So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
FAITH is the key, which unlocks the door of hope, that opens to love.
That might sound like a Hallmark greeting card but it’s actually the reason Christianity has survived for 2000 years. The Catholic Church continues, not because she has been well stocked throughout the centuries with smart theologians or thrifty administrators, but saints who have “taste and seen the goodness of the Lord.” Psalm 34:9 True faith, hope, and love are the reason millions of Christians have died a brutal martyrdom or given up fame, riches, and power. Through these theological virtues, they encountered Someone greater than life because He was Life itself; Someone who was capable of healing, delivering and setting them free in a way no thing or no one else could. They did not lose themselves; on the contrary, they found themselves restored in the image of God in which they were created.
That Someone was Jesus.
TRUE LOVE CAN’T BE SILENT
The early Christians testified:
It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:20)
There are countless testimonies from the earliest days of the Church that speak of souls—whether they were businessmen, doctors, lawyers, philosophers, house-wives, or tradesmen—who encountered the overwhelming unconditional love of God. It transformed them. It melted their bitterness, brokenness, anger, hatred, or hopelessness; it liberated them from addictions, attachments, and evil spirits. In the face of such overwhelming evidence of God, of His presence and power, they caved in to love. They surrendered to His Will. And as such, they found it impossible not to speak of what they had seen and heard.
TRUE LOVE TRANSFORMS
This, too, is my story. Decades ago, I found myself addicted to impurity. I attended a prayer meeting where I felt as if I were the worst person alive. I was filled with shame and sorrow, convinced that God despised me. When they handed out song sheets, I felt like doing anything but singing. But I had faith… even if it was the size of a mustard seed, even if it was covered over by years of manure (but doesn’t manure make for the best fertilizer?). I started singing, and when I did, a power began to flow through my body as if I was being electrocuted, but without the pain. And then I felt this extraordinary Love fill my being. When I walked out that night, the power that lust had over me was broken. I was filled with such hope. Moreover, how could I not share the Love I had just experienced?
Atheists like to think that poor little people like me manufacture these feelings. But in truth, the only “feeling” I was conjuring up in the previous moment was self-hatred and the sense that God did not want me and would never manifest Himself to me. Faith is the key, which unlocks the door of hope, that opens to love.
But Christianity is not about feelings. It’s about transforming fallen creation into a new heaven and new earth in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. And thus, Love and Truth go hand in hand. The truth sets us free—free to love, because that is what we were created for. Love, Jesus revealed, is about laying down one’s life for another. In fact, the love I experienced that day was only possible because Jesus decided 2000 years ago to give His life in order to seek out the lost and save them. And so, He turned to me then, as He does to you now, and says:
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it… —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1816
TRUE LOVE TRANSCENDS
Today, the world has become like a ship with a broken compass on a stormy sea. People feel it; we can see how it’s playing out in the news; we are watching Christ’s haunting description of the “end times” unfold before us: “Because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold.”Matt 24:12 As such, the entire moral order has been turned upside down. Death is now life, life is death; good is evil, evil is good. What can possibly begin to turn us around? What can save the world from recklessly drifting into the shoals of self-destruction?
Love. Because God is love. The world is no longer capable of hearing the Church preach her moral precepts, in part, because we have lost our credibility to do so through decades of scandal and worldliness. But what the world can hear and “taste and see” is authentic love, “Christian” love—because God is love—and “love never fails.” 1 Cor 13:8
The late Thomas Merton wrote a powerful introduction to the prison writings of Fr. Alfred Delp, a priest held captive by the Nazis. Both his writings and Merton’s introduction are more relevant than ever:
Those who teach religion and preach the truths of faith to an unbelieving world are perhaps more concerned with proving themselves right than with really discovering and satisfying the spiritual hunger of those to whom they speak. Again, we are too ready to assume that we know, better than the unbeliever, what ails him. We take it for granted that the only answer he needs is contained in formulas so familiar to us that we utter them without thinking. We do not realize that he is listening not for the words but for evidence of thought and love behind the words. Yet if he is not instantly converted by our sermons we console ourselves with the thought that this is due to his fundamental perversity. —from Alfred Delp, SJ, Prison Writings, (Orbis Books), p. xxx (emphasis mine)
This is why Pope Francis (despite whatever confusing aspects to his pontificate one might question) was prophetic when he called the Church to become a “field hospital.” What the world needs first is
a love that stops the bleeding of our wounds, which are the consequence of a godless culture—and then we can administer the medicine of truth.
The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise, even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow. —POPE FRANCIS, September 30th, 2013; americamagazine.org
Well, we are presently watching the Church begin to fall like a house of cards. The Body of Christ has to be purified when it no longer flows from authentic faith, hope, and love—especially love—that comes from the Head. The Pharisees were good at keeping the law to the letter, and making sure everyone lived it… but they were without love.
If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)
In an insightful blend of psychology and evangelizing principals, Pope Francis explained at World Youth Day today how we as Christians can attract others to Christ by reflecting our own encounter with God who does not abandon even the greatest sinner.
The joy and hope of every Christian—of all of us, and the Pope too—comes from having experienced this approach of God, who looks at us and says, “You are part of my family and I cannot leave you out in the cold; I cannot lose you along the way; I am here at your side”… By eating with tax collectors and sinners… Jesus shatters the mentality that separates, excludes, isolates and falsely separates “the good and the bad”. He does not do this by decree, or simply with good intentions, or with slogans or sentimentality. He does it by creating relationships capable of enabling new processes; investing in and celebrating every possible step forward. —POPE FRANCIS, Penitential Liturgy and confessions at Juvenile Detention Center, Panama; January 25th, 2019, Zenit.org
Unconditional love. People need to know that they are loved simply because they exist. This, in turn, opens them up to the possibility of a God who loves them. And this then opens them to that truth that will set them free. In this way, through building relationships with the broken and friendships with the fallen, we can make Jesus present again, and with His help, set others upon the path of faith, hope and love.
And the greatest of these is love.
As I was finishing this writing just now, someone sent me the message that comes out of Medjugorje on the 25th of each month, allegedly from Our Lady. It should serve as a strong confirmation of what I’ve written this week, if nothing else:
Dear children! Today, as a mother, I am calling you to conversion. This time is for you, little children, a time of silence and prayer. Therefore, in the warmth of your heart, may a grain of hope and faith grow and you, little children, will from day to day feel the need to pray more. Your life will become orderly and responsible. You will comprehend, little children, that you are passing here on earth and you will feel the need to be closer to God, and with love you will witness the experience of your encounter with God, which you will share with others. I am with you and am praying for you but I cannot without your ‘yes’. Thank you for having responded to my call. —January 25th, 2019
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Mark & Lea Mallett