Love Paves the Way

THE NOW WORD ON MASS READINGS
for January 8th, 2014

Liturgical texts here

 


Christ Walking on Water, Julius von Klever

 

PART of a reader’s response to yesterday’s Now Word, Love Beyond the Surface:

What you said is very true… But I think the sole focus of the Church since Vatican II has been love, love, love, love—with zero focus on the consequences of sinful actions… I think the most loving thing a person can do for an AIDS patient ( or adulterer, porn viewer, liar etc.) is tell them that they will spend eternity in the darkest abyss of hell if they do not repent. They won’t like hearing that, but it is the Word of God, and the Word of God has power to set the captive free… Sinners are pleased to hear consoling fleshy words, not realizing that soft, smooth words, tender embraces, and pleasant conversation without the hard truth is deceptive and powerless, a counterfeit Christianity, lacking power. —N.C.

Before we look at today’s Mass readings, why not look at how Jesus responded when He did “the most loving thing a person can do”:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life… (John 15:13)

When Jesus was crucified, He was silent before sinners, forgave His persecutors, and interceded for them. He did not rebuke them, saying: “Do you not see that you are crucifying your God? If you don’t repent, you will go to hell.” Yet, it was by the Lord’s total act of self-giving that the centurion was converted. Furthermore, Jesus was crucified between two thieves, both of them “on their deathbeds” only minutes away from possibly facing eternal separation from God because of their past lives. And yet, Jesus says nothing to them, letting His act of love open their hearts. In the case of the one thief, He responded to Christ’s love and found himself welcomed into paradise. As for the other thief, we do not know what became of him. Perhaps in his last moments, he reconsidered all he saw and heard and repented in his last breath… [1]cf. Mercy in Chaos

Jesus models through this self-giving the very heart of evangelization, and that is mercy.

The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction”: just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord. —BENEDICT XVI, Homily for the Opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, May 13th, 2007; vatican.va

I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:14-15)

Pope Francis writes that the initial proclamation of the Gospel or kerygma has an economy of priorities; that “it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance… approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.” [2]Evangelii Gaudium, n. 165 So, it is love and truth, not one or the other; but love is what prepares the soil for the seeds of truth.

In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. —BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Varitate, n. 2

In today’s Gospel, Jesus walks on water toward the Apostles who are caught in a wind storm on the lake. When they saw Him, they…

…were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” …They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.

St. Mark links Jesus walking on water to the multiplication of the loaves in yesterday’s Gospel. What is the connection? It is Christ’s pronouncement: Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid! That was the underlying message in feeding the five thousand: Jesus comes, not to condemn, [3]cf. Jn. 3:17 but to bring life to all; for even the most hardened sinner was given bread to eat. Often sinners are in fact terrified and grieved because of their past sins since “fear has to do with punishment.” [4]1 Jn 4:18 It is mercy which melts hardened hearts and awakens sleeping souls.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful… Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. (Luke 6:36; 1 John 3:18)

Yes, I know, the argument can be made that fear of hell is also a cold shower. But in John 3:16, often used by Christians as the basis of their evangelization, it begins, “For God so loved the world…,” not, “For God was so fed up with the world…” How did God “so love us”? Not by telling the sinner, prostitute and tax collector that they were damned to hell if they did not believe in Him. Rather, by letting them know that they were absolutely loved by Him, no matter how grave their sinful condition. Let me repeat that: you are loved, no matter how sinful a state you might be in. It is this unconditional love of the Savior that opens our hearts to hope, the possibility of paradise, and therefore, the message of repentance: “Whoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life… Go, and do not sin again.[5]Jn. 3:16; 8:11

A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. (Isa 42:3)

Thus, St. John tells us in the first reading:

…if God so loved us, we also must love one another.

By approaching others, not so much as a soul to save, but a person to love into life, your actions cry out, “Courage! It is no longer I, but Jesus loving you through me. Do not be afraid!”

People listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and when people do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. It is therefore primarily by the Church’s conduct, by living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus, that the Church will evangelize the world. —POPE PAUL VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, n. 41

That is not to say that sometimes tough love isn’t required, [6]cf. 1 Cor 5:2-5; Matt 18:16-17; Matt 23 nor to remain silent on the reality of eternal damnation. But tough love is not the default.

He does not treat us according to our sins. (Ps 103:10)

“Drive-by evangelization” where all one does is shoot off the words, “Repent, or perish” is usually counterproductive in our times and a reinforcement of damaging stereotypes. 

Paul is a pontifex, a builder of bridges. He doesn’t want to become a builder of walls. He doesn’t say: “Idolaters, go to hell!” This is the attitude of Paul… Build a bridge to their heart, in order then to take another step and announce Jesus Christ. —POPE FRANCIS, Homily, May 8th, 2013; Catholic News Service

Love demands an investment of ourselves, as an “evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be… Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time.” [7]POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n.24

Love, then, paves the way for truth—and yes, even at times, the hard truth.

Although it sounds obvious, spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom. Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere. To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 170

 

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1. cf. Mercy in Chaos
2. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 165
3. cf. Jn. 3:17
4. 1 Jn 4:18
5. Jn. 3:16; 8:11
6. cf. 1 Cor 5:2-5; Matt 18:16-17; Matt 23
7. POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n.24
Posted in HOME, MASS READINGS.