Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Dare to Love

What a message the Holy Father has delivered to young people in preparation for this year's World Youth Day (not the International one which is next year in Sydney, but the Diocesan level one which should be taking place on Palm Sunday)! Pope Benedict is certainly becoming a true Apostle of Love and Friendship. This could be the real inheritance he leaves to the Church. His message to young people begins by contrasting real love with the cheap versions of love which we have in our human experience of infidelity. He says this can really lead to a personal crisis - living by the assumption that true love is an impossible dream. This really is a tremendous crisis for postmodern culture. The reason that people are so cynical about marriage and commitment to celibacy is precisely because they find it impossible to believe in a love which is completely faithful and lasting. Of course, for humans subject to original sin, such a prospect as lifelong faithful love seems a mere dream, but for God's grace it is not only a reality, but it is the essence of what grace is...the essence of God who is love.

Everybody feels the longing to love and to be loved. Yet, how difficult it is to love, and how many mistakes and failures have to be reckoned with in love! There are those who even come to doubt that love is possible. But if emotional delusions or lack of affection can cause us to think that love is utopian, an impossible dream, should we then become resigned? No! Love is possible, and the purpose of my message is to help reawaken in each one of you - you who are the future and hope of humanity-, trust in a love that is true, faithful and strong; a love that generates peace and joy; a love that binds people together and allows them to feel free in respect for one another. Let us now go on a journey together in three stages, as we embark on a “discovery” of love. What an invitation the Holy Father gives us: the pilgrimage of discovery of love. This is the real meaning of living a life of grace. As the Pope says, it comes in three stages.
The first of these stages is the love of God. As the first letter of St John says, "It's not our love for God, but God's love for us in Christ Jesus". At the weekend, I was lecturing on the BA Divinity course at Maryvale on the Trinity, where my starting point is always that the Trinity is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to live, grow into. Precisely because 'God is love', he is Trinity.

The first stage concerns the source of true love. There is only one source, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that “God is love” (1 Jn 4: 8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.
Of course, we cannot see the Trinity - not as it is in eternity in itself. But as the Gospel of St John says: "Nobody has ever seen God, it is the Son who is closest to the Father's heart who has made him known" (Jn 1.18). And it is upon the Cross that we see that love revealed in its fullness. So discovering Christ crucified, and meditating upon that immensity of love is the second stage of our pilgrimage of discovery of love.

How is God-Love revealed to us? We have now reached the second stage of our journey. Even though the signs of divine love are already clearly present in creation, the full revelation of the intimate mystery of God came to us through the Incarnation when God himself became man. In Christ, true God and true Man, we have come to know love in all its magnitude. In fact, as I wrote in the Encyclical Deus caritas est, “the real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts unprecedented realism” (n. 12). The manifestation of divine love is total and perfect in the Cross where, we are told by Saint Paul, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). Therefore, each one of us can truly say: “Christ loved me and gave himself up for me” (cf Eph 5:2). Redeemed by his blood, no human life is useless or of little value, because each of us is loved personally by Him with a passionate and faithful love, a love without limits. The Cross, - for the world a folly, for many believers a scandal-, is in fact the “wisdom of God” for those who allow themselves to be touched right to the innermost depths of their being, “for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25). Moreover, the Crucifix, which after the Resurrection would carry forever the marks of his passion, exposes the “distortions” and lies about God that underlie violence, vengeance and exclusion. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sins of the world and eradicates hatred from the heart of humankind. This is the true “revolution” that He brings about: love.
The third stage of this pilgrimage of discovery is translating the love God has for us into love for one another. This is not a mere liking or sentimental love, but a love which is even till death. As Christ has called us his friends, and he has not refused to lay down his life for his friends, so also we should - out of our friendship with Christ - lay down our lives for our friends. That may not mean actually giving up our life in the sense of physical death, but rather to make of our lives a true sacrificial offering to bring our friends to friendship with Christ, and to serve them in their needs.

Now we have arrived at the third stage of our reflection. Christ cried out from the Cross: “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). This shows us his burning thirst to love and to be loved by each one of us. It is only by coming to perceive the depth and intensity of such a mystery that we can realise the need and urgency to love him as He has loved us. This also entails the commitment to even give our lives, if necessary, for our brothers and sisters sustained by love for Him. God had already said in the Old Testament: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18), but the innovation introduced by Christ is the fact that to love as he loves us means loving everyone without distinction, even our enemies, “to the end” (cf Jn 13:1).
This of course means that we become witnesses of love. As the Holy Father told us in his encyclical letter there are many ways in which we can bear witness to that love: some heroic, some which just require us to put ourselves out a little. But, if our lives are given over to friendship with Christ, then we will not refuse any act - no matter how small or great - to bear witness to this love. The Holy Father gives us three areas in which young people need to be able to grow in love, and in a demonstration of that love. The first is within the context of the Church.

I would like to linger for a moment on three areas of daily life where you, my dear young friends, are particularly called to demonstrate the love of God. The first area is the Church, our spiritual family, made up of all the disciples of Christ. Mindful of his words: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35), you should stimulate, with your enthusiasm and charity, the activities of the parishes, the communities, the ecclesial movements and the youth groups to which you belong. Be attentive in your concern for the welfare of others, faithful to the commitments you have made. Do not hesitate to joyfully abstain from some of your entertainments; cheerfully accept the necessary sacrifices; testify to your faithful love for Jesus by proclaiming his Gospel, especially among young people of your age.
Young people are also engaged in a constant formation for life. That's part of what it is to be young, and isn't about going on courses and and formation programmes all the time - though they can be very helpful. It is about making your youth a true building block for the rest of life. This means not treating being young as an excuse to be irresponsible or just as a time to enjoy with no responsibilities (though of course it is a very enjoyable time of life, but even more so if we engage in the real project of our life). This is the Holy Father's second point therefore. And here he speaks most especially to those who are in love - to engaged couples and to boy/girlfriends.

The second area, where you are called to express your love and grow in it, is your preparation for the future that awaits you. If you are engaged to be married, God has a project of love for your future as a couple and as a family. Therefore, it is essential that you discover it with the help of the Church, free from the common prejudice that says that Christianity with its commandments and prohibitions places obstacles to the joy of love and impedes you from fully enjoying the happiness that a man and woman seek in their reciprocal love. The love of a man and woman is at the origin of the human family and the couple formed by a man and a woman has its foundation in God’s original plan (cf Gen 2:18-25). Learning to love each other as a couple is a wonderful journey, yet it requires a demanding “apprenticeship”. The period of engagement, very necessary in order to form a couple, is a time of expectation and preparation that needs to be lived in purity of gesture and words. It allows you to mature in love, in concern and in attention for each other; it helps you to practise self-control and to develop your respect for each other. These are the characteristics of true love that does not place emphasis on seeking its own satisfaction or its own welfare. In your prayer together, ask the Lord to watch over and increase your love and to purify it of all selfishness. Do not hesitate to respond generously to the Lord’s call, for Christian matrimony is truly and wholly a vocation in the Church. Likewise, dear young men and women, be ready to say “yes” if God should call you to follow the path of ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life. Your example will be one of encouragement for many of your peers who are seeking true happiness.
Relationships are what it's all about. But it's not just about the deepest friendships which are at the basis of the companionship of boy/girlfriend or fiancés. We have many relationships which build up our lives and enrich them. These are the third platform on which we can build our life in love.

The third area of commitment that comes with love is that of daily life with its multiple relationships. I am particularly referring to family, studies, work and free time. Dear young friends, cultivate your talents, not only to obtain a social position, but also to help others to “grow”. Develop your capacities, not only in order to become more “competitive” and “productive”, but to be “witnesses of charity”. In addition to your professional training, also make an effort to acquire religious knowledge that will help you to carry out your mission in a responsible way. In particular, I invite you to carefully study the social doctrine of the Church so that its principles may inspire and guide your action in the world. May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the “civilisation of love”. The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!
The life of grace is something which is not abstract and other worldly. It is seen in the example and life of the saints. We are called to imitate them, and to benefit from their intercession. The Holy Father puts before us most especially the life and witness of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

My dear young friends, I want to invite you to “dare to love”. Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love (cf Rev 5:13). Love is the only force capable of changing the heart of the human person and of all humanity, by making fruitful the relations between men and women, between rich and poor, between cultures and civilisations. This is shown to us in the lives of the saints. They are true friends of God who channel and reflect this very first love. Try to know them better, entrust yourselves to their intercession, and strive to live as they did. I shall just mention Mother Teresa. In order to respond instantly to the cry of Jesus, “I thirst”, a cry that had touched her deeply, she began to take in the people who were dying on the streets of Calcutta in India. From that time onward, the only desire of her life was to quench the thirst of love felt by Jesus, not with words, but with concrete action by recognising his disfigured countenance thirsting for love in the faces of the poorest of the poor. Blessed Teresa put the teachings of the Lord into practice: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). The message of this humble witness of divine love has spread around the whole world.
Although the prayers of the saints are a great benefit to us, they cannot replace the reality of love which is given to us as a gift when we receive Holy Communion. This is the greatest gift for it is the gift of Christ giving us his very presence to live in our hearts. But it is not a static presence. When we celebrate the Mass, or kneel in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus Christ is not just present there doing nothing. The silence and hiddenness of the sacramental presence of the Eucharist may lead us to think that Christ is merely resting among us. But he isn't. The very same self-giving and self-sacrificing love which was in his Heart the night before he died for us, when he instituted this great Sacrament - that same love is active in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a dynamic presence. It is the presence of Christ loving us.

Each one of us, my dear friends, has been given the possibility of reaching this same level of love, but only by having recourse to the indispensable support of divine Grace. Only the Lord’s help will allow us to keep away from resignation when faced with the enormity of the task to be undertaken. It instills in us the courage to accomplish that which is humanly inconceivable. Above all, the Eucharist is the great school of love. When we participate regularly and with devotion in Holy Mass, when we spend a sustained time of adoration in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is easier to understand the length, breadth, height and depth of his love that goes beyond all knowledge (cf Eph 3:17-18). By sharing the Eucharistic Bread with our brothers and sisters of the Church community, we feel compelled, like Our Lady with Elizabeth, to render “in haste” the love of Christ into generous service towards our brothers and sisters.

Pope Benedict ends with an invitation to come to Sydney for the next World Youth Day in Sydney.

On this subject, the recommendation of the apostle John is illuminating: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth” (1 Jn 3: 18-19). Dear young people, it is in this spirit that I invite you to experience the next World Youth Day together with your bishops in your respective dioceses. This will be an important stage on the way to the meeting in Sydney where the theme will be: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). May Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, help you to let that cry ring out everywhere, the cry that has changed the world: “God is love!” I am together with you all in prayer and extend to you my heartfelt blessing.
Just to summarise then. There are three dimensions to our pilgrimage of discovery of love:
  • The love of God, the source of love
  • The love of Christ crucified
  • Our love for God
These dimensions have a real incarnation in our lives, in these ways:
  • Love experienced within the Church
  • Love of man for woman
  • Love of all people in all sorts of different relationships
We are helped most especially by:
  • The example and prayers of the saints
  • The Holy Eucharist
Many of you will have read or at least seen George Weigels' tremendous biography of Pope John Paul II 'Witness to Hope'. I think maybe Pope Benedict XVI is showing himself to be 'Witness to Love' and that his teaching on friendship with Christ will be the true legacy to the Church.


Anonymous said...

Dear Fr Julian

Thanks for all that information. What a great picture of you & the Pope! I've sent a link re the world youth event in Sydney, to Jenny, in York. I think one of my other daughters Rosie would like to go..but she would only be 15. Any idea of the age requirements?

I love the pictures on your blog, the Don Bosco, the Tidal Wave, & all those pictures & quotes down the side..i could feast for days!

I hope your sister is feeling better. I received The sacrament of the Sick, at the annual Mass at The Oratory. It was organised by The Order of Malta (they were pretty impressive in their black cloaks & daggers!Have you heard of them?). Has your sister received the annointing..it certainly helps?

God bless,


Fr Julian Green said...

My sister is not a Catholic, but the prayers are appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr Julian,

I forgot that. However with a brother a Priest, she will be richly blessed.

I feel particularly called to pray for her, & will offer up my own sufferings, that she may have the great gift of peace of mind.

God bless,

( & a succesful conference at The Chaplaincy)


Fr Julian Green said...

I hope you are going to come to it!

Anonymous said...

Now there's a thought!