05 November 2006

How do we fail to love?

31st Sunday OT: Deut 6.2-6; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 12.28-34
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

Ours is an erotic faith. A faith of eros! We are made to love, to be loved, and in loving we are made to become Love Himself—to join our Creator, our loving Father, in His kingdom and offer to Him our praise, our thanksgiving, and to offer our very lives as living sacrifices for His glory. We are created, redeemed, and made holy so that we might grow in agape, be perfected in agape, diffuse the beauty of our God’s eros—His creating, redeeming, sanctifying love of us—to diffuse His eros for us so that we are able to love one another as He loves us. To put it very crudely: God “eroes” us so that we might “agape” one another. Because he eroses us first, we are able to agape each other always. And this is the only way for the children of the Father to live in the Spirit. To fail to love, to will not to love is a mortal wound on the Body, a fatal shock to the heart. It is blunt force trauma to the head and it is the death of the soul.

God is love. When we dwell in love, we dwell in God. When we refuse to love, we refuse God. Refusing God is refusing eternal life. And that, my friends, is Hell—your final decision to exclude yourself from the love of God forever. Literally: let’s not go there!

So, practically speaking, how do we fail to love? In everyday life, how do we fail to dwell in eros and thus fail to agape one another? Let’s focus on just three Big Ways we fail in order to understand how to succeed.

First, we can fail to love God and one another when we refuse to reveal God’s beauty. God’s beauty is His means of seduction, His erotic means of attracting us to Him and reeling us closer and closer to a life with Him. His beauty is our wonder, our fascination, our appreciation of His awesome glory. God’s beauty is the perfection of Being and all beings—the completed project of bringing all of creation to its fullest possible excellence. You reveal God’s beauty. Everyday. You walk in God’s beauty, you talk in God’s beauty, you sleep, eat, play, work, exercise, study in God’s beauty and you show His beauty out, you demonstrate it like a proud Hoover salesman. Just existing, merely being a creature of God makes you beautiful and you shine that glory out to the world. So, the question is: what of God’s beauty are you showing us? Do you walk, talk, sleep, eat, play, work, exercise, and study in the full knowledge that every muscle in your body, every thought in your head, your very soul shouts out the splendor of God’s beauty? In other words, do you love us—all of us—with your heart, mind, soul, strength? When you reveal, when you expose the Divine Beauty of love to the rest of us, you live your life as a prophet and a priest—you hear God and obey His Word and proclaim that Word and you offer (willingly, eagerly) your life as a sacrifice for others.

Second, we can fail to love God and one another when we refuse to reveal God’s goodness. This isn’t just about living a morally good life. That’s part of our job, of course, but the life of revealing God’s goodness is more about living out of a heart of flesh where the Law is deeply inscribed. In other words, revealing God’s goodness is not about living a life of meticulous rule-following or scrupulous regulation loving. Such a life too easily leads to a life of soul-killing hypocrisy and scandal. If the gospel today is about anything it is about the maturity of our spirituality. Love God. Love self. Love neighbor. Easily said. Each of these admonitions unpack about a thousand do’s and don’t’s. But the Father’s goodness is simple: desire nothing but His love, nothing but His approval, nothing but His strength. He is One and there is no other than He. You fail to reveal God’s goodness when your life reveals a conflict of allegiance, a confusing loyalty: what do you love more than God? What idols decorate your life? Do you worship the popular pagan gods of money, sex, substances, passions, ego? Or do you worship the seemingly baptized pagan gods of Pelagianism: rules, rubrics, rituals, edicts, and law? What sits on your heart and rules your soul, your mind, your strength? If your heart is the Word made flesh—show us! If not, shut up and listen so that your stony heart might be replaced with one of godly flesh!

Third, we can fail to love God and one another when we refuse to reveal God’s truth. Is our first impulse here to ask Pilate’s question: what is “truth”? Likely. It is the postmodern question. And one that opens the yawning gates of Hell for all those who will use their doubt—legitimate or otherwise—to dodge our Father’s truth for the sake of a false intellectual freedom. There can be no doubt that asking questions and looking for answers is fundamental to the Catholic faith. Ours is a trust that enthusiastically runs after knowing more and better what we believe to be true. But that’s where we have to start: believing what is true. Our search for understanding is not about finding evidence for our faith or finding reasons to believe. Our search for understanding is first and foremost an admission that we are ignorant in the face of all that is real and that it is our trust in the living God and the resulting humility that throws us into seeking to know Him better. And so, the question here is: do you reveal the truth of the faith to others? Even in doubt, intellectual turmoil, or raw disbelief, do you shine out the objectivity of truth, the absolute truth of what our Father has revealed to us in His Word: the Bible, the Very Good of Creation, the Word Made Flesh? Doubt is not a problem when that doubt rests in acknowledged ignorance, an admitted humility that is ready to be taught. We fail God’s truth when we assume that our ignorance is a failure on the Church’s part to adequately reason out a teaching or when we lift up—out of pride—our private intellectual judgment as superior to the 2,000 year judgment of the Body of Christ. To reveal God’s truth is to accept in faith, to trust that He is showing us what we need to know to love Him and one another, to be freed from our slavery to sin, and to be brought to Him in the end.

How do we fail to love? We do not love God or one another when we fail to live our lives as revelations of God’s beauty, goodness, and truth. When we fail to reveal His glory; when we fail to worship Him alone; and when we fail to trust His truth first and seek to understand His truth as a function of our trust, we fail to obey the first commandment Jesus gives us. These three failures result in One Big Failure for us: we will not live with God forever. Live apart from Him now and live apart from Him forever. Live with Him now and live with Him forever.

Live your day, everyday, as a revelation of God’s beauty, as a revelation of God’s goodness and truth. Ask yourself: is what I am doing right now showing those around me exactly how much God loves them? If you do this, Christ will say to you: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

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