FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE (Gal. 5: 6)
(A talk given at Saint John’s the Evangelist Church in Wellesley – March 2, 2015)
Pope Francis, our now not-so-new Pope, continues to mesmerize millions. It’s mind-blowing to think that six million people gathered together with Pope Francis at Manila Bay. As Francis himself would say – They came in great numbers because of the ardent faith of so many in the Philippines. To say the least about our not-so-new Holy Father, because of the “off the top of the head” style of airplane press conferences, I would describe Pope Francis as “predictably unpredictable” or “unpredictably predictable”. Many folks are very happy when the Pope travels from Rome to fields afar, for this will mean that there will be another airplane press conference in the offing, perhaps 30,000 feet over the waters of the Pacific.
Many of us here this evening, I’m sure, would admit that we are among those mesmerized by Jorge Bergoglio. Certainly, those here at the parish who are responsible for adult education planning in their search for a Lenten theme 2015 have made the suggestion that we revisit Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation – “The Joy of the Gospel”. The foci of this revisit are two in particular:
1. Paragraphs 11, 12 and 13, which concern the newness of Christ and the newness of the Gospel;
2. Paragraphs 34 to 39, a reflection on the heart of the Gospel, that is, the very heart of God’s Eternal Word made flesh for human salvation, and available to us in sacramental mystery.
Before moving to the task at hand, I suggest we pause and make a brief detour. At Christmastime I received four books as gifts. One is a treatise on the Eucharist, a book right up my theological alley. I also received two copies – one from Fr. Tom and one from Fr. Bryan, who obviously did not coordinate their gift giving – of Austen Ivereigh’s biography of Francis under the title – “The Great Reformer – Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope”. The fourth book is also a biography of Francis, entitled – “Pope Francis: Life and Revolution”, written by Elisabetta Piqué, an internationally respected newspaper reporter, long-time correspondent in Italy and at the Vatican for La Nacion, Argentina’s main newspaper. Elisabetta has known the Pope for many years. She is the only newspaper reporter to have predicted the election of Jorge Bergoglio. I shall make an altogether too brief reference to what life was like in Argentina, socially and politically, when young Jorge began his priestly ministry as a Jesuit in the 1960s and 1970s. This may help us to understand the adjective “radical” which has been applied to Father Bergoglio.
Argentina, like all the countries of North, South and Central America, lived under colonial rule. We in America dispossessed ourselves of colonialism in the 18th Century and the United States, in spite of such difficulties as the Civil War, has managed to have a stable form of government bringing together Federalism and States’ rights in a productive tension. This was not so in many Latin American countries and for our purposes not so for Argentina. Dictatorships from military coups took over from early attempts at democratic governments until the arrival on the scene of Juan Domingo Peron and his glamorous wife Evita. Peron’s rule at the beginning was most popular and served well the needs of the common people. Originally, Peronism and the Church seemed to work pretty well together. Then things began to deteriorate, resulting in another military coup and the exile of Peron to Spain. The failure of this military government involved the recalling of Peron to Argentina. Politically and socially the country and the Jesuits within the country were deeply divided about the future of Argentina – some wanted Peron, even though the later Peron was not as he first was when he was a young and inspiring leader; some wanted to follow the pattern of Cuban socialism; others supported a form of liberation theology, which consisted in a good measure of Marxist principles as understood in liberal academia circles; others, including a few bishops, wanted to restore the military and a more dictatorial rule for the sake of government stability. Young Father Bergoglio as Rector of the Jesuit Seminary and later as Provincial of the Argentinian Jesuits, though very much aware of, and concerned with, the social and political ideologies which were causing havoc throughout the country, was focused on the work of reform, first the work of seminary training, and then the work of reforming Jesuit life throughout the country. Bergoglio himself seems to be a born reformer but not in the sense of political or social agitation. If he had any particular personal view of social and political reform, it was the work of the Jesuits in Latin America before his time in terms of what has been called “the Jesuit reductions”, the Jesuit missions to the poor in the countries of Paraguay and Uruguay. Pope Francis is not a doctrinal or moral theologian, just as he is not a secular, political reformer, but a spiritual reformer, a pastoral theologian, deeply immersed in Ignatian spiritual theology, in the Ignatian rules for discernment, in the questions asked by Ignatius himself in response to God’s love for us – What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ? He is a radical reformer seeking to grasp the roots of the Gospel. The word “radical” comes from the word “radix,” which designates the root of things. Francis’s reform is a spiritual reform – changing peoples’ hearts, whether now at the Roman Curia, or in the work of the Church all over the world. So much for my inadequate detour!
Last Lent we spent some time reflecting on the impact of “The Joy of the Gospel”. It was my privilege to give three talks which centered on “the dream” of Pope Francis. I said at that time: “Joseph, from the pages of the Old Testament, was called by his brothers, who did not like him, “the dreamer”. Joseph from the pages of the New Testament was given providential help by way of his dreams. Martin Luther King had a dream which has profoundly impacted for the good our country’s social fabric. Now, our Holy Father Francis tells us that he too has a dream, and this evening we gather here to find out what the Pope’s dream is all about, and to ask ourselves whether under God’s grace we are willing to appropriate the Pope’s dream and thus come to know the joy of the Gospel.”
Francis calls his dream “a missionary option”. He writes: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a mission impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her own self-preservation”. He describes this option as an ecclesial renewal that cannot be deferred.”
First we should note a bit of recent history. The exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” is the papal response to and creative summary of the work that took place at the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that gathered in Rome in October 2012 to discuss “the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”. You may recall that it was Pope Benedict who presided over the 2012 Synod of Bishops. It was Benedict who had proposed the topic “Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”. To prepare for the Synod Pope Benedict inaugurated the “Year of Faith”. To guide us through the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict issued his Apostolic Letter, “Porta Fidei”, the Door of Faith. It was Benedict who had already issued two excellent encyclicals – one on the virtue of charity and the second on the virtue of hope – and who began a third encyclical on faith which he left to Pope Francis to complete and make his own. Its title is, “Lumen Fidei” – the Light of Faith. Did we ever think we would see the day when two popes, one emeritus, would issue together one encyclical? The two popes are so very different in style and personality, but from my reading quite similar in their thinking.
Ivereigh has an interesting comment as he talks about Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in tandem – “The syllabus, humility, prayer, dependence on Christ, was the same, but Benedict’s finely-honed crystalline texts, delivered in a quiet voice by a remote figure, were now being spoken and acted upon by a man who jumped out of a choir to make off-the-cuff remarks in physically affectionate encounters. Benedict clarified who is Christ and what it means to live in and through him; Francis recalls Christ our friend and savior. Francis was taking Benedict on the road.”
The document, Porta Fidei – The Door of Faith – initiating the “Year of Faith” – which was to begin on 11 October 2012, the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, reads as follows in paragraph 6: “The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us. The Council itself, in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, said this: While “Christ, ‘holy, innocent and undefiled’ (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), but came only to expiate the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17)... the Church ... clasping sinners to its bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. The Church, ‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God’, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But by the power of the risen Lord it is given strength to overcome, in patience and in love, its sorrow and its difficulties, both those that are from within and those that are from without, so that it may reveal in the world, faithfully, although with shadows, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light.”
The Year of Faith, from this perspective, was a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). For Saint Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life: “We were buried ... with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of human existence (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:17-24; 2 Cor 5:17).”
This last passage gives rise to many questions. I will suggest three, so important to Pope Francis and his project.
a) What are we to say about the newness of the Gospel?
b) When Pope Francis speaks about the heart of the Gospel, the heart of Christ, what does he have in mind? How are we to bring to speech what we find at the heart of the Gospel in such a say that our message is intelligent and intelligible, meaningful and relevant, beautiful and attractive, compelling and necessary?
c) To the extent that we cooperate with grace, our cooperation must be free but always under grace, how are our thoughts and affections, our mentality and conduct to be slowly purified and transformed on this journey of ours which St. Paul calls “faith working through love”? (Gal. 5:6)
a) Our first question this evening focuses on the newness of the Good News. I often think of a parishioner – Anna in Newton – to whom I used to bring the Eucharist on a regular basis. She had been bed-ridden for a couple of years. When I would enter her bedroom, she would struggle to sit up a bit and before I could say, “Good Morning, Anna. How are you and the Lord doing”, she would ask with great anticipated gladness, “What’s new?” She had no interest in asking a gossip-question, but I would say to her what Pope Francis is saying to us in “The Joy of the Gospel” – “You know, Anna, Jesus is new, his resurrection is new, his Eucharist is new”, and Anna would respond at once with a resounding “Amen”. Christ Jesus, in giving himself, brings all newness. Yes, God the Father, at work through Christ, his divine Son and in the Holy Spirit, has revealed his true and great love for us and thereby constantly reveals new life for all who follow him, no matter what their age and situation might be. The Book of Revelations tells us that Christ the Lord is the eternal Gospel, the eternal Good News. Is he not the same yesterday, today and forever? He is forever young. His being forever young makes us forever young and joyful. And what is joy? Joy, it has often been said, is the echo of God’s life within us. Thus Francis writes, “Whenever we make the effort to turn to the Gospel and recover its freshness, new avenues arise, new paths open up and we find new meanings for our lives and for our hope for today’s messy, materialist, warring, terrorist world.” Every form of evangelization is always new. The newness is first and foremost God’s work because God is the one who takes the initiative. In this question of newness, the primacy belongs to God; the newness is what the Lord himself mysteriously effects whereby he inspires us, guides us, accompanies us in a thousand ways. The Lord God has first loved us. Should we not, under his grace, love God in return? The joy involved in this sort of love is what sustained Jesus’ first disciples – many of whom received the grace of martyrdom. God has made us his new people. God has given each one of us new birth through water and the Holy Spirit. God gives us through the sacraments a new life that of itself can never end because it is a true share in God’s own life. God has made with us a new covenant, a new testament. God has given us a new law, a new command, a new song, the Easter Alleluia.
To buttress these assertions, we can ask ourselves – Do not the Scriptures tell us all this Good News?
a. Paul says to us in Romans – Do you not know that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him in baptism unto death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
b. As a result of our baptism, Paul reminds the Romans (12:2) – Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the newness of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
c. Once again we rely on St. Paul (2 Cor 5:17). He writes to the Corinthians – “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”
d. (Eph 4:17-24) – “So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God…they have become callous and they have handed themselves over to licentiousness… That is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life… and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
P.S.: We must admit, it seems to me, that this talk about newness is not without some difficulties. There’s no new Church. There’s no new Gospel. It’s rather a question of discovering the newness that exists in the deep roots of the Gospel, a newness that has attracted the saints down through history, a newness that can concern us all when changes come in our habitual ways of thinking and doing things. Changes are difficult also here in Wellesley’s two Catholic parishes. For example, St. John and St. Paul parishes are entering into a collaborative. Fr. Tom is leaving us after his many years of excellent pastoral service here at the parish. A new pastor has been appointed. We all will need good anchoring in our Catholic faith. We will need much good will from the Holy Spirit as we move ahead here in Wellesley. This example is a sort of sign of some of the unrest recently caused by the recent synod in Rome on Marriage and the Family. One writer, Gerard O’Connell, Roman correspondent for America Magazine makes the comment – “Reflecting on these fears and speaking with Cardinals and Bishops at the Synod, I began to understand that perhaps there could be deeper concerns here. The first relates to a possible shift from the prevailing understanding of the place and role of the sacraments in the life of the people of God to a somewhat different pastoral one and the consequences of this. Secondly, there is a perplexity about how to present mercy and inclusion in a way that does not undermine moral doctrine. Thirdly, there is uneasiness about the understanding of primacy, collegiality and synodality and about the way of exercising authority in the Church. At the Synod’s closing, the Pope responded to these fears. According to Mr. O’Connell, Pope Francis said, “God is not afraid of new things; that is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. The Pope has reminded his hearers that he is a man of the Church and the members of the Synod have gathered “with Peter and under Peter” in the spirit of a longstanding Catholic understanding that the Church, in the variety of her charisms, cannot err: it is the beauty of “sensus fidei,” of that supernatural sense of the faith that is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that together we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our lives and this should never serve as a source of confusion and discord.
b) This brings us to our second question. When Pope Francis speaks about the heart of the Gospel, the heart of Christ, what does he have in mind? How are we to bring to speech what we find at the heart of the Gospel in such a say that our message is intelligent and intelligible, meaningful and relevant, beautiful and attractive, compelling and necessary?
In other words, how are we to speak our faith to the world? How do we speak from the very heart of the Gospel? How do we do this in such a way that our message is seen as what it truly is – grand and joyous, intelligent and intelligible, relevant to our lives and beautiful? Can we simplify the message, uncomplicate the message without depriving it of its power and its truth? The Church speaks its message in three distinct, interrelated ways – evangelization, the language of which is proclamation; catechetics which gives us the necessary information for the intelligent practice of faith and the work of theology. The Pope’s direct focus in “The Joy of the Gospel” is primarily proclamation and catechetics.
Pope Francis reminds us that pastoral ministry must not be obsessed with a disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a mission style, the message must concentrate on essentials – what is most beautiful, most good, most grand, most necessary. Listen to what is said in paragraph 36 of “The Joy of the Gospel”: “All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’. This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” With regard to this hierarchy of truths, one scholar writes – “Christianity is a deeply objective reality. It is first and foremost not a subjective experience; neither is it a simple adherence to a set of moral regulations nor even a sharing in a sacred tradition. None of these answers are false. There is indeed a subjective experience of God that can be had in prayer. There is the Christian Catholic ethics that would be faithfully lived out. There is also a participation in ancient traditions of worship and in adhering to a body of doctrines. But all these are consequences of Christianity rather than its essence as such. Christianity as a living reality does not emerge in us by our own strength nor does it bubble up from the depths of one’s spirit. It cannot be fixed in overly rigid formulae and definitions. It is above all the gift of new indestructible divine life.” As John’s Gospel says – “The thief comes only to steal, slaughter and destroy. I have come that they may have life abundantly.”
John Henry Newman, revered 19th Century scholar and churchman in Great Britain, recently beatified by Pope Benedict XVI, once composed a brief, unsophisticated act of faith which somebody set to music and is found in the Church’s “Liturgy of the Hours”. “Firmly I believe and truly”, Newman writes, “God is Three and God is One”. This is the foundational truth of our Catholic faith, the necessary mystery of our Three-Personed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Newman then writes – “And I next acknowledge duly mankind taken by the Son”. This is the absolutely free mystery of the Incarnation. What is meant by the “free mystery”? God’s Triune existence ever-was and ever-will be and even has to be, but there did not have to be the free mystery of the first Christmas. The fact of the first Christmas stems exclusively from the unfathomable love of God who willed to send us his only divine Son to be our Savior. This then leads Newman into the mystery of the Redemption – “And I trust and hope must fully in that mankind crucified, and I love supremely, solely, the Christ who for my sins has died”. But why does Newman believe these truths? He tells us in stanza three – “And I hold in veneration, for the love of Christ alone, holy Church as his creation and her teachings as his own”.
Contemporary theologians are indeed aware of the need of brief statements of our Catholic faith; however, their efforts have not been that successful. Theology is too complex a discipline. It seeks to speak to people of all cultures and languages all over the globe. Kahl Rahner from Germany, a distinguished theologian and prominent at the Second Vatican Council after completing a heavy German tome had this to say in a postscript to his readers: “After we have spent so many pages, the results for many readers might very well be that the clarity of our topic may have been obscured rather than being clarified in terms of its presentation.” Rahner himself then proceeded to formulate three brief Creedal statements. However, this does not seem to me to be what Pope Francis is looking for. What then is he looking for and where will we find it? Our Holy Father gives great stress to what he calls the experience of an encounter. This is a key word for serious contemporary theology. He tells us that he never tires of quoting his immediate papal predecessor who wrote: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or of a lofty idea. Rather, it is a most important encounter with an event, with a person, and this gives life to a new horizon and a decisive dimension.” Where will we experience this encounter? There is but one answer – at the Liturgy! At every Sunday Liturgy, at any Liturgy involving the sacraments, the risen Christ encounters us and we encounter him. We meet the risen Christ and he meets us in his mysteries – his birth, his epiphany, his public ministry, his passion and death, his resurrection, his ascension into glory and his sending us from the Father his Holy Spirit. We often say at Mass – “Lord Jesus, you came in history to gather us into the peace of God’s kingdom.” This is how the Lord Jesus encountered four fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; he encountered them and they encountered him through his words and through his deeds, just as all of us encounter one another in our everyday lives. Ever since the Lord Jesus returned to his heavenly Father in his glorious ascension, all the power resident in his sacred humanity, by the work of the Holy Spirit, passed over into our New Testament Scriptures and in the sacraments of the Church. This is why the Sunday Liturgy is our most important activity here in the parish, because it is in the Liturgy and at the Liturgy that the Church finds its true meaning and is strengthened for its journey. Just as the first disciples encountered Jesus and he them in human history, so we now encounter him and he us, really and truly in what we call sacramental mystery.
So much for our second question – faith seeking understanding and bringing that understanding to speech from the very heart of the Gospel.
c) Our third question has as its focus the ethical or moral dimension of things, as we ask – To the extent that we cooperate with God’s grace – our cooperation while free is always under God’s grace – how are our thoughts and affections, how are our mentality and conduct slowly purified and transformed on this life’s journey which St. Paul in writing to the Galatians calls – faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).
Paragraph 37 in “The Joy of the Gospel” is crucial. Pope Francis writes:
“Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own “hierarchy”, in the virtues and in the acts which proceed from them. What counts above all else is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: “The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is manifested in the faith which works through love”. Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: “In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree.”
The first thing we can notice about paragraph 37 is that St. Paul calls charity the greatest of the virtues, while the Pope quotes from Thomas Aquinas that mercy is the greatest of virtues. There is no opposition here if we understand what mercy is. Mercy, Aquinas tells us, is love or charity in the face of misery. Charity is the greatest of the virtues because charity is God’s New Testament name, and charity is eternal like God. What St. Thomas says is that as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues.
Secondly, Pope Francis notes in connection with St. Thomas’ teachings that the Church’s moral teaching has its own hierarchy. What counts above all else is “faith working through love”; in other words, what counts above all else is that works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior graces of the Holy Spirit. In this context, we should note what I like to call “the semantic evolution of the great Gospel command – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest command. The second is like it – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commands. (Mt.) Some folks are surprised that these two commands did not initiate with Jesus, and in the beginning were separated, one from the other. The first part of the command is found in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy 6:5. The second part is found in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus 19:18. It was the Lord Jesus who brought the two together in his preaching as though they were two sides of but one coin. How indeed can we love God whom we do not see if we fail to love our neighbor, made in God’s image, whom we do see. By the time St. Paul was writing about the great commandment in his Letter to the Church in Rome, notice what he writes: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” The commandments – you shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not covet, or whatever commandment there may be – are summed up in this saying – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the law.
This brings us indeed to the heart of the Gospel. When we were discussing what God has given us through the Holy Spirit, we spoke of a new life, a new command, a new law. God gave his Old Testament people many laws – the Ten Commandments, the basic Old Testament moral law still incumbent on all who follow Christ, other bodies of laws regarding Jewish lifestyle, Jewish worship and Jewish dietary matters and the like. In this context we should note that St. John the Evangelist in his magnificent Prologue to his Gospel writes – In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – that Word is the Lord Jesus, Son of God from all eternity, Son of Mary in human history. From his fullness, John writes, we have all received grace upon grace. While the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Listen to what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say about the Law of Christ and Law of Grace. He writes – What is characteristic of the law of the Gospel, called the new law, and wherein all its efficacy is based, is the grace of the Holy Spirit given through faith in Christ. Consequently, the new law is an unwritten law and is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. What else are the divine laws written by God himself in our hearts but the very presence of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Thomas continues, the new law contains certain things which dispose us to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit so we need to be instructed concerning them both by word and writing. Consequently, we should say that the new law, our new covenant, our New Testament, is in the first place a law that is inscribed in our hearts, but that secondarily, it is a written law. What then, we can ask, are these written laws that enable us to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit? They are the law of love, the law of forgiveness, the law of those who do not love us in return, the Beatitudes, Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, and the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. We touch here on an important theological theme in the relationship of the law and the law of the Gospel. You and I belong to God’s New Testament people. We are not God’s Old Testament people. As we have already quoted from John’s Gospel – the Law came through Moses; grace and truth have come from Jesus Christ. However, we must not equate Old Testament and New Testament with before Christ and after Christ; otherwise how could we account for the saints of the Old Law and those who have been baptized into Christ but are still struggling with the commands of the Mosaic Law? According to our Christian teaching, the old law is holy, spiritual and good, but it is imperfect when compared with the new law. The old law tells us what to do but does not give us the strength to do it. The new law is the grace of the Holy Spirit, quite sufficient in itself to be effective. The law is preparation for the Gospel as the catechism tells us, a prophecy of thing to come.
Hopefully the three questions which I have raised may prove helpful for your Lenten experience 2015. Our lives in Christ, begin in Baptism, constitute a journey that envisions a goal that involves but also transcends our lives this side of the grave. The season of Lent is like a journey within a journey which we undertake each year, not just because it is a law to be observed, but we journey with the very person, a divine person, who is the risen Christ, who accompanies us always along the way and whom we must encounter and befriend and follow more faithfully. (Benedict XVI) That delightful little book, The Imitation of Christ, exhorts us – “Pick up your cross and follow Jesus. In this way you will go to eternal life. He went before you carrying his cross, and died for you so that you would carry your cross and be willing to die for him. If you die with him, you will also live with him. And if you are his partner in sorrow, you will also be his partner in triumph.” Lent is like a refresher course through which we learn what it means to be truly Christian. Lent is an excellent opportunity to live out more consciously our Eucharistic encounter with the risen Christ, truly with us in sacramental mystery. Lent is a wonderful schooling whereby we learn how to meet Christ in his mysteries, how to live our sharing in the Lord’s paschal mystery – his dying and rising for the salvation of the world. Baptism is the sacrament of the Lord’s Easter mystery, his dying and his rising, and the sacrament of Baptism is the sacrament of our dying and rising with the Lord. The Lord’s saving death and resurrection were real and physical. Our dying and rising were very real but sacramental.
The Church describes the Lord’s Easter mystery as a passage, a transition, a transit from death to life. The Church describes our participation in the Lord’s paschal mystery as a passage, a transition, a transit from darkness to the light and joy of the Gospel, from sin to divine grace, the pledge of eternal happiness and wholeness, a passage from death to life. This suggests the all-important Lenten question – Have I passed, have we passed, from death to life this side of the grave, death to sin and inordinate self-love, life for God and for neighbor? Read the First Letter of St. John for an answer. John tells us that we know that we have passed from death to life if or because we love our brothers and sisters – and, who are my brothers and sisters, but all and anyone for whom the Lord Jesus offered his life on the cross. Pope Francis expresses all this in another way – as we have already seen – He tells us – and this is the key – “What counts above all else is faith working through love. Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Holy Spirit.”