God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
Reflection – This showed up in my Facebook news feed yesterday, and seemed like a timely reminder. We do live in a world that is fraught with difficulties of all kinds. The looming threat of war in Syria and what that portends for the Middle East and the whole world is a heavy weight on the minds and hearts of anyone paying serious attention to the world.
And we all can make of list of ‘what’s wrong with the world’ otherwise. My list will be different from yours; we all have different ideas on the subject. But it is so crucial to take to heart these words of Bonhoeffer, who after all lived in Germany in the Nazi era and knew a little bit about life in the ‘real world’, in a world filled with corruption, violence, hatred and madness. He was no ivory tower intellectual, but was right down in the fray trying to bring some presence of Christ and of love into an unimaginably difficult situation.
Well, God loves that situation. Not the evil and disorder of it, of course, but He loves us. Loves us as we are, where we are, in the exact precise situation we are in right now. His love is active for our good, of course, and He is constantly at work in every human life to bring us a little further along the path of goodness and love, a little bit out of whatever insanity possesses us today, a little bit more into the light and out of the dark.
But I think it is so crucial to focus on the depths of His love for us in the midst of it all. We are in a bit of a mess, we human beings. We have botched things up somewhat. I won’t go into my own thoughts on how we’ve botched it up; I don’t have much stomach for controversy and argument today, somehow, and anyhow my ideas on the subject are not that important.
What is important is that God loves the world. And whatever we find repulsive, whatever makes us want to draw back, reject, get mad—this is precisely where the compassion and love of God is drawn out, reaches out, extends, embraces. This is so utterly crucial to get, to really get, if we claim to be Christians and genuinely choose to follow Christ.
It is too easy to go the other route: get mad, lash out, scorn, and wrap ourselves in some pathetic mantle of self-righteousness and self-protection, or withdraw into our secure little enclave. But that is not what Jesus did, and if we are his disciples it is not what we are to do, either.
We are to love, in the real world, in the world as we find it today, and this love will require from us everything we have, and call forth from us compassion and generosity that, in fact, we do not have of ourselves. So, in addition to love (or rather, undergirding and encompassing all our efforts to love) is prayer, a constant recourse and turning towards God.
And we cannot, will not do that, unless we genuinely believe that He loves, not just the world in its mess, but us—you and me—in our mess. Whatever that mess may be, and in whatever way you and I are resisting God today, that is where God is loving us today.
Unfathomable, eh? That is precisely what it is—we cannot plumb the depths of God’s love for ourselves and for the whole of humanity, for Bashir Assad and Vladimir Putin, for the innocent victims of war and violence, and for their victimizers. We cannot plumb those depths, cannot fathom this mystery, but we are called to plunge into them nonetheless, to be drowned in God’s love, and so have nothing to offer anyone but some small share, some faint (but, please God ever brighter) reflection of that love.
As it happens, today is my anniversary of priestly ordination, in 2004. This meditation is my poor effort to articulate exactly what I understand my vocation as Catholic priest to be. Can’t say that I do it too well on any given day, but that’s how I see it. So, could I ask for a small ordination anniversary gift today? Could you all say a prayer for me, please, that I can be what a priest is supposed to be, and reflect the love and mercy of God for every human being on the face of the earth. Thank you, and amen.