Tag Archives: Christianity

Thou Shalt Love

Luke 10:27

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

So many times – too many times – people think that Christianity is all about rules.  I’m a member of the Catholic Church (Roman Rite) so I hear the rules criticism all the time in the Media.  Gratefully, I understand that Christianity is not about rules.  Christianity is about love.  Now, I don’t in any way mean that the Commandments should be thrown out – quite the contrary.  The 10 Commandments given to Moses by God should be embraced – should be loved.  The essence of what God is asking us to do is to be who God created us to be: persons of love.  First and foremost we must embrace the truth that God is love.  And we, being created in the image and likeness of God, are images and likenesses of love.

That’s a whole lot of use of the word love in one paragraph… But… what is love?

Love is the gift of self.

Before the universe existed, God IS.  God is Being Itself and generously gives this beingness to what He creates, to what is not strictly God Godself – to what is other than God.  This generous giving of self to the other is true gift.  And God created “man in His own image; male and female He created them.”[i]  God is One, there is only one God, and, in our limited human understanding, we Christians believe in one God in three Divine Persons.  The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been described as Lover (loving), Beloved (loved), and Love (the communion between and within lover and beloved).  As human persons we are given, by God, not only the ability to love as God loves, giving and receiving, but also the very identity of love itself.  Pope John Paul II said, “a person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.”[ii]

In the book of Genesis we hear God say, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We are made for loving relationship.  Among all the creatures of God, it is only in our fellow human beings, our fellow Divine images, that we can experience true loving communion – and therefore be truly and wholly ourselves.  No other created being “offers man the basic conditions that make it possible to exist in a relation of reciprocal gift.”[iii] God is love and we are created to be love – and this means that a “person” should never be treated as a means, a way or a tool used to get something else.  If we want to know the truth, then we need to know that persons are gifts of love and are fulfilled only when giving and receiving love, in loving communion with God and with one another.

Sometimes we use the word love in a different kind of way – for things, namely.  I can say, “I love God, I love my parents, I love beauty, I love ice cream” and mean “love” a little differently each time.  When Christ sums up the 10 commandments and reiterates the divine commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, he is not speaking of the kind of love in which “we draw to ourselves what is outside of us when by that very love we love things other than ourselves inasmuch as they are useful or delightful to us.”[iv]  Rather, we are being told to love with all our hearts, souls, strength, minds, in a divine way in which “we draw ourselves to what is outside.  For, to those whom we love in that love we are related to as ourselves, communicating ourselves to them in some way.”[v]  So, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is not with the kind of self-love in which I find myself exclusively delightful and seek to please myself – that would be a disordered kind of self-love.  Rather, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is with the kind of love – true love – that is of my very being, that is who I am, being created by Love.  Christ Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”[vi] To truly love ourselves, we must remember that God first loved us.  Anytime we want to know who we are created to be, we should look to Jesus Christ, who is fully divine and fully human.  And when we look to Christ, we see true love – for he gives of himself completely – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – giving of himself to us.  That’s how we are to love.

When I was younger, I heard of Christian love as sacrificial love.  These days, oddly and sadly, “sacrificial” has taken on some negative connotations, as though we’ve lost the spirit of generosity.  I believe that’s because we’ve lost the sense of who we are – not our own, but God’s own.  This means that we also have taken for granted the gift of life.  And by doing this, we also take for granted the self-gift that is true love.  We love because God first loved us.  To freely and gratefully accept this gift is our first act of love – and we truly accept this gift by loving the Giver.  Not “delighting in” the pleasure of being alive, per se, but by realizing who we are: gifts of divine love.  We realize this by being gifts – by giving.  This true self-awareness is the true and good and right kind of self-love.  It is how we are able to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It is how we are able to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds.  The giving of ourselves as a gift to the other is also the very “acceptance of the other as a gift.  These two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whole process of the “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving.”[vii]

And we don’t give in order to be thanked.  We don’t give in order to get some thing in return, some pleasure or other kind of self-centered prize.  (Although God is good and He has made us so that we may be able to experience true and deep joy when giving and receiving true love.)  And we don’t give because the rules say so!  We don’t give as a kind of blind obedience in order to satisfy the letter of the law.  For we cannot be “blind” if we are loving with our whole heart, with our whole souls, with all of our strength, and with all of our minds.  We are, rather, loving with the entirety of ourselves – because we are giving ourselves entirely.  And the reason that we freely give is because we are free gifts.  The 10 commandments are examples of how we are to love.  It is only if we have no real love, if we merely use others instead of seeing ourselves and others as pure gifts, that we would seek to kill, or lie, or steal, or cheat, or covet, or betray.  The 10 commandments serve as guideposts to help us discern whether or not we are being who we were created to be.

It’s all about true love.


[i] Genesis 1:27

[ii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Love and Responsibility.  Translated by H. T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981, p. 41

[iii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 14:1

[iv] Aquinas, Thomas.  Lectures on John, Chapter 15, Lecture 4, Marietta #2036 from Waldstein, p. 129.

[v] ibid.

[vi] John 15:12

[vii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 17:4

Written Not with Ink

2 Corinthians 3:3

Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

The word of God is not merely to be written down, memorized and recited.  The word of God is to be lived.  Those who have never read or heard a single word of the Bible may know God’s word better than those who can deliver chapter and verse.  For the word of God is not a concept.  The word of God is not some thing.  The word of God is someone.  The Word of God is a Divine Person, is with God and is God, existing before time and space.  All of Creation came through the Word, and nothing exists without the Word.  Into particular time and space, through the Mystery of the Incarnation, the Word became flesh, assuming human nature and dwelling among us.  The Divine Person Who is the creating Word of God became a creature, became one of us.  This is Christ, the Lord.  And Christ, through the Paschal Mystery, gives the Holy Spirit to every human creature – freely gives the Spirit of the living God to all of us.

(But, do we receive?)  We are called to receive the Spirit, not merely with our ears or our eyes in spoken or in written words, but with our hearts.  Not so that we may merely “like” God’s Word, but so that we may truly love God’s Word and embrace the Divine Word in the deepest core of our beings, into the quiet sanctuary within ourselves, the sacred dwelling place that is the true heart of our lives.  Open to the Spirit of God, we are able to deeply understand truth and be transformed by truth: the truth of eternity, the truth of Creation, the truth of ourselves created, through the Word, in the image of God to know, love, and serve God in the fullness of truth.  We deeply understand, we know, not by grasping a concept, but by being in communion with God’s Word dwelling in our hearts.  Dwelling – not written, but living and breathing in us and through us.

God’s Word is given to every human being through the Holy Spirit – but not all of us willingly open ourselves to receive… for we can close ourselves in on ourselves through the self-centeredness of sin and, being hardhearted, fail to live truth, fail to live in the fullness of communion with God.  God’s Word Incarnate gives Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity, for every human being to save every human being from this failure.  In assuming our human nature, the Word Incarnate, Christ, the Lord, takes the lethal poison of our sins into His own flesh nailed onto the Cross.  God tastes death… pouring forth Divine Grace and sanctification in self-giving love.  And when the Incarnate Word rises from the dead, He raises all of us up with Him, our antidote of mercy, sharing His eternal life with us – when we willingly share our lives with Him and open our hearts to Him.  If we accept the Divine Word and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, then we become testimonies to God, proof of holiness, not written with ink or carved into stone, but living and breathing in, with, and through us.  From the sacred abode of our hearts, where we dwell together alone with God, to all of Creation and every one of our fellow human beings – we send forth the Word of God: Love.

And, so, I say that even if someone has never read or heard the words of the Bible – even if someone has never been properly introduced to Jesus Christ – that someone can still know the Divine Word, Who is Truth, Who is Love, Who is God in Whose image every human is created.  Open to the Spirit of the living God, every person, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Pagan, Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh, can be faithful to the creating Divine Word, living lives of self-giving love, striving for truth, reflecting God into the world.  And if those who have not been properly introduced to Christ encounter Him through someone who has been saved into fullness by receiving Him fully, then the growing intimacy with the Divine Word Incarnate that they will experience will become the deepest blessing, the most sacred understanding, the fullest salvation – the fulfillment of their lives.

May I , in the sacred dwelling place of my heart, marry with the Word and bear forth the fruit of Divine Love so that all the world may also deeply know and love the Divine Incarnate One.

I am an epistle…

Christina Chase

Witness

Exodus 20:16

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

My neighbor needs me.  Nope, I don’t live in a commune or some other kind of cooperative.  I live in a house on over an acre of land, which abuts four other properties, with a house across the road.  Though this sounds congested, the trees bordering the property make my home private, and the road is quiet and peaceful.  I can go days without even glimpsing sight of any of my neighbors.  The town picks up our garbage and plows our road and there isn’t even a sidewalk or common mailbox space to keep clean together, or shared fences to maintain.  And, yet, I profess that my neighbors need me.  Why?

My neighbors need me to be honest.  They need me to not accuse them of things that they haven’t done, like stealing my Wi-Fi or trashing my yard.  They need me to not call the police to their doors for some contrived reason or blame the litter in the road on them, even though I know they didn’t do it.  They need to be able to trust me because we live on the same spot of earth, sharing lawn and trees and air and road.  Keeping this in mind, I see that everyone is my neighbor, for we all live on the same earth, sharing flora and fauna, sun and air and water.  My fellow human beings need to be able to trust me, for our common Creator has entrusted me with my own unique space in one particular slot of time.  What I do with that space in that time has consequences on everyone around me, near and far, as a pebble dropped into the center of a pool causes ripples that stretch out to the shore.  Those nearest me feel the effects soonest and most strongly, but even the ever decreasing waves can be felt in further places and more distant times.

This is not merely a call to better ecological awareness and to actively reducing my carbon footprint on the planet.  No, this is about the fullness of the truth.  (For I don’t want anything less than fullness of life.)  And the full truth is that I affect people by simply passing by them in the mall or on a sidewalk in the city.  My presence beside someone in a restaurant or a church pew can have an influence on that person’s day – and, yes, even on that person’s life.  A miserable demeanor or attitude can be contagious and set people out with a bad feeling, though they might not even know why, and cause them to fall into meanness themselves.  Thankfully, a joyful demeanor or attitude can likewise be contagious and set sensitive people out with a positive outlook, spreading good feelings and actions.  This isn’t overstating anything.  We humans are sensitive creatures and we pick up signs and stimulations from the others around us as naturally as we absorb nutrients and toxins from food.

My neighbor needs me to testify to the truth.

Perhaps, I feel this reality more acutely because I am so very noticeable among others in a crowd.  I am never the person who blends into the background causing no reaction whatsoever.  Not only am I in a wheelchair, which is different than most people, but I am also crumpled in that chair by severe scoliosis that causes my head to rest sideways on my left shoulder/hunchback.  Not a pretty picture, I know.  I may be the most deformed person that some people will ever see in person.  And if I were a negative type of person, wholly self-centered, living a “woe is me” existence, then the people whose eyes inevitably fall upon me would have a sense of miserable sadness and that melancholy would stick with them for the next few minutes, or even hours or days, of their lives, affecting their thoughts, words, and even actions.  Happily, I am naturally a positive type of person (though sometimes self-centered) and I live a grateful and joyful life, loved and loving.  I know for a fact that strangers who just look at me can feel uplifted somehow, having more optimism and appreciation for the goodness and beauty of life than they had a moment before.  To share one story:

One day, after Mass, a man, who was just visiting our parish and saw me for the first time as I sat across from him, came over and told me that my smile was exactly what he needed that day.  He said that he was going through a rough time and feeling low, but seeing me all crumpled and crippled, obviously intelligent enough to know how bad a shape I was in – and, yet, genuinely smiling, genuinely taking in everything around me with appreciation and gladness – this, he told me, was like a wake-up call for him.  My presence snapped him out of a funk and reminded him that life is inherently good and beautiful and that he had many blessings for which to be grateful.

It seems to me that the effect we have on others is stronger if we are people of faith because our presence is deeply rooted in Presence, and our joy is more than just a passing smile.  Perhaps, also, the effect is felt most strongly on people who are struggling with faith.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  As a believer, I believe fully and deeply in the goodness of God and God’s Creation – I have utter faith in the goodness of being itself.  Through Christ, I have an eternal perspective and know that all works out for the good through God – my hope is in divine and endless mercy and, so, is never squashed.  And, knowing that I am infinitely and particularly loved, I am free to give love, and loving kindness, to everyone around me.  I know the truth and the truth has set me free.  If what I were to portray and give out to the people around me was doom, gloom and meanness, then I would, in effect, be bearing false witness to life itself.  Sure, I may honestly be feeling like crap one day – but, knowing that it is just one day and having deep faith, hope, and love in and for life and the joy of goodness, for me to lead other people into misery and melancholy would be a deceitful act on my part.  My neighbor needs me to testify to the beauty and goodness and joy of life itself – crippled and crumpled as its forms may be – and to the power of love.  For that is the fullness of truth.

Christina Chase