There is a short story told by Franz Kafka. In the story there is an emperor who is on his deathbed and he wants to send a message to you alone. Yes, you – poor, insignificant subject that you are – living at the furthest edge of the empire. But the message is extremely important to the emperor, so important that he summons a messenger and even has the messenger repeat the message back twice to make sure he has it memorized correctly. After the second time of checking the accuracy of the message the emperor nods his head approvingly. Then in the presence of his entire court the emperor dismisses the messenger and sends him on his mission to bring you the emperor’s message. Immediately the messenger sets out, he is a strong and vigorous man but immediately he encounters resistance – the members of the court are so packed around the emperor each vying for his attention. Bit by bit the messenger has to elbow and squeeze his way through the crowd. Finally, he makes his way out of the royal chamber but all the rooms of the palace are packed with people! He shows the royal insignia and this clears the path for a few feet but then he is faced with a wall of people again. But the messenger is determined; he keeps struggling against the crowd – one room after another, down stairways and inch by inch through the courtyard. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity of struggle, the messenger passes through the final gate of the palace. But now what lies before him is the vast imperial city, piled high with mountains of its own rubbish through which no one can make headway. You, meanwhile sit at your window and dream about the message, as evening falls.
I am from a family of four boys. Usually around this time of year when we were growing up two of us would be given the task of getting the family Christmas tree down from the attic. For us this was no small feat. The tree was set in a large and heavy cardboard box. Our main technique in regards to this task was shuffling the box to the top of the stairs, putting the front edge over the top step, lifting up the back of the box and then just letting it go! The box would noisily slide down and come to a solid thump against the wall at the bottom of the stairway. We would then wedge it out the doorway and into the hall. This annual rite of retrieval gives an adequate portrayal of how this poor tree was treated over the years!
“Peace cannot exist without a strong and passionate love.”
This Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 12:49-53) presents us with this truth for our consideration. Christ speaks here as with a sense of urgency! I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! What Christ brings to us is not a theory or a proposal but the very fire of God’s love! This fire has a name: compassion. At one point in Matthew’s gospel we are told that when Christ looked out on the vast crowd he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And how great is our Lord’s anguish until it is accomplished! Our Lord burns with the love of the Father which is the love of compassion!
Unfortunately, in our world, this love can be obscured and even suffocated. The violence and indifference of our world can suffocate compassion. Even we disciples can suffocate compassion when we turn from the invitation of our Lord to follow solely our own priorities and interests. It is easy to resign ourselves to the world thinking, “well, that is just the way things are…”
But, the Lord continually comes to us and says, I have come to set the earth on fire… Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. True compassion, when lived and witnessed, shocks us because – if even just for a moment – it forces our gaze away from ourselves and toward another.
This is the divisive peace that our Lord brings to the earth. The peace of the gospel is not the world’s peace – peace as a nice, reassuring intimacy and justification for isolation. Christ did not come to the earth to defend the peace of our little self-centeredness; rather, he came to hold forth the call of love for others, for compassion. Christ did not come to defend the peace of the rich man who did not notice the starving Lazarus at his door, nor did Christ come to defend the peace of the priest and the Levite who avoided the man lying helpless on the road. This is not peace. Rather it is avarice, meanness, insensitivity and just plain sin.
Peace cannot exist without strong and compassionate love!
The peace that Christ brings is divisive! It divides us from our self-centeredness. It divides us from our insensitivity to the needs of others. It divides us from attitudes of resignation and withdrawal. It shifts our focus and our heart toward the other in his or her need. It will not allow us to resign ourselves to a comfortable, yet ultimately life-denying, sense of isolation.
The fire that Christ brings to earth is the fire of God’s compassion. It continues to burn and it continues to purify!
Lord, enkindle in us the fire of your love!
(Some thoughts in this reflection are borrowed from Bp. Vincenzo Paglia’s reflection on this Sunday’s readings.)
|“Behold, I make all things new.” Scene from The Passion of the Christ.|
In this Sunday’s second reading from the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:1-5a), John shares the vision of seeing a “new heaven” and a “new earth” with “the holy city, a new Jerusalem”. As John writes, The former heaven and the former earth had passed away… John then hears the One sitting on the throne proclaim, “Behold, I make all things new.”
In our gospel reading (Jn. 13:31-33a, 34-35), at the Last Supper after our Lord had just washed the feet of his disciples – showing by action what he is to now proclaim in word – Jesus says, I give you a new commandment: love one another.
By holding these passages together – letting them inform one another – I think that we can say that the new heaven, the new earth and the new Jerusalem are intrinsically linked to the new commandment that is given to us. God has chosen to “make all things new” precisely through the love revealed in Jesus Christ. God does not choose force or fear or power or might to accomplish his purpose rather, God chooses loves because, as Scripture says, God is love.
It is helpful to note that Jesus reveals this new commandment only after Judas had left. Judas had made up his mind to betray the Lord. Judas had chosen to remain captive to the sad logic of this world that chooses to only see things in terms of conflict, division, power and isolation. Judas could not take in the truth of God’s way and of the very nature of God that our Lord reveals. Judas was blind. The sad logic of our world continues to remain blind and cynical to the ever newness and possibility of God’s love. “Life is ever the same, look only to your own needs, nothing can ever be different.” This is the sad logic of our world. In the resurrection, the risen Lord breaks this sad logic just as surely as he breaks the chains of sin and death.
We must realize that this commandment of love is not of our origin nor our making. On our own we cannot arrive at it. On our own we cannot even dream of it or imagine it. This new commandment of love comes from Christ and is in fact, Christ. Christ present in our lives calls us to an ever new awareness and an ever new living of love. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. The truth of these words need to sink into the depths of our hearts: as Christ has loved us … as Christ has loved us … as Christ has loved us … we should love one another.
Fr. Robert Barron begins his series on the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues by highlighting a profound spiritual truth. The truth is this: we are not necessary. We do not have to be. The world and creation existed before we came on the scene and it will continue after we have exited the scene. We are not necessary nor, in fact, is all of creation. It is only when we wrestle and grapple with this profound and sobering truth that we come to recognize that the one necessary is God himself and everything else is contingent upon God. The good news? The new commandment? God is love. We are here, all of creation is here, only through the continual and generous outpouring of God’s love. When we recognize this and are able to step away from the isolation of the self-absorbed ego then we can live in and even be a conduit of God’s own love.
The more we love one another as Christ has loved us, the more we participate in the very newness of God’s love which overcomes death, sin and the sad logic of our world. This is why the gospel can proclaim “blessed” those persecuted, mocked and derided for their faith in Christ because it is in the very face of the sad logic of this world that we are afforded the opportunity to love as Christ himself loves and that we ourselves can therefore participate in the very life of God who alone is necessary.
St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “willing the good of the other”. There is a lot to this definition that can be fleshed out in a variety of ways but here I just want to highlight a couple of truths. God in Christ has and continues to fully love us. God, in Christ, wills our good. God did not have to come to us when we were lost in sin and death but because God is love, God willed our good. God came to us and took on the weight of sin and death. Love is willing the good of the other.
Here is the other truth. When God wills it is accomplished. We are not God, we are creatures. We are not necessary. When we love, when we will the good of the other, that does not necessarily mean it will come to be but this is okay because whenever we will the good of the other in whatever way or shape or form then we ourselves are participating in that very movement of the newness of God’s love. I offer this because we all often hear one another say, “My spouse, my child, my friend, my sister, my brother is making really bad choices. I love him or her but he or she does not change no matter how I try to help.” “There is so much pain and hurt in the world. I will try to do my part to help but what good does it really do?” It is not on us to accomplish (that is God’s part). “Behold, I make all things new.” proclaims the One sitting upon the throne. It is only on us to will the good. When we love, when we will the good of the other, no matter how small and insignificant it might seem, then we are participating in the ever newness of God’s love and we are moving beyond the sad logic of our world.
At the end of her life, when my mother’s body had pretty much given out on her, my mom could not do much but one thing she could do was watch the finches come to the bird feeder at her window. When the feeder ran out she would remind me to fill it with new seed. In her own little way, my mother was loving and willing the good of those little birds and God’s creation. At the very end of her life, she was making the choice to participate in the ever newness of God’s love and not be bound by the sad logic of sin and death.
The Lord said, I give you a new commandment: love one another.
John heard the One sitting on the throne say, Behold, I make all things new.