Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Heart of the Matter

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn ). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”.
We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John's Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should ... have eternal life” (). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel's faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4-5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (; cf. Mk -31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn ), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.
Deus Caritas Est 1
Reflection – Do you know and believe in God’s love for you? Do I? It really is the central matter, you know. All the sound theology, all the ritual observance, all the moral wisdom of the Church (all of which I accept and rejoice in unconditionally), if they lack the central knowledge of God’s immeasurable, personal love for you, for me, for the lady down the street, the young punk on the subway, the obnoxious co-worker, the trying in-laws, for the corrupt politician, the abortionist, the pedophile—if it is lacking that knowledge, that deep knowledge, then all the other stuff is missing its central heart, its core, its life principle.
Theology without love becomes a dead formal system; liturgy without love becomes empty gestures; morality without love becomes the tight-lipped prudishness of the Pharisee. It is the living encounter with God in Christ that gives life and freshness and vibrancy to all the rest of it; without that, everything withers and fades.
The love of God is indeed the central and urgent question of life. But many people would, in fact, hesitate to answer yes to the above question, ‘do you know and believe in God’s love for yourself?’ What are we to do? How are we to come to this knowledge?
Prayer really is the place we come to this, prayer and meditation on the Word of God, particularly the Gospels. Asking the Holy Spirit to teach us; contemplating the face of Christ revealed to us in the Word; repeating the name of Jesus frequently in our hearts: Jesus, have mercy on me, Jesus, I trust you, Jesus, I thank you, Jesus, I love you.
It is here, and in all this, that we are ‘mysteriously visited’, in the words of Paul Evdokimov. And it is out of this knowledge of God’s love, personally poured out for me, that I come to know his love for everyone, especially for those I may not love much, for those I dislike or be inclined to have contempt for. And out of knowing God’s love for me, I can begin to love my neighbour. And this is how we transform our world—letting God’s love fill us, so we have an inexhaustible store of love to share with everyone else.
It really is the heart of the matter.

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