COURAGE TO LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 JOHN 3:11-21; PS 100:1-5; JOHN 1:43-51 ]
The birth of Jesus is the gift of God to humanity. In assuming our humanity, the second person of the Trinity has chosen to be the love of God in person. Not only did He assume our humanity, but we read in Philippians, He “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7f)
His coming into the world was to invite us to share in His life so that He can teach us how to love and be empowered to love. In this way, we know “we have passed out of death and into life and of this we can be sure because we love our brothers.” St Paul in his letter to Titus says, “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Tit 2:14) This is what St John wrote as well, “This has taught us to love – that he gave up his life of us: and we, too, ought to give up our lives for our brothers.”
Indeed, the test of whether we are truly Christians is not orthodoxy alone but orthopraxis. It is when what we believe is expressed in our actions. St James puts it succinctly when he wrote, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jms 2:14) St John affirms the truth that Christian faith is active love for our neighbours. He wrote, “If a man who was rich enough in this world’s goods saw that one of his brothers was in need, but closed his heart to him, how could the love of God be living in him? My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active; only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth.” If we do not produce the fruits of love, then our faith in God is only lip service; God is not in our hearts. St John warns us, “If you refuse to love, you must remain dead; to hate your brother is to be a murderer, and murderers, as you know, do not have eternal life in them.”
This active love demands that we die for our brothers and sisters. To die to ourselves is the first step in love. It means putting others before self and their needs before ours. This requires that focus on others instead of on ourselves. It is not about us being loved but that we love others. This demands self-emptying, sacrifices and giving up our things, time, resources and even giving up our lives for others.
However, it is not enough to die for them, we are called to live for them. Death is the highest form of surrender but the daily dying to self requires as much sacrifice as dying physically for someone. A lifelong martyrdom is no lesser than that of an immediate martyrdom. Living for others means to serve them and to care for them. It means a slow but eventual death to oneself. Living for others means a daily giving, every moment and every minute of our life. It means tolerating the sins of others, accepting them, journeying with them in their pain, experiencing helplessness and sharing in their misery whilst doing what we can to relieve them of their suffering.
Sometimes, to die and live for them requires that we champion their cause and be hated for speaking up for them. This is what St John said, “You must not be surprised, brothers, when the world hates you.” When we seek to do the right thing, we will find much opposition. The world hates us because we are a reprimand to them, showing them not just by our words but by our actions what they ought to do and what they are missing in their lives. Evil people oppose us because by our words and life, we are reminding them how they should live and who they really are. But they are not ready to face the truth about themselves.
Very often, because of jealousy we are opposed from doing the right things. St John gave us the example of Cain and Abel. He warned us, “We are to love one another; not to be like Cain, who belong to the Evil One and cut his brother’s throat; cut his brother’s throat simply for this reason, that his own life was evil and his brother lived a good life.” Ironically, often in serving the poor, we have opposition not just from without but from within. Within our Catholic organizations, there is competition between the different organizations, all seeking to champion their organization and to be more successful than the others. By so doing, we are not loving and this is not charity. When organizations work in silos and do not collaborate with each other in the service of the poor or in the mission of the Church, we work against each other. This is pure ambition, not mission. This is rooted in egoism and pride. We should be supporting each other because we are all doing different things in the one mission of faith and love. The success of one organization is the success of all others. It is not about our organization but whether the poor are served and that those without faith come to know the love of God.
We too must not be too parochial-minded and denominational. Catholics must work with all men and women of goodwill, irrespective of religions and organizations. We cannot think that only we can do good works and others who are not of our faith cannot. This is narrowmindedness. St Paul underscores this when he wrote, “There are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (cf 1 Cor 12:4-7) All good works of love and service are inspired by the Holy Spirit. We should appreciate and welcome others who wish to work with us, or for us to work with them, as long as they are not motivated by ideology or a hidden agenda.
We are called to be like Nathanael who took the courage to respond to the Lord’s invitation to share in His life. He was skeptical initially as he was prejudiced against the inhabitants from the town of Nazareth. Nathanael was receptive and put his reservations aside to meet the Lord. He went to see for himself the truth about Jesus whom his friends claim to be the Messiah. Openness to His love is the critical and primary step towards loving. The first step towards conversion of heart is to stay with Jesus. “Come and see!” Knowing Him and seeing how He loves will inspire us to love accordingly. Unless we experience His love and mercy in our lives, we will not be able to know how to love and find the capacity to love. Hence, love for God must precede our love for our fellowmen. The capacity to love must come from Christ alone. There is a real danger that many of our charity workers and church volunteers want to serve but with their own strength and vision, not with the love of God in their hearts and the vision of our Lord.
Without love for Christ, we will fall into despair. There are some of us who feel guilty that we are not loving enough. We feel that we should do more and when the poor are not helped sufficiently, we become resentful, angry and bitter. Some of us who champion the poor become oppressors of the rich and judgmental of others who do not support our cause. We take things into our own hands. We are impatient and ambitious in service. This is where St John warns, “My dear people, if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence.” Indeed, if we have done our best, then we should leave everything to God. We must not make charity work into an ambition to find glory and self-satisfaction. We have a vision for humanity and a mission, but no ambition of any sort.
Our task is to make the love of God real in our lives so that others will come to know Him, the source of love. Once we have done what we could, we should surrender everything into His hands and be at peace with ourselves. If we are not at peace, we cannot give peace to others. Christ knows our hearts and limitations more than we know ourselves. He knew Philip and Andrew, so He called them to service. He knew Nathanael even before He met him. Jesus saw through the heart of Nathanael sitting under the fig tree in contemplation seeking for truth and love. The Lord too has called us to follow Him so that we can share His life of love and service so that we too can pass from death to life.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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