Summary: The answer to the violence is exactly to do as Jesus did.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter 2015
The early Church was not exactly the love-fest that some would like to imagine. First, the Jewish and Roman authorities were, at the least, suspicious of this new Jewish sect where people–especially the poor and marginalized–were being healed and converted to the Way of this dead carpenter. Second, the very success of the movement was getting in its way. The Apostles were worn out by the demands on their time, as the Holy Spirit kept opening new doors for them to preach the way of Christ. The Roman, Cornelius, was an admirer of the Hebrew religion, and saw in the Christians the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and his descendants. He wanted the Christ-experience, and Peter, who needed the prompting of a vision, responded to his plea. As he preached to the Cornelius clan, they began praising God and speaking in tongues and his carefully prepared sermon went all to pieces. “So baptize these folks, already!” The Holy Spirit is operating on the Father’s timetable, the Father’s generous plan for the salvation of the world, and we can either help by doing His will, or at least get out of the way.
What is that plan? It is the same plan God had in mind when He created us in His own image and likeness. We are to be like God. In fact, through Christ we are to participate in the divine nature by adoption. What does that mean? It means that, in order to fulfill the divine plan, we have to allow Christ to remake us in His own image. And that image, St. John reminds us today, is the image of love.
We should begin by reminding ourselves of the deficient notions of love. The ones that don’t measure up to God’s metric. I love chocolate. What that means is that I like and desire the taste of chocolate. It’s a good thing, tasty and even, in moderation, good for us. But it is over the top to call that affection by the name “love.” Because love is other-centered, and requires a personal object. I can’t love chocolate, or a TV show, or a video game, or even my favorite pet animal. Love is a personal relationship.
But love is not a mere romantic affection. It goes beyond “falling in love,” which we know is an emotional condition that can and often is reversed. This tends to happen when times get rough. That’s why the wedding vows between a man and woman vow fidelity and honor “in good times and bad, sickness and health, as long as both live.” True love survives when the being in love condition fades and dies. I would, however, like to recommend that married folk do what they can to regain that being in love situation whenever possible. Flowers, date night, renewing those vows is a good thing to do from time to time: fan the embers into flame.
So what is true love? St. John expressed it best. “ greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Pope Benedict often said and wrote that God loved humans even to His own detriment. God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to live and die and be raised from the dead so that we, dead to sin in baptism, might rise to new life. The Eucharist we share today is the foretaste of that everlasting life. Just how might that be relevant to our day-to-day existence?
Perhaps we can profit from a couple of recent counter-examples. In North Central Texas, someone organizes an “art event” that seems deliberately designed to provoke outrage among a religious community. It celebrates “free speech” that the religious community considers insulting to their most important ancestor in faith. The event goes on, deliberately ignored by the large number of adherents of that faith. But in every community of faith, there seem to be a kind of statistical “tail” of members who read their holy books in ways that inspire hatred and violence. We see that writ large in the actions of the so-called “Islamic state.” So a couple of these fringe folk arm themselves and try to shoot up the free speech event, and find themselves dead. The rest of us scratch our heads and wonder what good has come out of all that. The answer is: nothing. The body politic is further divided, and on both sides attitudes are hardened.
What’s the real problem here, and the Christ-centered solution? The actors on both sides of this tragedy woke up one day and decided to do something that they thought would make their lives, here or in eternity, better. One saw a religious group that appeared to be harming this nation and its people, and put together a celebration that was certain to offend that group. The other saw the event and perhaps thought a violent action would bring them lasting fame and esteem among their community, or get them a pleasant afterlife. Neither side asked the question, how can I this day bring the love of God into my community–and hang the benefit to myself? What good deed can I do that will both glorify God and bring the community of human beings closer to Him and to each other?