ALTERNATIVE CLASSROOM LEARNING EXPERIENCE (ACLE):*
(Clases ‘alternativas’ en la U.P. cada semestre, promocionadas por el Consejo Estudiantil Universitario o University Student Council [USC]…)
“Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in the practice.” – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153).
On Loving God: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bernard/loving_god.toc.html
“El amor basta por sí solo, satisface por sí solo y por causa de sí. Su mérito y su premio se identifican con él mismo. El amor no requiere otro motivo fuera de él mismo, ni tampoco ningún provecho; su fruto consiste en su misma práctica. Amo porque amo, amo por amar.” -San Bernardo de Claraval.
* Watch out for Engineering’s ACLE “Love for Lust. Lust for Love.” this September… 😉
🙂 🙂 🙂
“WITH THE STRENGTH OF LOVE” – Tentative translation to English of Chapter 15 of the book ‘Itinerarios de vida cristiana’ by Bishop Javier Echevarría, Prelate of Opus Dei:
With the Strength of Love
Our Lord Jesus Christ has just replied to a group of Sadducees who have just expressed their difficulty in understanding the resurrection of the body. They were interrogating Him by using a hypothetical situation: <…there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died without leaving offspring. And the second as well… In like manner the third. All seven did not leave any descendants. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection, of which of them will she be wife? For all seven had her as wife…>. They were too limited in their way of understanding life that Jesus did not hesitate to put an end to their questioning by saying: <You are mistaken.>
A little while later a scribe, encouraged by the sharpness with which the Master had answered, approached Him and asked a different question: <Which is the first of the commandments?> This inquiry, which most probably referred to the progressive complexity that with time the interpretations of the Mosaic law began taking on, situates us before a deeply vital question. It is possible –so does the rest of the narration permit us to deduce– that the scribe formulated his question not with mere theoretical interest, but feeling himself a protagonist, with upright intention. And without doubt, his attitude of personal commitment is a model for all Christians, as we hear and meditate on the words of Christ: <The first is: “Hear, oh Israel, God our Lord is the only God: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” And the second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.> It was his sincere reception of the teaching of Christ which led that scribe to merit a clear praise from the Master: <You are not far from the Kingdom of God.>
THE NEW COMMANDMENT
We find ourselves before one of the most central affirmations of the Christian message, to such an extent that Jesus puts in the very command of charity the distinctive sign of His followers: <By this will all men know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.>
What characterizes the Christian is not his dress or his way of expressing himself, neither his mere participation in specific ceremonies, nor his ability to work wonders, but the attitude of his heart. St. Paul expressed it succinctly, in the first of his letters to the Corinthians: <Even if I were to have the gift of prophecy and were to know all mystery and science, even if I were to have such faith as to move mountains but I were not to have love, it would amount to nothing. And if I were to distribute my goods… if I do not have love, I would not have any benefit.> With his proverbial mastery of rhetoric, St. Augustine thus glossed over that teaching: <All can sign themselves with the sign of the cross of Christ; all can answer ‘amen’; all can sing ‘alleluia’; ……Those who practice charity are born of God; those who do not practice charity are not born of God. Important sign, essential difference! Have whatever you have, but if this were to be lacking, the rest would be worth nothing; and if you lacked everything else but have this, then you shall have fulfilled the law!>
Let us return briefly to the dialogue between Jesus and the scribe who wanted to know which was <the first of all the commandments>. He asks only about one, but the Master indicates to him two, which He enunciates in a certain order, exposing them according to a priority, at the same time that He lists them as inseparable: two faces of one and the same coin.
If we truly want to be faithful to Christ, love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated. The Apostle John sums it up in a graphic and strong phrase: <If anyone says: I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he sees, cannot love God whom he does not see.> What does the counterposing here between “seeing” and “not seeing” wish to express? It could be interpreted as a simple reference to a universal experience, which the Castillian adage sums up this way: <What the eyes do not see, the heart does not feel.> We do not contemplate God with bodily eyes, differently from what happens with those close to us: of the latter we sensibly perceive their problems and their needs, along with the capacity for emotion which derives from it. Without excluding this possible meaning of St. John, an even greater richness is hidden in that passage of his letter: we are told, simply, that we discover that God who is hidden to human eyes in those who are around us. The Lord has decided to identify Himself with our neighbor; in this way, man –each one– shows God to us. Therefore, the two commandments are inseparable; better yet, they form but one: together, and in the order announced by the Lord, they constitute somehow a summary of the law of Christ.
The unity between love of God and love of neighbor can be traced to the truth of Creation: what is created –and in particular, the human being– appears as a fruit of the gratuitous and personal love of God. But this truth stands out in a more patent manner, more strongly and more intensely, in Christ Jesus. <With the Incarnation, the Son of God has united Himself in some way with every man>, proclaims Gaudium et Spes. For our sakes, Christ has become incarnate; for each one, He has shed His blood on the Cross, as a clothing of salvation; with all and with each one –as John Paul II points out in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis— <Christ has joined Himself in a certain way, even when man is not aware of it.> Thus, each human person manifests Christ to us.
How meaningful the words of the Master in this context become, when he describes the final judgment! There, gathering together the just and sinners, they are surprised at the affirmations that the Son of Man pronounces from the throne of His glory: <Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, without shelter or clothing, sick or imprisoned…?> And all receive the same explanation: <Amen I say to you: whatever you did (or have failed to do) to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it (you failed to do it) to me.> To serve the others with the good means to serve Christ; denying them means denying Christ. The Lord makes Himself present to us in everyone who suffers whatever need: in him who suffers hunger, in him who receives pain or sorrow, in him who walks about in this world without direction or meaning… In them we are asked to recognize Christ and to serve Him. We should build our charity each day on the basis of this fundamental idea: contemplate Christ in the others, discover Christ in each human being.
But the Gospels go beyond this. Let us open, concretely, to the narration of St. John in the chapters in which the Last Supper is narrated, that dear moment in which the Redeemer, nearing the culmination of His self-giving on the Cross, gathers His own around Him, commenting with special intimacy on the sentiments of His heart. There, twice He announces what He Himself defines as the new commandment: <May you love one another. As I have loved you, love one another also.> Truly, it deals with a new commandment, with a new point of contrast: <As I have loved you.> Jesus invites us to love with a love like His, with a love that never ends, that knows no limits, that does not resist the entire gift of oneself: with a love that is a reflection of the infinite and immeasurable love of God.
The “new commandment” of Jesus helps us to understand that charity is not simply discovering Christ in the others, but moves us to accept at its very root the commitment of impersonating Christ, of exerting every effort to imitate Him and look like Him; better yet, being another Christ, Christ Himself, we ought to serve and love our equals, our brothers, as He serves them and loves them.
These two points of emphases –seeing Christ in the others, being Christ to the others– require each other mutually and complement each other, until we see a profile of the strong and committing features of the marvelous virtue of Christian charity. At times, the limitations and defects of the others do not facilitate that holy obligation of recognizing in them the figure of Jesus; and this, fallaciously, can push us to not getting interested, to feeling ourselves excused, to thinking that in that case, there diminishes or ceases the commitment of loving them. Let us think, then, that there arises before us the image of Jesus, who loves at all moments and on whatever occasion; of that Jesus who pardoned those who nailed Him to the Cross and persevered in that disposition at the very instant in which the nails were tearing at His flesh. From the example of the Master we learn that nothing –neither the insufficiencies of the others, nor their limitations, nor their mediocrity whether real or apparent, nor their eventual offenses– would mean an excuse or a mitigating factor for not loving as Christ loves. With the particularity that if we act in this way we shall be identified more and more with Jesus, we shall experience the joy of walking intimately united to Him. And since love reveals itself to be very contagious –<put love where there is no love and you shall draw out love>, wrote St. John of the Cross–, we shall contribute to others seeing in charity the path for finding happiness.
UNIVERSALITY OF CHRISTIAN LOVE
St. Luke, on narrating the scene in which Jesus proclaims the unity of the two commandments in which is summarized the whole Law, adds a nuance which the other Evangelists do not narrate. St. Luke tells us that, after having spoken to Jesus, the doctor of the Law who questioned Him, <wanting to justify himself>, asked Him anew: <And who is my neighbor?> Jesus responds with a parable: that of the man who, attacked by a band of brigands, was left abandoned, wounded and half dead, in the middle of a road. A little while later, two people passed near that place and, looking at him, went away; only a third one, a Samaritan, was moved at that pitiable scene, cured him to the extent of his possibilities and, putting him atop his beast, led him to a nearby inn, with the hope that they were going to attend to him with affection. On concluding the parable, Jesus turned His eyes to the Doctor of the Law and asked him: <Which of the three do you think showed himself to be neighbor to him who fell into the hands of the robbers?> There could have been but one response, which that man recognized immediately, also perhaps because the narration and the tone of voice of Jesus had moved him: <He who had compassion on him.> <Go thy way –He concluded– and do likewise.>
The love that Jesus generously displayed and which He asks from His people is truly universal and admits no limits: an echo of that which pours forth from His Heart, of that Love of God which <makes His sun rise on the good and the bad, and makes the rain fall on both the just and sinners>, which encompasses everything and fills everything. That affection shows itself in what is little and what is big; it extends to what is near and what is far; it overflows in deeds, as soon as it senses a need. That love is founded on a supernatural root, since it is not guided by sympathies or antipathies, but proceeds from God Himself, who reveals Himself to us –through His passage through this world– as profoundly human; it puts into practice the resources of its affectivity which always accompany authentic charity, since –as St. Josemaría affirmed– <we do not have a heart for loving God and another for loving creatures: this poor heart of ours, of flesh, loves with a human affection which, if united to the love of Christ, is also supernatural.>
Among the dangers that threaten love and its universality, let us focus on two: on the one hand, concentrating on what is immediate, on the circle of one’s habitual relations, until one ends up not minding the others; on the other hand, remitting to an abstract universality, which does away with the concrete. The Christian ought to have a big heart, which reacts promptly to the needs of the others, extending his radius of action to those complex problems which affect the whole of society and which appear to us as competence of the others and not of ourselves. <A man or society that does not react before tribulations or injustices, and does not exert effort to alleviate them, is not –I cite words of St. Josemaría– a man or society to the measure of the Heart of Jesus. Christians –preserving always the broadest freedom at the time of studying and putting into practice the various solutions and, therefore, with a logical pluralism– have to coincide in that identical zeal for serving Humanity. Otherwise, his Christianity will not be the Word and the Life of Jesus: it will be a costume, a fraud/deceit before God and before men.>
There exists the risk of remaining indifferent before the great social problems or of limiting oneself to reacting emotionally, superficially and without practical consequences. But there also exists the danger of centering one’s thoughts, imagination and interests around generic issues and problems, without paying attention –or even maltreating, at least subconsciously– those who live around us. Christian charity does not consist in a love for humanity in the abstract or generically, but towards a concrete humanity, composed of specific persons, one by one, who ought to be loved one by one.
The maximum expression of the love of Christ has remained patent to our eyes through His self-giving on the Cross for the Redemption of the whole of humanity and, inseparably, in His infinite love for each man, each woman, who passed by His side. It is a marvel to perceive this reality in His compassion for the widow of Naim who had just lost her son; in His weeping for the death of His friend Lazarus; in His conversation and His gaze, capable of provoking decisions of self-giving, as happened to those two disciples of the Baptist who followed Him; in His loving and warm dealings, even when tiredness was overcoming Him. How can we not recall that encounter with the Samaritan woman? Jesus, tired out from a trip, seated Himself at the well. Then, interrupting His rest, <there came a Samaritan woman to draw water. Jesus said to her: Give me to drink.> A moment later, forgetting His exhaustion and thirst, He initiates a conversation that would lead that woman to a profound conversion, to the joy of knowing herself changed, renewed within, and to the decision to accompany others to Jesus Christ, so that they also may find peace and joy.
Our charity toward each person that passes by our side should thus proceed and grow, even though we coincide with them only very briefly. There always is presented before us the occasion to run to people’s aid, to reach out, or to encourage with our smile, with a cordial word, with our simple help, with a hidden and silent service, with our prayer… This concrete and immediate charity, –offered to those whom we have near– undoubtedly constitutes the best sign that an authentic love is calling out to us. From there, from those most ordinary circumstances, our heart shall be dilated with the depth and breadth of the Heart of Jesus Christ, until it gives itself to the whole of humanity.
Loving our neighbor means, above all, desiring and procuring their good. How is this good concretized? What realities is it composed of? The answers to these questions turn out to be numerous and varied: they depend on each person and each situation, and no two persons or situations are completely the same. Nevertheless, we Christians know that, for everyone, in whatever circumstance, there is something fundamental and definitive which is primary: God, the Supreme Good and Fount of all gifts, whom we have to make the others discover.
Because if we truly desire the good for the others, we shall exert effort to bring them closer to God; and in order to attain it, we shall make Christ known to them; and in Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Let us fulfill this holy obligation to open up for them –through word and example– horizons of profound friendship with God. We shall speak to them about Holy Mary, who facilitates for us the way with her affection as Mother. We shall exert effort to be lamps or staffs along their ways in this itinerary of Christian living. And by the hand of God, we shall encourage them toward conversion, when the occasion requires it, reminding them –with adequate language and in an opportune manner– of the amiable and firm demands of the Lord.
St. John also recounts in his Gospel that Jesus, in that conversation with the woman whom the crowds accused of adultery, after offering her the balm of mercy and pardon, sent her off with these words: <Go thy way; from now on, sin no more.> St. Augustine, on commenting on this passage, says that the Lord <loved us who were iniquitous, but He did not gather us for iniquity. He loved us who were sick, but He visited us in order to cure us.> Jesus Christ, precisely because He loves, because He desires our good, corrects us but at the same time encourages us and stimulates us. Thus should we also act, in such a way that we never lack, in charity, that serious effort, and at times burdensome –although always padded with affection– to exhort our brothers to tread or re-tread their paths in accordance with God’s designs.
The medieval theologians qualified charity as the form of all the virtues; that is to say, the interior impulse which, at the same time that it stimulates them, orients them from within towards the end in which the fullness of man is fulfilled: love of God and love for neighbor. Centuries earlier, St. Paul had already written about it: <Charity is patient, is kind; charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.>
The greatness and depth of the love that Jesus requires of us may surprise us at times, and make us think that it turns out superior to our strength. Of course, that thought responds objectively to the truth. Only that –let us not forget it– we count on the omnipotence of God, on the Love of God present within us, since –it is St. Paul once again who speaks– <the love of God has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us>. Jesus, who invites us to love as He loves, grants us at the same time the capacity to obtain it, since, in union with God the Father, He communicates to us the Spirit and, with Him, the strength to love with the very same Love of God.