Authentic Love and the Discovery of Fire

The gospel for the 5th Sunday of Easter Cycle C contains one of most powerful admonitions that Jesus offered his disciples:  “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).”  I’d like to share a true story about a young couple from Chicago that will help explain the profound meaning of this gospel.  Peter and Linda were both just 21 years old and had been dating for almost two years.  Peter planned to ask Linda to marry him.

One evening, Peter and a friend were involved in a horrible accident, and Peter was thrown from the car.  He suffered a severe concussion and ended up in a deep coma.  The doctors told Peter’s family and friends that he probably wouldn’t survive.  Even if he did, he would remain in a comatose state.  In the sad days ahead, Linda spent all of her spare time at the hospital.  Night after night, for three and a half months, Linda sat at Peter’s bedside, speaking words of encouragement to him, even though he gave no sign that he heard her.  Then one night, Linda saw Peter’s toe move.  A few nights later she saw his eyelash flutter.  This was all she needed.  Against the advice of the doctors, she quit her job and became his constant companion.  She spent hours every day massaging his arms and legs.

Eventually Linda arranged for Peter to go home.  She spent all of her savings on a swimming pool, hoping that the sun and water would restore life to his motionless limbs.  Then came the day when Peter spoke his first word since the accident.  It was only a grunt, but Linda understood it.  Gradually, with Linda’s help, those grunts turned into words – clear words.  Finally, the day came when Peter was able to ask Linda’s father if he could marry her.  Linda’s father said, “When you can walk down the aisle, Peter, Linda will be yours.”

Two years later, Peter walked down the aisle of Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church in Chicago.  He had to use a walker, but he was walking.  Every television station in the city covered that wedding, and newspapers all over the country published the story with pictures of Peter and Linda.  Celebrities called to congratulate them.  People from as far away as Australia sent them letters and presents.  And families all over the world with loved ones in comas called to ask them for advice.  Today, Peter is living a very normal life.  He speaks slowly, but clearly.  He walks slowly, but without a walker.  Peter and Linda even have a lovely little baby girl.

The story of Peter and Linda is a beautiful commentary on the words of Jesus in John’s gospel:  “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

If there is one thing that we desperately need in our world today, it’s to rediscover the power of Authentic Love – self-giving love.  Jesus is calling us to a relationship with others modeled on his love, a love that Saint Paul describes so well in 1 Corinthians 13.  This is a love that we’re never tired of hearing about, a love that we want for ourselves, a love that we are called to extend to others: “a love that is patient, a love that is kind.  It is not jealous, pompous, or inflated.  It does not seek its own interests, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, a love that never fails.”  The story of Peter and Linda illustrates that this kind of love has tremendous power.  It has the power to change the world.  It has the power to bring people back from the brink of death to life.  It has the power to bring people back from hopeless sickness to perfect health.  It has the power to inspire people all over the world and give them new hope, as Linda’s love for Peter did.

In the early 1980s, an unusual film was playing in movie theaters across the nation.  It was called The Quest for Fire.  Its French producer said that it fulfilled a lifelong dream.  He had always dreamed of celebrating in film the discovery of fire, for it was the discovery of fire 80,000 years ago that saved the people on planet Earth from total extinction.  It was the discovery of fire that made it possible DSCF1884for them to make tools for survival and to protect themselves from the cold.

Today, people on the planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are headed for total extinction.  Today, people on the planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are teetering on the brink of a global disaster.  This time, the danger comes not from something basic like the lack of fire, but from something even more basic – the lack of Authentic Love, the kind of love that Jesus preached, the kind of unfailing, unconditional, self-giving love that Linda had for Peter.

This makes us wonder and ask ourselves a profound and frightening question.  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the rediscovery of Authentic Love in the 21st Century?  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the only thing that saved our planet from extinction?  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the outpouring for Authentic Love that came forth from the Christian community in the 21st Century and changed the world?  Only the future and only the Christian community will be able to answer that question.  Only you and I, and millions of Christians like us, hold the answer to those questions somewhere deep down in our hearts.

This gospel is an invitation for us to look into our heart-of-hearts today and see how we ourselves are answering that question by our own lives of Authentic Love – especially within our families, for we must begin to change the world in the family, or we won’t change it at all.  “I give you a new commandment.  Love one another, and love them as I have loved you.”

“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of Authentic Love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire.”      Teilhard de Chardin

 

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches sacred scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and runs The Epiphany Initiative website.

Valentine’s Day: Love is in the Air

February 14th, what an exciting day! Of course it is the date we celebrate Valentine’s Day. There is more to this day than a simple marketing ploy by Hallmark to create a holiday in which a plethora of cards can be sold, along with roses, boxes of chocolates, and candle lit dinners for two. (Wow that sounds nice. I remember now what it was like before I had st-valentinekids). There is indeed a St. Valentine who is on the Roman Catholic list of saints. However, the details of his life are not entirely clear. He is believed to have lived in Rome and to have been martyred there for witnessing to the Faith in the third century. His feast day was celebrated on February 14th until the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 under Blessed Paul VI (cf. catholic.org), and it is still celebrated in some places.

Valentine’s Day is typically thought of as a day to celebrate love. We as Catholics can be especially joyful when we celebrate the holiday as a day of love. First and foremost we call to mind our God who is love (1 John 4:8). God loved us so much that He incarnated His love in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And St. Paul explains that, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So if we buy red roses or see others buying red roses on Valentine’s Day, we can reflect on the blood of Christ that flowed from His side on Calvary as a sign of His love for us. We can reflect on the martyrdom of St. Valentine who died because he refused to deny Jesus. If we see people buying chocolates in the shape of a heart, we can reflect on the Sacred Heart of Jesus which burns with love for each of us. And when two people enjoy a candle lit dinner, they can reflect on the sacred meal that is the Eucharist with Jesus who is the light of the world (cf. John 8:12).

February 14th is also the Feast Day of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. They’re two brothers who were bishops in the ninth century. St. John Paul II actually wrote an entire encyclical letter StsCyrilMethodiusabout the two, stating, “THE APOSTLES OF THE SLAVS, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are remembered by the Church together with the great work of evangelization which they carried out” (Slavorum Apostoli 1). Cyril and Methodius are known for playing a major role in bringing Christianity to the Slavic people. They’re co-patron saints of Europe (Ibid.). I am particularly drawn to their story since my ancestors first came to the United States from Poland. And the first Polish pope, St. John Paul II, explained that while the evangelization of Poland stemmed from a few historical events, “the fact remains that the beginnings of Christianity in Poland are in a way linked with the work of the Brothers…” (Slavorum Apostoli 24). As we reflect on how our Catholic Faith has been handed on from generation to generation, from one person to another under the guidance of the successors to the Apostles the bishops, I can reflect on how the Gospel first influenced those Slavic people in the ninth century. At some point, one of my ancestors heard and accepted the Gospel and would hand it on to his or her ancestors or family members.

February 14th is a special day for me indeed. It is a special day to celebrate God’s love and to recall St. Valentine’s courage in proclaiming the Gospel. It is a day to reflect on how the Gospel was effectively proclaimed to the Slavic people through the brothers Ss. Cyril and Methodius. These two set out to a foreign land trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide them to speak and live the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15). And February 14th is also a special day for me because it happens to be my birthday… but I won’t share which one.

Ss. Valentine, Cyril, Methodius, and John Paul II, pray for us!

Edward Trendowski teaches family life ministry for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

“A Still More Excellent Way”

Today’s epistle reading features I Corinthians 13:1-13.  Here St. Paul achieves a sublimity and spiritual illumination so excellent that still encourages and enlivens.  This passage surely appears in some odd settings: I’ve heard it read atop Maine’s Mount Agamenticus at a wedding that featured canine wedding attendants, and at Fulton, Missouri’s “Westminster Chapel” (where Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Iron Curtain” in 1946) at a Star Wars-themed wedding.  I Corinthians 13 makes these crazy-train stops because St. Paul’s scriptural language on divine love has become the foundation for our secular, cultural language.  Theologians rightly decry inculturation run amok, wherein cultural values infiltrate and overwhelm the Gospel’s primacy.  The cultural popularity of one chapter—roughly two hundred fifty words translated into English—from St. Paul points to another problem:  the dilution of the Gospel beyond the point of recognition.

These problems stem in part from St. Paul’s own words.  This particular segment

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

These are precisely the words that wedding plans—Christian and secular alike—adore.  What could be nicer?  For starters, it helps to remember that St. Paul describes here God’s love (with clear implications for understanding the Trinity) from which our loves—Screenshot 2016-01-31 07.02.27spiritual and physical—take their form and vibrancy.  Love without God is bound to fail; only with God’ love—which we experience as grace—do we hope and endure all things. Supporting, enlightening, and justifying this great spiritual reality that is divine love stands the eschaton.  There will come a day when we realize fully and completely the truths by which we live now only dimly and partially seen.

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Amen indeed—love is the greatest.  We will know this love fully some day, but meanwhile how do we live now?  The eschaton brings to fulfillment the kingdom of God which Christ proclaimed.  From last week’s Gospel (Luke 4), Jesus reads Isaiah’s proclamation of good tidings to captives, the poor, and the afflicted, then sits down announcing “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  In other words, like St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, the Kingdom already exists here on earth.

Constructing the path to this “already, but not yet fully” is St. Paul’s “still more excellent way.”  God’s love, which the Holy Spirit brings us, enlivens our lives and interactions with each other. Any kingdom, and certainly God’s kingdom, necessarily rests on communitarian foundations. So, the more excellent way—an ethic, and the eventual route to God’s Kingdom—necessarily go through and with the Church. In this we benefit from, as St. Paul said, “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).   Father Michael Sliney, LC, cultivates a burgeoning YouTube and Google+ parish, each post declaring “Thy Kingdom Come!”  Anthony Esolen has written recently a delightful book Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching. Using an impressive grasp of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals, Esolen reasserts the Church’s social message for family, Church, and state.  The relationship with God bonds the individual to each of these communities in specific ways.  The key, of course, is to make sure one’s loves are ordered properly.  This happens only with God’s love. Finally, today is the feast day of St. John Bosco, who pursued the “still more excellent way” with working-class boys in mid-nineteenth century Turin, Italy. It was not easy work, but St. John persevered.  A dream at age nine had convinced him God had called him to the vocation.  In the dream John fought a gang of boys, but then a man intervened, calling John to become their leader.  When John protested, the man insisted humility and cheerfulness would win them over.  St. John’s dream, in other words, reaffirmed St. Paul’s “still more excellent way.”  The providential intersection of St. Paul’s epistle and the feast of Catholic youth ministry’s great patron should illuminate our own relationships with God and, through God, with others.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

“What’s love got to do with it?”

In my own prayer this summer, I’ve been using a collection of prayers from the great American Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor. The prayers were part of a journal that was recently found among her papers. They are the prayers of a young struggling writer who wants her faith to inform her writing and her writing to be a work of faith. The collection is called A Prayer Journal.

In one of the journal entries she is writing about the importance of a thread in writing a novel. The thread, she writes is “a view of the world behind it & the most important single item under this view of [the] world is the conception of love—divine, natural, & perverted” (O’Connor 30). She continues to reflect on how many of our great writers, Freud, Proust, Lawrence “have located love in the human & there is no need to question their location; however, there is no need either to define love as they do—only as desire, since this precludes Divine Love, which while it too may be a desire, is a different kind of desire—Divine desire—and is outside of man and capable of lifting him up to itself” (O’Connor 30).

O’Connor saw this way of defining love as primarily an emotion as a real problem for the modern heart, which was becoming increasingly “divorced from faith” (O’Connor 31). She writes “The modern man isolated from faith, from raising his desire for God into a conscious desire is sunk into the position of seeing physical love as an end in itself” (O’Connor, 31). This, though written more than 50 years ago, is at the heart of the debate today on the definition and meaning of marriage.

Wedding-Feast-at-Cana1Recently, I was asked to be part of a panel at the Catholic Information Center reflecting on the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. I was asked to address the theological and pastoral implications of the decision. One of the pastoral implications is both a challenge and an opportunity to give witness to that which makes a sacramental marriage different. I suggest what makes a sacramental marriage different is the way in which the Church understands love. As Flannery O’Connor writes, the love we are called to share in marriage is a divine love. Married love is a self-sacrificing and self-giving imitation of Jesus’ self-giving love. The married love of man and woman couple is a visible sign for the world of God’s faithful and fruitful love. What made this presentation so interesting was the centrality of defining what love means and what love has to do with marriage.

Please follow this link to view the complete presentation which includes President John Garvey of The Catholic University of America and Helen Alvaré, of George Mason University.

Susan Timoney is Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

My Vocation is Love!

St. Therese at 15 just prior to joining the Carmel at Lisieux

St. Therese at 15 just prior to joining the Carmel at Lisieux

I am always delighted to see that, especially among younger Catholics, Thérèse Martin (1873-1897) is increasingly becoming one of the Church’s more “popular” saints. I am sure that many of us are already familiar with the broad outlines of her life. That she was one of five children, of Louis and Zélie (Guerin) Martin, all of whom entered the religious life. That, during a family pilgrimage to Rome, she implored Pope Leo XIII to grant her a dispensation to allow her to enter the Carmel at Lisieux at age 15; which, though not due to the pope’s intervention, she in fact did. That, after dying at the tender age of 24, her reputation grew largely due to the posthumous publication of her spiritual diary Histoire d’une Ame [Story of a Soul]. And, that she was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope St. John Paul II.

In my household, moreover, the feast day of St. Thérèse (October 1st) holds a particular significance. My wife and I, quite deliberately, selected that day on which to be married; thereby making St. Thérèse the patron saint of our marriage and family. (Just as an aside, our son was born on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I think the LORD is trying to tell us something about the spiritual direction of our family.) One portion of St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul has always resonated with my wife and me in particular. In fact, we placed this text on the last page of our wedding programs.

Charity gave me the key to my vocation…I understood it was love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places… In one word, that it was eternal (chapter 9).

St. Thérèse was prompted to write this passage based on her meditation of 1 Cor 13:1-13, and it illustrates well why she is truly a Doctor of the Church. St. Thérèse had a great desire to join the ranks of the martyrs of the Church. “Martyrdom was the dream of my youth,” she writes “and this dream has grown with me within the Carmel’s cloisters.” She also had the ambition to be a Carmelite missionary which, because of her ill health, she was not allowed to fulfill. But reflecting upon St. Paul’s great exhortation to love, St. Thérèse realized that love is the vocation of every Christian; it is the universal vocation. Much like holiness, all Christians are called to live out their particular vocations in love; whether one is called to the married life, or the consecrated religious life, or to some other particular vocation. Further, and this is one St. Thérèse’s great insights, if one lives out perfectly this universal vocation to love, one is embracing all of the particular vocations. In other words, the saint who loves perfectly is, in the realm of love, an apostle, and a prophet, and a martyr, etc. “Thus I shall be everything,” writes the Little Flower, “and thus my dream will be realized.” In a way, the Church has formally endorsed the Little Flower’s theology on this point. For, while she never left the confines of the Lisieux Carmel during her religious life, upon her canonization St. Thérèse was made co-patron – along with St. Francis Xavier – of missionary work. By doing “all the smallest things and doing them through love,” St. Thérèse lived perfectly her, and every, vocation.

And that is the great reminder which St. Thérèse gives to my wife and me as the patroness of our married life: that every particular vocation is lived through the universal vocation to love. And, in knowing this, we should all exclaim with St. Thérèse: “O Jesus, my Love…my vocation, at last I have found it…My vocation is love!”

Therese 2

St. Therese as St. Joan d’Arc in a play at the Carmel

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Memorial Day – Remembering the Ultimate Sacrifice

As our nation celebrates Memorial Day and honors those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their country, it is a good time as Catholics to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for the freedom from sin of all of humanity – the Ultimate Sacrifice. In this Easter Season, we revel in the light of the resurrection, which is our proof that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was actually effective. Jesus’ giving of his life was worth the pain and suffering because it accomplished what it set out to do – show once and for all that God is more powerful than evil.

The resurrection is evidence of that. But do we really believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? We say these words whenever we recite the creed – but do we really believe them? It is an absurd concept – even Thomas didn’t believe it when the other apostles told him. He had to see the risen body of Jesus for himself. Jesus tells him, “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.” (John 20:29) I think St. Paul is the greatest example for us for that! And we can see, each in our own lives, our own personal encounters with Jesus that affirm His resurrection to us. Truly, it is only through the eyes of faith, through a relationship with Jesus, that one can believe in the resurrection.

As people of faith, we must ask ourselves, then, whether the resurrection makes a difference in how we live our lives – in how we approach situations, how we make decisions. The resurrection is proof that the unconditional love of God is the most powerful power in the world. It is more powerful than anything else, including anything that is not love. Think of all the ways, big and small, that we experience a lack of love in our lives – all the ways that we sin and are sinned against. God’s love is more powerful than all of that! Indeed, it is more powerful than death itself.

Well, if the unconditional love of God really is the most powerful power in the world, then our lives should reflect that. Money, prestige, power, time (I think efficiency is the most common way we fail to live in the resurrection – the most efficient solution is often not the most loving) are all secondary to, even at the service of, love. The measure of success in the Christian life is love. We see the effect of the resurrection in our lives when we see that something we did out of love has an intrinsic value. This is why they will know we are Christians by our love!

This weekend, we are mindful of the freedoms we enjoy thanks to those who have died for this country. Let us also be mindful of that freedom from sin gained for us through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, the freedom that enables unconditional love to be the ultimate power in our lives.

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.