THE BEGINNING OF FAITH IS LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [SONG 3:1-4; OR 2 COR 5:14-17; PS 63: 2.3-4.5-6.8-9; JN 20: 1-2. 11-18]
Pope Emeritus Benedict in his first encyclical gave us the foundation of Christian Faith, which is faith in God’s love in Christ. He wrote, “‘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. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: ‘We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us’. We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. 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. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life’ (3:16).” (Deus Est Caritas, 1)
Indeed, falling in love with Jesus is the beginning of faith. Whether a Christian is passionate about his or her faith is dependent on his or her passion for the Lord. If one lacks passion for Christ and the gospel, it is obvious that he or she has not yet come to believe in God’s love for him or her. They may apparently be doing Church work but not because they are motivated by God’s love but because that is the way to feel secure, respected and loved. Some are motivated by fear of punishment and guilt. Others do God’s work out of routine and to make themselves useful. This is particularly true of Church leaders, workers, the clergy and religious who have been serving so long in the Church that they have become jaded and lost their passion and enthusiasm.
Yet, in today’s feast of Mary Magdalene, we see someone who is so deeply in love with the Lord. In the gospel, we read that she was the first woman to go to the tomb to look for the body of Jesus. She was in tears when she found that His body was missing. We can imagine her loss, caused not just by the death of her master, but even the body was missing! Hence, she was inconsolable, sitting in the garden weeping. She could not forget how the Lord delivered her from the seven demons. She was eternally grateful for the great love the Lord had for her and how He gave her back her dignity.
As a consequence, she was made an apostle to the apostles. Jesus entrusted to her the mission of telling the apostles that He had risen. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus could entrust this responsibility to her only because He knew her love for Him was unshakeable. Only a person who loves can testify with conviction, passion, and fearlessly. Jesus knew that many would use their reason and would be skeptical of His resurrection. They lacked the faith of Mary Magdalene because they lacked love for the Lord. Only a person who loved the Lord and have a deep faith in Him can inspire others to faith.
This was so in the life of St Paul in the second reading. He wrote, “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.” St Paul was converted because he experienced the merciful love of Christ for him on his way to Damascus. In spite of the fact that in ignorance, he was persecuting the Christians, the Lord revealed Himself to Paul, forgave him his sins, and made him an apostle to the Gentiles. (cf 1 Tim 1:12-17)
Indeed, when we look at the growth of the Church and the lives of the saints and martyrs, they were all motivated by their love for Christ. In the life of St Theresa of the Child Jesus, she showed great faith in her suffering simply because she suffered in love. She realized that her vocation was to love and love was the heart of the Church, the gospel. “My Lord, I love you” sums up her whole vocation and the key to her spirituality and her understanding of the gospel. She came to realize through reading the gospel that it basically revealed to us the mercy of God, His love for us and the invitation to love Him in faith. When we read the gospel with the eyes of love, we derive more than a theologian who just studies the scripture using academic and scientific tools. For this reason, she was named a doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II because she was an expert in the science of love.
This is so true as well in the lives of our faithful. The ordinary faithful might not be well grounded in theology and scriptures, nor are they able to explain all the complexity of the Church’s doctrines, but they have a deep love for the Lord. The people who are most likely to die for Jesus and for the faith are the ordinary faithful who have encountered God’s love and love Him deeply. Theologians, clergymen and religious may have more academic knowledge about the scripture and the doctrines of the Church, but they do not necessarily have more faith than the ordinary lay person. This is because they use their head, not their heart, whereas the lay person who is moved by the Lord experiences Him through the sacraments, sacramentals and popular devotions such as Divine Mercy, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Marian devotion, etc, which appeal to the sentiments of the heart, are more likely to surrender their life to the Lord in love and faith.
The truth remains that Christianity is not an ideology. It is a commitment to a person, not even to the Gospel as a book. No one dies for an ideology. There are so many forms of thinking. We can change ideology once we are convinced. But commitment to a person requires not just the head but the heart. Thus, when the Church speaks of the gospel, it is always in singular, not in plural, unless it is referring to the four books of the gospel. To speak of the gospel is to speak of Christ because He is the Gospel, the Good News in person. Jesus is the Word of God. If we read the gospel or the bible, it is in order that we might come to know the person, the heart and mind of Jesus, not simply for more information or knowledge of the bible. Only when we are committed to Jesus as a person, would we be willing to die for Him because we love Him. For the sake of love, as St Paul said, we would be willing to give up our life for our beloved.
Today, as we celebrate the feast of Mary Magdalene, we too must learn from her, to cultivate a heart relationship with the Lord. Are we willing to open our heart to Him and not just think about Him? St Teresa of Avila taught us that in prayer, we should feel more and think less. Thinking alone cannot lead us to experience His personal love for us. Feelings draw two persons together because they beat with one heart. For the sake of love, we will die for our beloved. That is why love consumes our entire being as it did for Mary Magdalene. When a man and a woman fall in love with each other, they want to possess the other person and be possessed entirely. That is why when a woman falls in love with a man, she becomes protective, possessive, jealous and resentful of those who attempt to take her beloved away from her. William Congreve wrote, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
Yet, we must not reduce faith simply to an emotional relationship. This can be disastrous not just to the person but in our relationship with others. We can become fanatical, like a man or woman who is infatuated. We lose our sense of proportion and sobriety in life. This was what happened to Mary Magdalene. So, the Lord had to raise her above an emotional attachment to His earthly body to a mystical encounter with Him. “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father.” St Paul said a similar thing, “Anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone.”
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.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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