Loving God: April 2006 Archives

No Other Name

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from Death on a Friday Afternoon
Richard John Neuhaus

If, in the mercy and mystery of God, people can be saved who have never even heard of Christ, they are still saved only because of Christ, "for there is salvation in no one else."

Many Christians are embarrassed by this claim. They are intimidated by a culture that decrees that all truths are equal. Who are you to claim that you have the truth and others do not? That is indeed an intimidating question, unless we understand that we do not have the truth in the sense of its being a possession under our control. The Christian claim is that we have been encountered by the truth revealed by God in Jesus Christ and by his grace we have responded to that encounter by faith. We hope and pray and work for everyone to be so encountered and to so respond.

Christians are often responsible for the common misunderstanding of what is meant when we say, "there is salvation in no one else." We are heard to be saying, "My truth is better than your truth; my religion is better than your religion (Or nonreligion)." But Christ is not my truth or your truth, he is the truth. He is not one truth among many. He is the truth about everything that is true. He is the universal and cosmic truth. Everything that is true--in religion, philosophy, mathematics, or the art of baseball --is true by virtue of participation in the truth who is Christ. The problem is not that non-Christians do not know truth; the problem is that they do not know that the truth they know is the truth of Christ.

To speak of Jesus is to speak Truth, and the one Truth that really matters. We are called to evangelism not as some arcane religious competition to see who can create the largest number of converts; we are called to evangelism to spread the truth. And one important point about the truth is that it cannot be spread at gunpoint or knifepoint, or through threat of a bomb or of annihilation. Orwell's 1984 introduced the reader to the minitruth--a ministry dedicated only to the truth of the day, to the eradication of the contradictory past and the promotion of the present truth. The truth of the totalitarian is not truth at all, but will made into a species of "fact" without basis.

Jesus is not totalitarian, nor is Christianity. A Christian, by virtue of his or her baptism, is required to share the truth--in words, but usually more profitably in the way one leads one's life. But first each Christian must know the truth and understand it to the extent that a person is capable of doing. In knowing and understanding the truth, there is no temptation to grandstand or to get into the "my truth is better than your truth" competition. For truly, to know this Truth, the chief faculty required is not the intellect, but the heart. One cannot know Christ Jesus in the head alone. Unless Jesus is the center and core of life, He is nothing at all to the person who claims to follow Him. If Jesus is not constantly in the heart, He has no home at all, because Jesus is not an idea. Jesus is incarnate love, and such love only has a home in the faculties capable of love--we refer to these as the "heart." If Jesus has not been allowed to enter and transform the human heart into His temple and throne room, then He is a transitory visitor. He will continue to visit, of course, because He is all mercy and kindness. But the person for whom Jesus is not the center is not a person who can witness for Christianity in any believable way. The central truth of Christianity has not taken hold. There is no effective evangelism apart from love. And once love has taken hold, there is no effective eradication. This we can derive from the history of Christianity in Japan, which, although now a small percentage of the population, survived the most ruthless and barbaric oppressions to still emerge, sometimes in strange native shapes, but nevertheless, the light of Jesus is still there.

Where Jesus has been made at home, the person is ready to witness to the truth. And this person is more likely to witness in their service to the poor and dying, to those oppressed or overcome by temporary hardship, by those in need of a friend or a visit. The heart of Christianity is Christ in the heart. Anything less is the shell of Christianity--Christianity as nice idea once it is implemented, Christianity as construct or institution, Christianity as historic edifice. One must first hear of Jesus and learn about Him, but at some point, one must make a conscious and deliberate decision to allow Jesus to take His rightful place at the center of our being.

A person can choose to keep Him out. And in His mercy, He will honor that decision. And a person can choose to allow Him a sort of shadow existence, so long as He promises not to get in the way too often. But this latter never remains for long. Either the person gives way completely, or he or she pushes Jesus out the door. There is no middle way. God's love is all or nothing at all. Half a love never appeals to Him. Someone either accepts God and thus His love entirely, or rejects it entirely.

It often seems too many Catholics, perhaps too many Christians of all stripes, try to walk a balance line--it seems that they want to retain autonomy all-the-while wanting to have God as well. It is as though we wish to be in a driver training car, where we hand over the wheel, but at any point can take back control. Tepid faith, angry apologetics, internecine divisions over every point of rubric or doctrinal interpretation--these are the signs that God has not been given a welcome in too many hearts. For if God were at the center, all other things would fall into place, just as promised, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."

Catholics are not wont to speaking of "giving your lives to Jesus," or , "Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior." The language is alien and seems to embody some sort of alien concept of salvation and of religious life. But the truth is that we can attend all of the sacraments and spend hours in Church, but "if you have not love, you are as a clanging cymbal." There is much noise about the religious life, but no substance. The substance of religious life is complete surrender to Jesus Christ. Say this with whatever words are necessary to convince, but there is no deep faith without love. If one fails to look always at the face of the One who loves, one cannot maintain the fervor of faith--one is like the seed on shallow hardened ground which sprouts and then dies in the light and heat of the troubles of the day.

This week more than any other, a Christian has a chance to walk the path of love and see where it leads. It is frightening and it is heartening--because through the many trials, pains, and terrors of the way, the end result is always life, light, and love. When one looks upon the face of Love in trial, and sees how it is set like flint in doing what is right and not what is easy, one can be transformed. Holy Week is an invitation to transformation as the Church journeys once again through the last days of Jesus. His love is shown in the washing of the feet, in the trials before Pilate and Herod, and in his suffering to the last moment and His shedding to the last drop His blood. It is in that blood that there is forgiveness of sins and the spark that will give life to half-a-faith.

"Lord, I believe, help thou, Lord, my unbelief."

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"Leaving God for God"

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Quoting Blessed Titus Brandsma

from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

So the contemplative prayer of the Carmelite is also the strength of the active apostolate. The influence of the contemplative soul is not withheld from the apostolate. . . . So there is no opposition of the contemplative life to the active. The former is the great support of the latter. The mystical life is in the highest sense apostolic.

Titus believed in the seamlessness of the Christian life--prayer and work were parts of the whole. Whenever he was called from silence and solitude to help someone he would say that he was leaving God for God.

In the Lay Carmelite life, prayer should find its expression in service in the world. We go to prayer to meet God and in meeting God we are given our work to do. It is a fine balance--making time for prayer and for the service that springs from it, while actively serving our families and our Churches.

But the apostolate of the Lay Carmelite is not merely contemplative prayer, but showing how contemplative prayer "works-in" with an active life. We are blessed and nourished by our prayer and our example, when lived according to the Rule and in accordance with the disciplines of the whole Catholic Church, allows others to see the integration of the contemplative and active that may occur in every person. One of the primary messages of Carmel is that contemplative prayer is for everyone. The way of Carmel is a special call, a vocation; however, contemplative prayer is available to all outside of Carmel. A person who is part of no lay order is invited every bit as much as one who has joined. God wants intimacy with all of His children. Lay Carmelites demonstrate that it is possible to live an active life of service fueled by contemplation--Martha tempered by and informed by Mary. Perhaps it is not the highest or best calling--that is reserved for those whose entire vocation is contemplation. But we don't really want all the best gifts, but rather the gifts most suitable for us as God sees us.

Thus Blessed Titus shows us that leaving our prayer to help a friend, or leaving our prayer to feed the poor is leaving God for God. In this life of apostolic contemplation and service we can never really leave God.

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A Thirst for Souls


Reading this in evening prayer tonight inspired in me another line of thought:

But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. KJV

(Of course I didn't read it in that magnificent language.)

It is said that as one grows in sanctity and in the paths of God that the desire for the salvation of souls increases to the point where it is almost a mania. If one looks at any of the great Saints, we see motivating their works love for God and hence love for His people. This love demonstrates itself most practically in how one views other people as regards the eternal things. That is, one may not like one's neighbor, but one loves one's neighbor enough to sacrifice greatly to see to it that the neighbor arrives in heaven.

A sure sign of increasing intimacy with God is increading concern for the flock He shepherds and an increading desire to help those already on the path live more perfectly. This is just one of the signs of growth, but it is an important one, because it marks the beginning of the turning away from self and concern about oneself and marks the beginning of selflessness without which there can be no intimacy with God either now or in the world to come.

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from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

She [St. Teresa of Avila] is aware from her own conversion experience of the need to grow from a solid human basis. Prayer comes from a life of practical love, from detachment and humility. We cannot talk to God if we do not speak lovingly to our neighbour and we need realism, and a grounding of our lives.

What may surprised many, coming from a cloistered nun, is the revelation that prayer comes from a life of practical love. Sometimes we have an unrealistic vision of the cloistered life as one of ethereal and fantastical encounters with God while floating through a day of prayer. And while the life of the cloister is completely imbued with and dedicated to prayer, it has some hard realities. And in St. Teresa of Avila's time, those realities were probably a good deal harder.

What is practical love? What forms does it take? What do our lives look like grounded in practical love? It would depend upon one's state in life, one's means, one's personality and inclination. But regardless of these three it will always show in a willingness to share what God has given us with those less fortunate, less knowledgeable, or less aware of God and His Mercies. A life of practical love will always be a life of sacrifice. We will give ourselves up and surrender to the ones we love much of our energy, time, talent, and the goods of the world that have been bestowed upon us. As parents in means serving our children and bringing them up in a way that will foster their service to God, neighbor, and country. It often means long hours of what seems thankless work and doing things we don't particularly care for in correcting and instilling discipline in our children. Yes, there are great rewards and joys in this service, and that is the consolation of many acts of practical love. But practical love is based on these consolations, but on the purest love of God that makes a person constantly hunger and thirst for ways to show that he or she loves God. Practical love stems from the desire to make manifest to God, to ourselves, and to the world the overflowing love with which God fills us as His own unmerited gift of grace.

Practical love is substantially grounded and completely devoted to "other." And practical love is, well, practical and commonsense. You don't hand a starving many a worn coat. You don't give to the naked a can of baked beans. This should go without saying, but often, we are trapped in our own sense of what needs might be and we don't see far beyond our own borders.

Practical love is simply the natural outpouring of the love God pours into us as we come to know Him better. It overflows, it cannot be contained, and so it spills out in the light of the world in small acts and in large, but all of them flow from a deep and abiding love God has for us. We become Him as we pour out His love on all the Earth, seeking to return some little for the vast fortune He has bestowed upon us.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Loving God category from April 2006.

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