Archive | February, 2006

Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love)

22 Feb

In my previous article, I wrote about Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s column on how to get to heaven. Salvation, as far as I understood Fr. Rolheiser to say, is attained by loving ourselves and other people into heaven. This seems to be a somewhat abstract concept, especially when one considers to what extent we are to love other people.Much of my last post focused on forgiveness. While not the same as love, forgiveness is an important manifestation of love. St. Paul tells us, “(Love) does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8 ) Thus, one characteristic of love is a state of perpetual readiness to forgive. Most people, at one time or another, have thought of God as the only person who is capable of true forgiveness. However, Jesus, having “perceived in his spirit” that the scribes thought that only God could forgive sins and openly labeled Him as a blasphemer for forgiving the paralytic, corrected them. (cf. Mark 2:8 ) It is therefore our joyful duty to forgive as God forgives: perpetually and endlessly.

There is no sin too great for God to forgive. God, in his mercy, will always love His people. From the first act of disobedience against God, humankind was promised redemption. (cf. Genesis 3:15) Christ expects to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Similarly, in the Old Testament Lamech, father of Noah, says, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” In both cases, seventy-seven represents the completeness of God’s mercy imparted to us. The infinity of this mercy is further accentuated when we read in Scripture that Lamech died at 777, just before the flood. (Genesis 5:31) Humankind is created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27), so we ought to lovingly forgive as God does, aided by His grace. Christ assures us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Forgiveness is a gift from God. It’s important to gratefully receive and to use this gift that comes to us because of the love of God for us…

God is rarely explicitly defined in the Bible. However, we read a clear definition of God in 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” This quotation is also the first line in Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), the first encyclical letter by Pope Benedict XVI. I’ve begun reading this letter and I find it wonderful. I’ll post more reflections on Deus Caritas Est on this site as I read along.

Often God is defined in Scripture by his works. For example, when God created the heavens and the earth and all living beings, he saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). However, God is defined by one word in John’s letter: Love. Since God is love, this love should be a central theme in our lives. We have many definitions for love. Often, if something material is strongly desired, we say, “I love that. It’s a must-have.” We hear, “I love you” spoken between spouses, or between boyfriends and girlfriends, etc…But we are challenged to define love fully.

Pope Benedict mentions the ancient Greek definition of love: eros. The ancient Greeks believed in erotic love as a state of mind that “somehow (imposed) itself on human beings” and that gave a “certain foretaste of the Divine”. Benedict XVI points out that “the Greek Old testament uses…eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use (eros) at all.” In fact, in the New Testament, the Greek word used for love is usually “agape”, which appears even more frequently than “philia”- the “love of friendship”.

The Pope points out the Hebrew words used to describe love in the Song of Solomon: “dodim”, which is eventually replaced by “ahaba”. “Dodim” is the equivalent to “eros”, a searching, insecure love according to the encyclical. The ancient Greeks could be said to have insecurely searched for signs of the divine. This gives way to “ahaba”, which even sounds similar to “agape”. This is the ideal self-giving love. It is the love that God shows to us always. Although it wasn’t necessary that God created us, God willed our creation. We also have the gift to relate to God, and humans, uniquely among living beings on earth, also have free will. The act of creation and of sustenance of that creation, and of redemption of humankind from our misuse of God’s gifts entails supreme love. I find it phenomenal that humans are called to be stewards of this love.

Love at its fullest is a union of flesh and of spirit. Complete love is given of our whole selves, not of any particular part. Christ Incarnate was all God and all human. He gave us the great commandment, summarized from the Jewish Scripture: “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That’s the kind of love that is self-giving, that is most complete. Christ gave his life on the Cross so that we might be able to return to his side in heaven. Pray that we may in return come to love ourselves, our neighbour, and God in the same way, in a manner that is prepared to sacrifice selfish desires.



A Community Journeying Toward Heaven

19 Feb

“To really love someone is to say to that person, ‘You at least will not die!’”

-Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973)

Again, there’s been a long lull since my last post on this blog. I’m enrolled in one fairly advanced philosophy of religion course this term on top of a full-time job. This has kept me busy, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ve found that the priest teaching the course is very adept at explaining parts of the many readings that are otherwise difficult to understand.

On the topic of philosophy, I began with the above quotation from philosopher Gabriel Marcel. It appeared in the most recent edition of the weekly Western Catholic Reporter ( in a column written by Oblate Fr. Ron Rolheiser called “In Exile”. I’ve mentioned Fr. Rolheiser’s writing previously on this blog. I really admire his ability to put the Christian message into writing. He’s a true evangelical Christian (from Greek euangellismos meaning good news) and a model for anyone trying to make sense of the role of faith in everyday life.

In the February 13 paper, Fr. Rolheiser wrote about how we are to attain salvation. In Scripture we read, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)

I’ve often thought of this passage as an example of Christ giving his disciples the special responsibility of forgiveness of sins in His name. Catholics believe that during the Sacrament of Reconciliation the priest has this special role. He is “in persona Christi”- in the person of Christ. The Lord has given to the ordained men of the Church the same promise that he gave to Peter- that the absolution from sin they grant during Reconciliation is also valid in Heaven. In fact, absolution on earth is the same as absolution in heaven. Our sin is wiped away such that God doesn’t even recognize our wrongs anymore. (cf. Isaiah 43:25)

It takes this perfect absolution in order for people to get to heaven. But what does granting this absolution entail? True forgiveness requires humility. I was recently at a retreat where a priest said during Mass that hearing confessions is a greatly humbling experience for him. The administration of this Sacrament would bring this priest to a greater awareness of his own shortcomings and of his own need for forgiveness. To absolve others of their sins, the priest had to draw upon the strength given by God to him. Absolution was then an act of self-transcendent, self-sacrificial love toward another person. It was the kind of humiliating love that Christ poured out for us on the Cross.

We are called to exhibit the same self-sacrificial love. In Greek, this love is called agape. It may involve literally sacrificing one’s life for God’s sake, but usually agape is more subtle. For example, in this week’s Gospel we’re told of Christ’s healing of a paralyzed man. Friends of this paralytic worked extremely hard to get the man to the Lord, even resorting to removing the roof of the room where Jesus was. Jesus’ first words of healing were, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5) Some of the scribes nearby thought of Jesus as a blasphemer, since God alone is able to forgive sins. (cf. Mark 2:7)
We hear this same reaction today. People say that only God can forgive, to justify the point that confession has no purpose. Another often-stated belief is that it is sufficient to ask forgiveness from the person whom one wronged in order to be pardoned. Jesus, though, gave Peter and his Apostles the authority to forgive in a special way. What is bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven…In Reconciliation, the Priest is representative of both Christ and of the community of faith, so he has the power to grant absolution. This applies to all God’s people in a different sense. We must all forgive as God forgives. To do so as individuals is impossible. Forgiveness is a community activity. It is difficult to share in forgiveness. It requires God’s grace and community support.

In his latest column, Fr. Ron Rolheiser quoted Karl Rahner, an important contributor to Vatican II. Rahner established that the call to salvation in Christ includes all people, as all are created by God and loved by God. Karl Rahner also emphasized the communitarian nature of salvation. Many think of the final judgement as a time when each individual will be left at God’s mercy:

“Then there will remain only God…God’s heart, God’s mercy, and my individual freedom of a guilt and a grace that are unavoidably my own.”

This is true- each person is individually accountable before God. Yet salvation also depends on how we treat our neighbour:

The righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink. When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

-Matthew 25:37-40

Fr. Rolheiser wrote:

“The love we experience from each other on this earth will, no doubt, greatly sway our choice when we stand alone before God and have to choose between love and its opposite for all eternity.”

Followers of Christ have a duty to love other people into heaven. Love binds the community of the Lord together while allowing the kingdom of God to become more apparent on earth.

St. Paul wrote that the early Church had all things in common. (cf. Acts 4:32) Salvation and the ability to attain it are also held in common. Christ sacrificed himself for us all on the Cross. He expects the same agape love of His followers: love of self, love of neighbour, and love of God. In genuine love for one another, we will that all people will not die but have eternal life in Christ the Lord. We pray therefore for the strength to carry out God’s mission of self-sacrificial love and to help each other, as many as possible, to get to heaven:

Our Father
Who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.