Sunday, June 25, 2023

Jesus says, “Love One Another”—Do We Listen to Him?

We Catholic Christians are called to live in communion, to regard one another as brothers and sisters. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has reconciled us to the Father and made us His brothers and sisters—called to live a new life, the hope of eternal life that begins to transform us here and now by the power of the Holy Spirit who enables us to love God and to love one another. 

But does this reality make any difference in our understanding of who we are and how we live our lives?

All too often, we judge the significance of our daily lives not according to Christ’s redeeming love, but rather according to the dominant mentality of our society and its conflicting ideologies. We conceive of ourselves as radically alone and “autonomous,” with the power to pick and choose who we want to be according to our own preferences. We control our relationships with others according to our own measure. Perhaps because we are Christians we recognize that we are supposed to share our lives in some sort of fashion. So we gather together to worship God, and maybe we try to "help" one another every so often. But ultimately we go back to our own inner shells, to being alone.

Or perhaps we belong to a “group” that affirms our ideas and engages in activism on behalf of good causes. Yet even this way of being "together” can easily degenerate into a dialectic of loneliness and invasiveness, in which we inevitably clash with one another, engage in power struggles, or distance ourselves from one another. We hold on—radically—to our self-definitions, our inner walls, our self-determined limits, our places of hiding.

Even if we wear our “Catholicism” large and loud, and conceive of ourselves as courageous defenders of the truth, we can still end up isolated, alienated, unhappy, loveless, and alone. This happens insofar as we forget about Jesus, insofar as we forget about the Holy Spirit. This forgetfulness can happen even when there's lots of talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Church and the Eucharist and the sacraments and community and the dignity of the human person and all the rest. It's easy to "domesticate" these words into our vocabulary and forget about the mysterious, intimate, concrete realities they signify.

We need Jesus. He is present, drawing us to Himself, calling us to follow Him. We need to recognize our total, complete dependence on Him. We need to allow His Spirit to move our hearts and open us up to the wisdom of the God who at this very moment is the Source of our very selves, and who alone generates our true identity and capacity for fulfillment in freedom and love. Otherwise we will remain imprisoned in the darkness of our own solitude, and our efforts to be together will fail, resulting only in superficial groups offering temporary distraction from our loneliness or belligerent partisan entities that try to “fix society” but only end up contributing to its whirlwind of violence.

It’s important, of course, that we help one another discern what is right and what is wrong. But it’s easy to reduce the Church in our own minds to nothing more than a fraternal organization for moral improvement. Is that enough? Do you want to belong to a group of people who just correct your behavior and call you “brother” or “sister,” but forget the real Jesus, and therefore don't really, actively love you? That's not the life of the Church. That's manipulation. That's the dynamic of a fundamentalist sect. It's just another form of power imposing itself upon the weak.

Without Jesus emptying Himself on the cross out of love for sinners, for each one of us, for every human person, without Jesus and His love to the end... what are we? Nothing!

With Him, and depending completely on Him, trusting in Him, we really live the mystery of the Church. We are His presence in the world. This is our vocation, and this is what He wants so ardently, for us and for others, because He wants to love. We have to turn to Jesus (again and again) and beg Him to renew this vocation in each one of ourselves, our families, and our friends. We have to beg that the Holy Spirit will make this new life grow in us, change us, transform us—taking up all the weakness and the fear, opening up all the selfishness.

When we talk about our relationships within the Church, we use these terms: "brothers and sisters" and "members of a body." Why? Are we just being nice? Why these metaphors, or even better, are they just metaphors? The Church is our Mother. Baptism is a new birth. In the Eucharist, Jesus is substantially present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—because He wants to be with us, He wants to stay with us, He wants the infinite love of His redemptive sacrifice to nourish us and build us up in this new life of communion with God and with one another. Jesus has made us brothers and sisters and more, members of His "mystical" body (and "mystical" means real, but in a mysterious way beyond our understanding). Thus incorporated into Christ's body, we are members of one another.

We are Christ’s light in the world only if we love one another as He has loved us. We are called to live this witness to Him so that others may encounter Him through us and discover the healing and transforming love He has for each of them and for every human person.