Monday, November 23, 2015

We Walk With Others as Beggars

Human beings search for the Mystery ("X")
So many people and so much suffering in the world. Is it really possible that God loves them all? Why can't He just come down and heal everyone?

It would be easy enough to say, "I'm a Christian. I believe that He already has come..." but how do I say this without it coming off as a cheap answer? The love of God is not cheap. What does it mean, and how is it the hope of all humanity?

It must be true that Jesus is always, everywhere, trying to draw every human person to Himself by grace. This means that among the vast multitude of billions of people who do not know Him, He nevertheless is truly working, profoundly and mysteriously by the Holy Spirit, through whatever is true and good in their lives, their hopes, their experience, their prayers, and also in deeper and inscrutable ways that no one can see or describe.

I sometimes wonder if there are many people--simple people especially, poor people, suffering people--who are in fact very close to Christ, who really do know Him and love Him in their hearts, even if they can’t express it, even if it's a secret, even if it's so secret that they themselves can't represent it in their own minds in a discursive, reflexive way.

Maybe they try to express it as best as they can, with whatever images or concepts they have from within their own religious and cultural traditions. These expressions may be very inadequate, defective, or mixed up on the literal level with other images and ideas that are wrong or that would have bad implications if they were literally pursued.

This is a hard situation, but they are doing the best they can with the resources they have, struggling to follow the Mystery that sustains all of reality, the Mystery that calls them to intimacy and fidelity in their circumstances, that whispers love to their longing hearts. In this way, they really do love God in the depths of their hearts.

As a Christian, I know that if they love God, it must be Jesus who is empowering that love and drawing it to Himself. If they truly seek the meaning of their existence, it only happens concretely because He who is what-it-means-to-be-human has already awoken that search in them and is guiding it by His Spirit in incomprehensible ways.

And I am not saying this as a sneaky way of imposing my theory of ultimate meaning or claiming a victory for my "religious party," as if to say, "in the contest between religions, my religion wins!" The point here is not about a controversy between "different religions" that are conceived as different ideological systems, political positions, or cultural schemes that have developed in history and that we use to identify ourselves and distinguish ourselves from others. There is a lot to be said about such matters, but that is not the point here.

The point here is a fact: This man named Jesus is God! He is the Lord of every heart. Wherever there is any good, He is at work.

How could it not be true? Jesus really is God--we must never forget this. This is not "our position"--this is a fact; the central fact of the whole universe and all of history and every person's actual life. It's really true. It's not somehow "less true" because we need faith to recognize it. To affirm the divinity of Jesus is to recognize a fact. If He is really God then He is really at work, in every person, in every circumstance. Because He loves us. Really!

Does that mean we should stop preaching the Gospel, because He is "taking care of everything" Himself?

Certainly not! If we really know and love Him, our desire to evangelize the world is not weakened by the conviction that He is already at work in the world. On the contrary: all the more do we want every person on earth to be with Jesus in His great family of all times and places and peoples--the gathering in His presence and sharing in His love that is "the Church."

How could we want less for any person if we really love that person? How could we want less if we really love Christ and His plan for that person? Love impels us to let God insert us deeply into His plan of salvation. We want to communicate to others that embrace through which Jesus has embraced us in its "catholic" fullness (because it is meant for everyone). We want every person to know and to be able to express rightly to his or herself the truth about Jesus with as much clarity as faith permits in this life.

But we must remember that evangelization is not our project. It is God's work. Of course, He calls us to share in this work, to be His witnesses and His instruments of truth and love in the time given to us. He does not ask us, however, to "convert" people by reducing their humanity and tearing down the good He has already accomplished in their hearts, their lives, or their cultural traditions. He does not call us to manipulate persons and gain power over them, or to coerce them by violence.

The new evangelization is unambiguously defined by love, above all by the recognition of Christ's love for us and for each and every person.

This love cannot be contained. It sends us forth. It is also a real love. Love is patient, love is kind, love gives no offense, and love endures all things (see 1 Corinthians 13). Love constitutes relationships. Through love we give ourselves and we open ourselves up to the gift of the other. The openness of love makes us able to receive others as persons, but it also makes us vulnerable.

This leads us again and again to remember our true position of dependence on Him. Evangelization is about Jesus, and when we witness truly to Him we also discover anew how much we need Him, how small is our own love for Him, and how much we long for Him.

The new evangelization does not promise the satisfaction of human victories or the acquisition of power in this world. It is accomplished by the love that empties itself unto death, the love that reaches others in the depths of their suffering, and that enables us to accompany others and suffer-with them with an unconquerable hope.

We walk with others as beggars, as the least of human beings, begging for God's inexhaustible love and afflicted by His thirst to bring us all together in His love.