Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Growth in Charity

Here is a short article I just finished writing which, if all thing fall in their proper order, should be published in the March 2014 edition of the Western Dominican Province's Lay Dominican bi-monthly, "Truth be Told".

"We love because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). God's love precedes our own. The starting point for our growth in the theological virtue of charity is the knowledge of God's love made manifest most especially in Christ's death for us at Calvary: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as expiation for our sins" (1 Jn. 4:11). In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI points out that Christ's "death on the cross is the culmination of the turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form" (no. 12). In contemplating this love God has for us in Christ Jesus, we avail ourselves of the opportunity to personally realize and accept this love, thus germinating the seed of faith implanted within us at baptism, and so come to "know and believe the love God has for us" (1 Jn. 4:16).

Such knowledge of and faith in God's inexhaustible love for us inspire a sense of appreciation and gratitude by which we feel that the only appropriate response to such love should be nothing less than our wholehearted fulfillment of the Lord's twofold command to love God, and one's neighbor as oneself (cf. Mt. 22:37-39). Thus inspired by the Spirit who "pours God's love into our hearts" (Rom 5:5), we comprehend how it is that to love God means "to keep his commandments, and [that] his commandments are not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5:3), since our reciprocal love for God inclines "our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments" (1 Kg. 8:58, cf. Ps. 119:36). This knowledge of God's love also liberates us to actively pursue lives of "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6) when our realization of God's love as our greatest good diminishes in us "the cares of the world, the delight in riches, and desire for other things" (Mk. 4:19), and so allows us to more freely submit ourselves to the "law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:2). Benedict XVI further explains how the Holy Spirit motivates our life of charity:

"By dying on the Cross - as Saint John tells us - Jesus 'gave up his Spirit' (Jn. 19:30), anticipating the gift of the Holy Spirit that he would make after his Resurrection (cf. Jn. 20:22). This was to fulfill the promise of 'rivers of living water' that would flow out of the hearts of believers, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 7:38-39). The Spirit, in fact, is that interior power which harmonizes their hearts with Christ's heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them, when he bent down to wash the feet of the disciples (cf. Jn. 13:1-13) and above all when he gave his life for us (cf. Jn. 13:1; 15:13)." (Deus Caritas Est, no. 19)

This growth in God's love is an ongoing process. The occasion arises when we notice that prior senses of inspiration have waned, and that continued growth in love entails that we express love in the same manner as Christ did: on the cross. In some cases, love may indeed be painful, and in any case demands that we put the needs of others ahead of our own. Our desires to justify spiteful or selfish behavior on our part become obstacles to consistently displaying the love to which God calls us, and we recognize that to love when it is most difficult depends increasingly on God's grace.

Sacred Scripture links this training of our dependence on God's grace to the theological virtue of hope: "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love" (Ps. 147:11; cf. 33:18-22). Though God's love is always present, there may be times when we only know this through faith, as our senses and our circumstances at such times may seem devoid of love. God commands us to love others whom even on a daily basis treat us uncharitably (cf. Mt. 5:43-48). In such contexts, our ability to nonetheless desire the good for such individuals calls for our surrender to God's grace in hope that this same grace may continue to transform our hearts and theirs even when such transformation may not be readily visible. It is still natural for us in the meantime to mourn the consistent lack of mutual love between ourselves and those around us, though such mourning directs our hope toward the Lord's promise, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt. 5:4, cf. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 86-88).

It is in these very situations, however - when we do what is right by loving God and neighbor in spite of our passions - that the fire of charity purifies our beings and so increases our capacity for love. Saint Peter writes, "Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart" (1 Pet. 1:22). Jesus also describes the process by which those disciples who have already borne fruit are pruned by our heavenly Father so that they may bear more fruit (cf. Jn. 15:2), and so come to share more fully in Jesus' divine life (cf. Jn. 15:1-11). "Looking to Jesus," then, as "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Heb. 12:2), we persevere not only in hope that God will sustain us in love, but so, too, that we may ultimately attain final union with him "who is seated at the right hand of God" (ibid.). And, conversely, it is the very act of pressing on toward our final destination in hope that we continue to grow in our capacity for love as God's children since "everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (1 Jn. 3:3).

No comments: