Love: Friend, God and Enemies?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Love (charity) is at the center of our Catholic, Christian life.  There is no way of finding something else that would prove superior to love.  It is the main operating system of our way of life, to the extent that it is oriented toward God, and His presence to us as Jesus Christ.   Indeed, God is love.

But what do we make of this love, when we have such admonitions, straight out of the Scriptures, as: “…love your enemies…” (Mt. 5.44), “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 19.19), “…you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt. 22.37), “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15.13)

This is a tall, sweeping, order, so much so that we ask: is it possible, even with the help and grace of God, to measure up to this expansive set of directives?  The love of enemies that Jesus proposes: is it equivalent in strength to love of my friends and family?  This love of neighbor as myself: is this always an ideal, given that some of us may not love ourselves as we ought—or so we are told?  And this love of God with so much vehemence and energy: is it possible to love a God Whom I have never even seen or heard, as compared with those around me whom I do see and hear?  Or do I have among my friends anyone for whom I would be willing to lay down my life?  And where is family among the kinds of people whom I should love: is it not a special category deserving special recognition and treatment among these groups, or is it sufficient to presume they are included in among the rest?

Or maybe there is a variety of loves, so that love is not one and the same thing, for everyone alike, regardless of the kinds of people involved, but rather changes from group to group, so that love for an enemy, for example, is a different kind of love from love for a neighbor.  Would there be different kinds of love, for different kinds of people, so that one kind is suitable for the Lord, for example, but not for an enemy, or for a spouse, but not for a neighbor?

And then there is the difficult problem of having to make choices among my loves: as in an emergency, when I have to make a choice between friend or enemy, or between an old person or a child.  What do I do in these cases?  Perhaps we should listen to the word of the Lord at that moment: “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” (Lk 12.12)

It’s a Wonderful Life

clarence
by Jim Paulin (Detroit Community)

Stop the pain! Overwhelming feelings of despair may cause anyone to think that things would be better if they had never been born. Looking for relief from emotional or physical problems, we look for the right drug or some sort of avenue of escape. Rich or poor, all of us must endure distress in life. Of what heavenly good is pain?

The classic movie “It’s a wonderful life” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed paints a dramatic picture of a desperate situation on a great guy named George Bailey. He looses sight of his overall importance in life when faced with financial ruin and accusations of fraud. He tries to self-medicate the pain with alcohol and drives himself to a drawbridge where he ponders suicide on a snowy Christmas Eve. A peculiar angel named Clarence intervenes at the last moment by appealing to the goodness within the man that underlies all else. Clarence throws himself into the torrent and yells for help to the man. Instantly, saving the life of another is the automatic response and the thoughts of his plight disappear. The angel allows George to see how things would be if he had never lived at all. The value of his life is seen clearly in the positive events that shaped his past and present. George Bailey sees the light and is, in a sense, born again.

Pain is an inevitable part of life and serves a possible purpose. As gold is refined by fire, we tend to value the best things in life when enduring pain. Simple pleasures taken for granted are prized when they are lost. A breath easily taken, the sight of a loved one or walking with a spring in one’s step may be too much for some to expect. The need for a miracle brought crowds to Jesus as he taught and healed. The suffering sought forgiveness of sins, demons driven out, lepers cured and on and on. Many were drawn to him seeking relief from pain. God allows pain to serve as a call and as a means to convey the greatest love story of all.

The passion of Jesus Christ is the infinite mystery of the revelation of God. Oh! How inspired and elevated our minds become when experiencing an awesome natural beauty such as a magnificent flower or a scene of sun and clouds, mountains or water. It is easy to believe in the God that sends new life, most impressively when it is our own child. God is capable of doing anything to perfection. Why would mental and physical pain and spiritual anguish be the method chosen to redeem all of mankind and reunite a sinful people to a holy God?

An act of unconditional love is a perfect offering as there are no preconditions as well as no payment. It simply must be received. The relevance of the act is balanced against the ability of the giver. All powerful, all loving, and beyond imagination, God acted by giving the highest of sacrifices as love that knows no bounds submitted to pain of every sort as a holy, living sacrifice. God’s open invitation to enjoy His friendship and forgiveness is the good news for all to be welcomed into a wonderful life.

I am Spiritual but not Religious

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

“I am spiritual but not religious.” This is the mantra voiced by a number of people, Catholics included. It means that such people savor the inner qualities of their faith in Jesus Christ but not the outer framework in which those qualities are contained.

They respond warmly to the Christmas scene of Mary and Joseph kneeling close to Jesus as a newborn infant. They may resonate with the teaching of Jesus on the beatitudes, describing the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. They may treasure His words on loving one another as he has loved us.

But when it comes to graphically depicting these sentiments in ritual, music, art, architecture, vestments, ceremonies, processions, incense—this is a different story. They find such a discrepancy between thoughts and feelings, and the attempt at giving tangible expression to them fails miserably in the opinion of some people. The sermons are boring, the collection is scandalous, the singing is outdated, the prayers formulaic and out of touch with people’s needs and desires.

In other words, a beautiful soul but an ugly body. This seems to be a version of what happened centuries ago on Mt. Calvary: a grotesque corpse hanging on a cross, and then the emergence of a glorious body three days later from a nearby tomb. It was very difficult for the apostles and the women to put these two forms of the body together. Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize the risen body of Jesus—neither would Thomas even admit this was possible.

So what results from this but the beautiful body of the risen Jesus—a body still sharing the ugly wounds? This is putting spirituality and religion together. The Jesus who ascended into heaven did so in a wounded body, and so will our resurrection be—a spiritual event in a wounded humanity.

The resurrection is not just a spiritual event. It is a religious occurrence where any ugliness involved is beautified in the spirit accompanying it.

Who is Your Hero?

right stuff-2

by James Paulin

People are sometimes described in terms that are material related. Has the term plastic ever been used in reference to someone in your acquaintance? Of course, this would be the opposite of regarding someone’s personality as golden. A person who has a will of steel would be the converse of one who has the backbone of a wet noodle. Our heroes and heroines always have some if not many ingredients that make them outstanding and worthy of admiration. This makeup inspires others to strive to achieve accomplishments they once believed to be beyond their reach, all because they recognized that they too have a capacity for “the right stuff”.

The empirical of perfection of qualities in one being has to be God. Just what is God made of? It seems like an impossible question for any mortal to answer with any authority; however there are some things both rational and revealed. Powerful, spiritual, universal and beyond imagination are some traits that few would question. From the Christian perspective, including the Jewish tradition, there is a wealth of revelation. From “In the beginning, God created” to the Ten Commandments to all laws given to the chosen people to the teachings of Jesus, God is transformation by the messages of conversion of heart.

Love begets more love. It is in this simple statement there is understanding that transcends the ages and many attempts of various cultures to define god or various gods and their purpose. In the person of Jesus, Christians believe we have an enigma sent to accomplish the most graphic demonstration of unfathomable consequence on a person by person basis. God sent an only beloved son, the Word made flesh, not just to talk, not just to lead but to act with self sacrifice and harnessed astounding power, by succumbing to gruesome torture and agonizing death by crucifixion to redeem and sanctify each one of us personally. We are not condemned but rather forgiven by the right stuff beyond measure.

How to Move Ideation to Creation

It’s so easy to look at the problems of the world around us and become cynical, old (nothing to do with age) people who bemoan life and see no hope. Mohamed Ali (not the boxer), a young person himself, presents another scenario on how to change the paralysis of “Waithood” into beautiful, flowering, hopeful cities.  He is not a Passionist, but he truly is a Passionist Partner, I believe.

What do you think?

Varieties of Violence

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Imposing one’s own position on others, against their will, seems incompatible with a Christian mode of life. It resembles a kind of violence, instigating which is difficult to reconcile with one’s discipleship of Christ. However, there do seem to be mitigating, even exonerating, situations. A parent, for example, must periodically impose his or her wish on a child, even when the young one proves obstinate and unwilling to do what the father or mother want. On such occasions, the question becomes one of degree or intensity: can a parent force a child to do what he or she refuses to do, and, if so, in what does that force consist? And we might be led to ask why is the child so obstinate? Might it be that the parent is in need of improved parenting skills?

Or, can the ruler of a nation, perhaps a committed Moslem, or Christian, help formulate rules and laws that violate the wishes or well-being of those not sharing the religious faith of these authorities? Can the Moslem law of sharia impose severe penalties on certain crimes, such as stealing a bar of soap, that entail the severance of a person’s hand or arm, exceeding humane standards, whether the perpetrator is Moslem or not? Or, can a Catholic employer refuse to pay taxes for insurance covering contraceptives for his/her employees, even should they be Protestants who have no moral problems about contraceptive usage, forcing the non-Catholic employee either to purchase his/her own insurance program that provides for this, or else to seek employment elsewhere? May the victims in these cases regard these intrusions into their belief systems as acts of violence? And, if so, what is their recourse?

Or Is it expected of Christians to submit to the violence imposed by others, against their will? Is the Christian to accept it at the price of undergoing forced emigration and loss of possessions, or imprisonment, or bodily injury? Is a Christian to accept these consequences meekly rather than opposing them? We know that Christians have a glorious history of martyrdom, resisting intrusions against their religious practices. Is martyrdom the expected mode of Christian resistance? Sometimes this suffering arises from government imposed intrusions, at other times to ethnic-inspired attacks. In nearly all instances, the Christian response has been non-violent and peaceful, but at the price of forced migrations, loss of property, legal discriminations, physical injury and even death. Is self-defense, violent if need be, justifiable on the part of the Christian community? Can a Christian ever employ violence to protect the beliefs and practices of one’s faith?