Monday, May 17, 2010

Excerpt: Overcoming the World


Life-Giving Love Conquers Death by Death. "He breathed on them, and said to them 'Receive the Holy Spirit'". (Jn 20:22) God is the God of paradoxes. If life is to triumph over death, and if Jesus is supposed to free us from the bonds of sin and death, then how is it that Jesus Christ dies? Yet it is precisely because He dies that He lives; it is because He dies that He can raise us to life. For in freely accepting death, (Jn 10:18) Christ makes the greatest act of Love, for "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". (Jn 15:13) And the ultimate act of Love enables Man to receive the greatest "good" - the Divine Spirit of God. Indeed, "by embracing in his human heart the Father's love for men ... in suffering and death [Christ's] humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love", (Catechism, 609) a Love that "confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction". (Catechism, 616) Perfect Love seeks to unite, and "the existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all". (Catechism, 616) God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the rightouesness of God", (2Cr 5:21) reconciling us "by the death of his Son". (Rm 5:10) It was because He "loved us and gave Himself up for us", (Gl 2:20) dying in Love, that Christ destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all". (Hb 2:14) Jesus dies "on our behalf", (Hb 9:24) Jesus became the Suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin" when "he bore the sins of many" and "their iniquities", in order to "make many to be accounted righteous". (Is 53) Christ gave up His body and His blood (Mt 26:28ff; Lk 22:19ff) so that upon Him could come the punishment for all the sin of the world, culminating in the most cruelest of deaths. But God is the God of paradoxes, and it is through the death of Christ that God brings "new life" - an overflowing of life that exceeds the life that flourished before death. (Lk 6:37) So God "raised Him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it", (Ac 2:24) for Love is more powerful than death and will always triumph over it. And because Christ, while sharing our human nature, died and rose from the dead, "he enables us as the members of his Body to share in what he lived for us", (Catechism, 521) for through this new unity with Christ, we have been "adopted" as his own sons (Catechism, 441) and have become "children of God" (1Jn 3:1) and Christ's brothers, (Catechism, 654) making it possible for "us to live in him all that he himself lived, which he lives in us". (Catechism, 521) Suffering, still part of the human condition, can now be offered redemptively (Catechism, 457) for the expiation of sins and the salvation of men (Cl 1:24) when we willingly "deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow after Him". (Mk 8:34) Our death, too, is no longer the end, but the beginning of new and eternal life. For by Christ's death, He has freed us from sin; and by His resurrection, He has opened for us the way to new life. (Catechism, 654) And that is the self-giving Love of God, that "God became Man so that Man might become God", (Catechism, 460) so that "if we have died with him, we shall also live with him". (2Tm 2:11)


Deus Caritas Est: “God is Love”. Pope Benedict XVI shocked the Church and the world when he came out with his first encyclical. Having spent 20 years as the Late-Great Pope John Paul II’s “enforcer”, being Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the “Office of the Holy Inquisition”, he had earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler”, due to his penchant for “putting the liberals” in their places for the crime of “spreading false doctrine”. And yet, his first encyclical was not a condemnation of the world’s “modern errors” or a stern warning against the “heretical cancer” rampant in the Church. Rather, it was all about love. Yes, the first encyclical of the Holy Father – which for every Pope always sets the tone for the entire papacy – is entitled Deus Caritas Est, or “God is Love”. The first half was devoted to laying out a proper definition of the word “love”, with special attention given to reconciling romantic and sexual love with the self-giving love that Christianity has always stressed. The second half was devoted to the Church’s charitable outreach, our obligations to it, the various charitable works of the Church and the Christian, and the greatest models of charity – including the Saints and especially the Virgin Mary.

Encyclical as Promoting Christianity to the World. There are basically two reasons why the Holy Father issued his first encyclical on love, and has continued to stress this theme in all his speeches and homilies. And these two reasons necessitates that he is addressing his message about love to two different audiences. First of all, Benedict sees a world that is searching, groping, starving for love. Most people seem to be "looking for love in all the wrong places". They look for it in money, they look for it in sex and pleasure, they look for it in popularity, success, and a whole host of other places and things. But it leaves them empty. What the Holy Father wishes to proclaim to all people is that since they are looking for love (and by their very nature human beings do seek love – as we have said), and since God is love, what people are really looking for is God. This is the message the Holy Father wishes to proclaim to the world – and thus his first audience is to people without the Church, the people “in the world”. Though hardly anyone outside the Church read it, every media outlet mentioned it, and though most people knew nothing about its contents expect for the title, that title alone made an impact. The message that the Holy Father wanted to send to the world was loud and clear, even to those who had merely heard the title – “if you are looking for love, we in the Church have what you are looking for”.

Encyclical as Leading Christians Back to Essence of their Faith: Love. Secondly, the Holy Father is trying to not only promote to the world but also to recall Christians to Christianity as being a relationship of love as opposed to a "set of rules" or a "legalistic structure" that so many either perceive it to be or treat it as in their lives of faith. The Holy Father begins his encyclical with these words: “‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him’ (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny”. (DCE, 1) In other words, the “heart of the Christian faith” is not “faithfully attending Sunday Mass” or “saying your rosary everyday”, but rather, “Love” – the Love of God and the Love of neighbour. That is what it means to be a “Christian”, and for centuries, so many men and women of the Church just “didn’t get it”. It is easy for men and women of the Church to get caught up in a spirit of “Phariseeism”, where professed believers are very “devoted” to their “religion”, saying their prayers faithfully and “obeying the commandments and precepts” of the Church, but out of obligation, or because one derives a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment in “fidelity” to one’s “religious duties”, and not chiefly from the motive of Love, for their hearts are not really converted. (Mt 23) Some people who are quite diligent in “practicing their faith” – in attending daily Mass and praying their daily rosary – can also be very cold, mean, angry, and unwilling to help others. Exactly why this has happened (and still happens today) will be discussed in greater detail later. For now, it is enough to say that this “Phariseeism” has been part of the reason why the revolutions were able to successfully get so many to reject the Church. As we spoke about regarding the Quiet Revolution, there was a certain “hypocrisy” in a Church preaching about a “God who is Love” and apparently holding Him up as the model to follow, while many of Her ministers and members seemed to be far removed from this ideal, even doing the opposite at times of “what Jesus would do”. Not only has this led to a rejection of the Church as “hypocritical”, but is also an impediment to evangelization, as people continue to not only see this “hypocrisy”, but also perceive Christianity to be just a “set of rules” since that is all it apparently is to some of its “hypocrites”. The Holy Father wants to lead Christians to abandon this “false piety” or “false devotion”, and help re-form them in their faith so that their Christianity becomes a relationship of Love, in which all devotions and rules flow out of, and which are done solely for the motive of Love – as a motivator and a means of acquiring it in greater measure. The Holy Father speaks of this Phariseeism when at the beginning of his encyclical, when stating the reason for its subject matter, he writes: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. ... it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us. ... In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant. ... For this reason, I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others”. (DCE, 1) This is the message he wishes to address to people within the Church. For he knows that a return to the essence of our faith - the living of a deep and true Christian love – will be the necessary catalyst for evangelization in the modern world.

“Pruning the Tree”. The Holy Father, shortly after his election to the papacy, gave another indication as to the direction his papacy would take. He spoke of “pruning the tree” – something he had mentioned earlier, when he was still a Cardinal Prefect. According to this principle, the Church, though nominally very large, was unhealthy and decaying in many places, in a great number of its branches. This situation was caused by things such as false teaching and the effects of secularization, and was the cause of a stagnation in the growth of the Church. A popular saying in Germany that the Holy Father is wont to cite in regards to the Church today is roughly translated as: “pruned, the tree grows again”. According to the Holy Father’s vision, God Himself is in the process of “pruning the ecclesiastical tree” – something He has a long history of (Is 18:3-8; Lk 13:6-9; Rm 11:17-24) – so that it will grow again. That means the Church will be reduced in its numbers, but that “remnant” – the result of the pruning work of the Lord (Is 10:20-23; Rm 11:1-5) – will be much more faithful and holy. The Holy Father, for his part, is trying to “form” that remnant into a deeply loving community that will witness powerfully through its great charity. We must remember that “believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they ... fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion”. (CCC 2125) To the degree the Church consists of “dead weight” or “dead branches” is the degree the Church will scandalize the people and continue to spread disbelief rather than lead people to belief. On the other hand, to the degree the Church is healthy is the degree the Church will effectively witness and attract people to Herself.

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