(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm, Sunday 7am & 9am)
2/3 February 2013
(Readings: Isaiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Ps 70:1-6, 15, 17; 1 Cor 12:31 – 13:13; Lk 4:21-30)
From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry we have a vivid example that speaking the truth will not always be popular. At the beginning of today’s Gospel Jesus’ words win him approval from his listeners, who were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. A few moments later, words from those same lips had everyone in the synagogue enraged, and they literally tried to take Jesus off and kill him. Jesus wasn’t a crowd pleaser. He could do no other than speak the truth.
Most of us, I’m sure, find it relatively easy to talk to others when we have pleasant things to say; and when others are glad to hear what we’ve got to say. On the other had, we usually shy away from delivering words of confrontation, criticism or challenge. Nor do we ourselves like being on the receiving end of such remarks. Yet at the same time, we realize that growth (in ourselves) can result from hearing what we really don’t want to hear.
In the synagogue, Jesus spoke encouraging words. But just as boldly, he spoke words that were challenging and confronting to his listeners. In all cases, though, Jesus’ concern was always to speak words of salvation: words that would call people to new life, to life under the reign of God.
As Jesus’ living body we continue the task of speaking the truth in the midst of the world: the truth of God’s love, of his commandments; the truth of how we are to live; the truth of the call to repent from sin, and grow in virtue. How are we to do this?
Our second reading gives the answer. We can be as knowledgeable, gifted and talented as is possible, but if love is not our motivation, then our gifts count for nothing. Love is the “greatest gift” that gives value to all the others. “For now, while we are in this world, love is the sign of Christians. It sums up their entire life: what they believe and what they do” (Benedict XVI, Angelus, 31 January 2010). Love is “the ‘style’ of God and of believers” (ibid.).
What does this love look like? It’s important to say what it isn’t. Christian love is not a passive tolerance of everything. Christian love is not relativism: where “everything’s as good as everything else,” “no opinion is better than another’s.” Love “delights in the truth” – it doesn’t change the truth, or deny the truth.
However that delighting in the truth is done in a particular way: a way that is meant to be self-less. The Christian has to die to self in order to love the other, and that’s why Saint Paul says that love “is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.” Love always seeks the good of the other, and ultimately it seeks their eternal salvation.
The Saints show us how to exercise Christian love. The “life of each one of them is a hymn to [love]” (Benedict XVI, Angelus, 31 January 2010). During the week we celebrated the feast of Saint John Bosco, who was an educator of the young. In his writings we see a wonderful example of how he taught his brother Salesians (the order he founded) to love the young people in their care.
He calls on the example of Jesus and the way he treated the apostles. He writes, “[Jesus] put up with their ignorance and dullness and their lack of faith. His attitude towards sinners was full of kindness and loving friendship. This astonished some and scandalized others, but to others it gave enough hope to ask forgiveness from God.” He taught the Salesians: “Because the boys are our sons, we must put aside all anger when we correct their faults, or at least restrain it so much that it is almost completely suppressed. There must be no angry outbursts, no look of contempt, no hurtful words. Instead, like true fathers, really intent on their correction and improvement, show them compassion at the present moment and hold out hope for the future.”
He adds, importantly, that some things aren’t solved by human means. He writes, “In serious matters it is better to ask God’s help in humble prayer, than to make a long speech that wounds those who hear it and does no good at all to the guilty ones.” (Office of Readings for 31 January).
Having heard the word of God today, let’s reflect on our own “style” as Christian people. Are we recognized by our love? Are others aware that we are prepared to die to self so that they may have life? Do we have the good of others at heart in all our daily interactions?