ChristianityRichly

Creating Love

In Christianity on November 20, 2015 at 6:41 pm

The two posts prior to this one (Evangelical Catholicism and Fear and the Good News) talk about having a compelling story. So it would be fair for you to ask, what’s my story?

In the broadest sense, all of Christianity Richly is my story. But what would I say to to someone I just met, sitting beside me on an airplane? Or to a family member in just a short conversation? Or to you?

The short version of my story comes in three parts:

Does God Need Us?
The first part of my story is the reality of God’s creating love. What does that mean? It means that your existence and mine aren’t at all necessary. We aren’t needed by God. But to be wanted is much better than to be needed. 

The poem, “The Creation,” by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1928) asserts God is lonely, and therefore He made the world. The poem recounts God creating light, then the physical features of our world, and finally plants and animals—but, so says the poem, God was still lonely:

Then God sat down
On the side of a hill where He could think;
By a deep, wide river He sat down;
With His head in His hands,
God thought and thought,
Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man!”

Nonsense! In his book, The Order of Things, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. explains:

Within the inner life of the Godhead there is a diversity of Persons such that God is in fact lacking no perfection, such as friendship … [this] means that what is not God … is not the product of necessity … what is not God need not exist. God would be perfect and complete even if there were nothing besides God.¹

Does God Love Us?
Did you notice, “What is not God need not exist”? Just in case you or I miss Fr. Schall’s point, that’s us. God was not moved by some sort of loneliness to sit down (in Johnson’s poetic language) beside a river and think, “I’ll make me a man!” Instead:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in [God’s] own blessed life. [italics mine] For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man . . . In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (From Paragraph 1 of the Prologue to The Catechism of the Catholic Church)

God created freely. He created joyfully, for Genesis 1 repeatedly says that God viewed what He created as good. He even created us in His own image. And He blessed the first man and woman with everything needed for their welfare and creative activity (Genesis 1:27-31). This is evidence that God’s intent toward us is loving; that He desires our good; that He wants to draw close to us!

As Fr. Schall writes:

If God freely causes what is not Himself to exist, [then] we can, on the basis of His own merciful purpose in creation, anticipate or expect that His loyalty or fidelity will be freely given to what He causes to be.

How Do We Know?
As noted above, we get our first sense of God’s love from creation: we were created in His image, given everything needed for human welfare and creative activity. Evidence of God’s creating love starts here.

As magnificent as our world is, however, God went beyond creation. His communication is also evidence of His love. Before the first man and woman damaged their relationship with God, He apparently walked with them daily in friendship and complete communion (Genesis 3:8-9). Yet even after they chose their way over God’s, he continued to communicate through Moses and the prophets. And He continues to communicate today, as Fr. Allan White, O.P., explains:

Revelation is . . . a conversation of God with humanity, a conversation in which God takes the initiative. It is an impulse of His love . . . an expression of God’s continuous offer of friendship to humanity.²

God loves us and He tells us—as the simple children’s hymn says: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

God’s Highest Expression of Love
Like our first parents, each of us has failed individually and collectively—sinned—in what we have done, and in what we have failed to do. So God went beyond creation, and beyond communication. God’s ultimate expression of love for us is in His Son, Jesus Christ.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is the strongest possible evidence of continuing love from the One who created us, not because we were needed but because we were wanted. He entered our circumstances, becoming man.

By doing so, He went beyond the evidence of His love that might be deduced from creation. He went beyond His ongoing communication of friendship through revelation. Jesus Christ is the highest expression of God’s love for us, in absolutely concrete form. He is God walking with us, not distant from us.

We might mistake the meaning of creation. We could misunderstand the intent of revelation. We cannot miss the meaning of God’s caring intervention in Christ:

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through a Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a).

What is Our Response?
Knowing these things, the question becomes, “What is our response to God’s offer of friendship?” Listen to Pope Francis talking about God’s creating and redeeming love:

“It would do us good today to ask ourselves: Do I believe the Lord has saved me freely? Do I believe that I do not deserve my salvation and that, if I merit anything, it is [only] through Jesus Christ and what he has done for me?”

Pope Francis continues: “The gift of God’s son, his death and resurrection, is a mystery that is and always has been difficult for human beings to understand. One must obey the commandments and do what Jesus said to do, but this obedience is is [our] response to God’s salvation, not a condition for it.”³

God’s humbling Himself in Jesus Christ, to walk with us in our circumstances and actually die for us, is faithful love. That is costly love. That is God’s creating love.

What is our response? Need to know more before answering? Click this link, for part two of my story—which can be yours, too!

 

¹ The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., pp. 54-55.

² Allan White, O.P., “The Renewed Understanding of the Liturgy of the Word,” in Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century, Alcuin Reed, editor (London and New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), p. 179.

³ Cindy Wooden, The Catholic News Service, in The Catholic Miscellany, October 22, 2015.

 

Welcome to Christianity Richly

In Christianity on February 5, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Psalm 63:5 “My soul will be filled as if by rich food” (Jerusalem Bible).

Christianity Richly chronicles the ongoing conversion of a Catholic Christian drawn to the Faith by its truth, goodness, and beauty. That said, “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing,” wrote Saint John Paul II (The Mission of the Redeemer). May non-Catholics and even unbelievers always find that attitude here.

If you are not a Christian or are not sure, see my story. Your life and mine all have a stories to tell, don’t they? My reasons for Christian faith are creating love, caring intervention, and God’s constant presence with us in Christ.

If you are a Christian curious about the Catholic Church, see the About link at the top of this page, under the headline “Christianity Richly.”  About explains the reasons for the blog. See the links certainty, history, unity, authority, liturgy, community, and sacramentality.

Comments on posts are always welcomed, but if you are planning to add your thoughts, then please read On Posting Comments.

All original content on this blog is Copyright ©2009-2017 Christianity Richly.  All rights reserved.  Posts may be linked or quotations of limited length reproduced with attribution to Christianity Richly. Questions and requests for more extensive reproduction may be sent to the author at this address: christianityrichly [at] gmail [dot] com.

For Mom

In Christianity on September 26, 2017 at 2:07 am

“If you went into someone’s house to visit a friend, wouldn’t you say ‘Hi’ to his Mom?”

With these words, a priest who has been a wonderful friend and guide in my Christian life, introduced the topic of the Blessed Virgin Mary to his RCIA class.

Divisive Topic
Probably no topic prompts more debate between Catholic Christians and those who left the Church in the 16th century than the Virgin Mary. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, an evangelical who is now a Catholic priest, even wrote a book on this topic based on a debate with a Christian friend.

My growth in faith and ability to honor our Lord’s mother has come through seven realizations.

  1. Mary was the spouse of the Holy Spirit
    These words sound nonsensical, even sacreligious, until we realize that is exactly what the Bible declares in Luke 1:35. Trying to grasp this is difficult— especially if we have spent a lifetime thinking of Mary as simply a young Jewish girl given the honor of bearing the Savior. Choose, if you like, a different word than “spouse.” But look at the big picture. How else would you describe “being overshadowed,” leading to the birth of our Lord?
  2. Mary robed our Savior with her flesh
    The Blessed Virgin Mary robed our Savior with her flesh. He was both God and man. His manhood, and the blood He shed on the cross for those who come to Him, was the result of His incarnation. His incarnation was made possible, in the will of God, through the flesh of the Virgin Mary.
  3. Mary received God into herself
    Mary’s “yes” to God (Luke 1:31-38) is the precursor of the “yes” all of us must say, if we are to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. “Be it done to me according to your word.” Through baptism, we are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and made children of God. But we must continually receive God into ourselves (Romans 10:9-11 and elsewhere) and daily recommit ourselves to living for Him. We must receive God into ourselves. Mary is the best example of an answer to the evangelical question, “Do you know when you invited Christ into your heart?”
  4. Mary always pointed to her Son
    Most Christians know the biblical account of the wedding at Cana. When our Lord’s mother realized the newly-wed couple’s joyful occasion might be spoiled by the host having run out of wine, with faith she said to her Son, “They have no wine.” Then turning to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” If only each of us followed her admonition daily, how much better our Christian lives would be!
  5. Mary suffered in a way few, if any, of us will suffer
    Surely anyone would shrink from the thought of seeing a beloved child tortured and executed. How much more difficult must it have been for the Blessed Virgin Mary? She saw her Son perform the miracle at Cana, heal the sick, and proclaim Himself “the way, the truth, and the life.” Yet Colossians 1:24 talks about “filling up what is lacking” in the afflictions of Christ. No believer would say Christ’s sacrifice was deficient. But apparently our sufferings matter. In that case, who, if any among us, has suffered like the Virgin Mary?
  6. Mary is an example of purity
    In our sex-saturated 21st century, what could be more important than a shining example of purity? Pornography is instantly available 24/7. Women are viewed as sexual objects, not persons.¹ Human trafficking for sex is widespread. Hollywood makes increasingly sensual films and TV shows, while its executives and actors too often mimic the plots. Political figures have been humiliated, impeached, and even imprisoned, for sexual misconduct. Abortion has taken the lives of millions of unwanted, unborn children. Even the Church has endured the disgrace of its own sexual abuse scandal. Do we not need purity? Get close to Mom. Pray for purity. “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
  7. Mary is a picture of obedience
    Obedience is at the heart of the most pleasing offerings to God we can make. In Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen’s book, Into Your Hands, Father, he reminds us that our obedience—total abandonment to God—is to be patterned after Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.² God’s plan for our Savior’s birth begins with Mary’s obedience. He sends the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary with an astounding, incomprehensible message (Luke 1:26-34). “How can this be?” was her first reaction. But her obedience to God’s will follows immediately: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Describing Christ’s obedience, the New Testament book of Hebrews says, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7, Psalm 40:8). Joseph’s obedience, despite his initial concerns, was essential as Mary’s husband and the guardian of the infant Savior: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matthew 1:24).

We need pictures of obedience, Mary’s included, after which we can pattern our own lives. Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbée writes of holiness, but it could as easily be said of obedience: “Holiness [obedience] is a disposition of the soul, of the heart, and, above all, of the will toward God.”³ May we seek, and nurture, that disposition of the will that leads to loving obedience to God.

As God prompts our Christian growth and compassion for the souls of others, each of us must be ready to tell his or her own spiritual story. We must wrestle with our own convictions about matters of faith.

What does your spiritual story say? What does it say about our Lord’s mother?

You’ve just read the chapter about Mom in my story. What’s yours?

 

¹ See Love and Responsibility by Bishop Karol Wojtyła (later Pope, and now Saint John Paul II). His subsequent teachings on human love were later compiled in Theology of the Body. As consequential as his papacy was in other ways, these two books may be his most important works for the 21st century. He points out that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather to treat a man or woman as an object, not a person. Similarly, his teaching suggests pornography’s worst evil is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little—nothing of the interior person; simply an object being used for one’s pleasure.  For a shorter account of Saint John Paul II’s teachings on sexual intimacy, see Saint John Paul the Great, Chapter 8, titled “Human Love.”

² Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, Into Your Hands, Father (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001).

³ Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2001).