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