us to do to others what we would like others to do to us. Gandhi explained it very simply and effectively: "I can't harm you without hurting myself".

Of course, Christian love DOES NOT DOMINATE OTHERS. Jesus said to the apostles: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you” (Mt 20:25-28; Lk 22:26). Jesus, meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29) came to serve (Mt 20:28). If there is not this habit of the one in charge of loosing or of humility or of detaching oneself from ones own interests, there is not Jesus in the midst, but instead there is only the one in charge in the midst and nothing else. This type of lack of love, with a spirit of triumphalism, clericalism or juridicalism is the cause of the lose of many people of good will from our Christian communities. “The true greatness of the Christian, in fact, does not consist in dominating others, but in serving others” (Benedict XVI, 11-24-07). “One must not seek to impose the faith on others in an authoritarian way, because the faith can only be given in freedom” (Benedict XVI, 01-16-08).

The Secret of Christians
It is not easy to love in a Christian way, the way that Christ loves each of us. For every Christian, who is on their voyage through life, sooner or later, the time for fear comes. Perhaps you too have sometimes found your heart in a storm. Perhaps you felt a headwind was blowing you in the opposite direction from the one you wished to take; and you were afraid that your own life or the life of your family might break down.

Is there anyone who does not go through these trials? They can have the appearance of failure, poverty, depression, doubt, temptation... Sometimes what hurts most is the suffering of those who are closest to us. It might be a son who is a drug addict or who cannot find his path in life, a husband who is an alcoholic or unemployed, the separation or divorce of people we love, parents who are elderly and infirm... We can also feel intimidated by the materialistic and individualistic society that surrounds us, with its wars, violence and injustice... Faced with these situations, doubt might creep in. Where has the love of God gone? Was it all an illusion, a dream?

There is nothing worse than feeling alone in times of trial. When there is no one with whom to share the pain, or who can help to resolve the difficult situations; every suffering can seem unbearable. Jesus knows this. That is why he appears on our stormy sea, comes close to us and says once more: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Mt 14:27).

It seems he is saying to us: that's me in your fear. Jesus says: “I too on the cross, when I cried out my abandonment, I was overwhelmed with fear that the Father had abandoned me. I'm there in your discouragement: there on the cross I too had the impression that I didn't have the consolation of the Father. Are you confused? I too was like that, to the point of crying out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt 27,46; Mc 15,34; Ps 22,1). I felt on my shoulders the pain of all human wickedness. And when we are surprised by a delusion or we are wounded by a trauma, o by an unexpected misfortune, or by a sickness or an absurd situation, we can always remember the pain of Jesus forsaken, that he personified all these trials and even a thousand other ones. In each of our difficulties he is near us, ready to share with us every sorrow.

Jesus has truly entered into every suffering, and has taken on himself every one of our trials, identifying himself with each one of us. He is there in all that hurts us and makes us afraid. Every circumstance that is painful or frightening is his countenance. He is Love and love casts out fear.

Every time fear comes over us, or we feel oppressed by a suffering, we can try to recognize the true reality that is hidden there. It is Jesus who has come into our lives. It is one of the many countenances with which he manifests himself. Let's call him by name: it is You, Jesus forsaken-doubt. It's You, Jesus forsaken-betrayed. It's You, Jesus forsaken-ill. It’s You, Jesus forsaken-loneliness. It’s You, Jesus forsaken-hurt. It’s You Jesus forsaken-desolate. And calling him by name, one will discover and recognize Jesus behind every suffering and so we can respond with even more love. If we live in this way, going beyond the wound of each sorrow, we will experience an unusual effect, not even hoped for: our soul will be pervaded with peace, with love, also with pure joy and light. We will be able to find within ourselves a new energy. By embracing the crosses of each day uniting ourselves to Jesus crucified and abandoned, we can participate already here on earth in the life of the Risen One.

So let's invite him to get into our 'boat', let's welcome him and allow him to enter our lives. And then go on living what God wants from us in each present moment, throwing ourselves into loving our neighbor. We will discover that Jesus is always Love. We can then say to him, as the disciples did, "Truly you are the Son of God!" (Mt 14:33)

Embracing him will become our peace, our comfort, our courage, our balance, our health, our victory. Embracing him will be the explanation of everything and the solution to everything.

This way of loving, these nice words written above, if they are not put into practice are not worth anything. Without this supernatural love, mutually lived together, all the meetings, programs, initiatives or documents of the Christian community or of the United Nations are not worth anything. And so how can we bring this fire of reciprocal love into our communities so as to have this special and efficacious presence of Jesus in our midst? The primitive life of the Church was the life of Jesus lived out concretely with the great fire of reciprocal love, but with few written words. It was living the Gospel concretely with few words. Today we have many things written and spoken but little Christian life. Someone in each Christian community or in any place must begin to love first as explained above. Sooner or later someone will respond to this love and begin to love in the same way. At this point Jesus in the midst is born, and Jesus begins to work and generate life in the Christian community. Slowly others will be converted to this way of life due to the efficacious presence of Jesus. The fire of love spreads as John Chrysostom wrote. And so this fire of love among a few in the Christian community begins to attract, in a silent and natural way, other people of good will inside and outside of the community…

This is an urgent call, especially for us Christians, to witness through love to the presence of God. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John. 13:35). This living out of the new commandment (Jn 13:34) is the basic condition for the presence of Jesus among men and women. We cannot do anything of value unless this presence is guaranteed, a presence which gives meaning to the supernatural family that Jesus brought on earth for all humanity. It is up to us, Christians, even though we belong to different ecclesial communities, to let the world see 'one people' made up of every ethnic group, race, and culture, adults and children, sick and healthy. One people to which we can apply the words said of the first Christians: “See how they love one another and are ready to give their lives for one another.” This is the 'miracle' humanity is waiting for in order to regain hope. It will also give an essential contribution to progress in ecumenism, the journey towards full and visible unity among Christians. It is a 'miracle' within our reach, or better, of the One who, dwelling among his own united by love, can change the destiny of the world and lead all humanity towards unity.

Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote: “Our Lord sent his disciples out to preach two by two, tacitly implying that the man who has no love for others should by no means take on himself the duty of preaching” (Office of Readings; Oct. 18). St. Francis of Assisi sent his disciples to preach and to evangelize, but said to them to preach with the mouth only if absolutely necessary!

But again, I repeat, all these things are only beautiful words if there is not someone in the Christian community that loves as Jesus loves. Each of us must do our small part without becoming discouraged by what we see in our world today. In each Christian community or anywhere, someone must set in motion this fire of love, this new life, this revolution, in concrete actions, not just nice word as is, unfortunately, this article!

Rev. Joseph Dwight