Monday, May 4, 2009

Learning to Love Again

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Great 50 Days of Easter are framed as it were by two lessons about love.

On the night before his death, Christ said to his disciples that they must love one another as he has loved them (John 13:34). This love, a giving of self for the other, sets the standard for the Christian life. It presents an unmistakable context for the Christian: to love as he loved, living free to serve, secure in the Father’s love which alone is freedom in its fullness.

Weeks later, after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples by a lake (John 21). The disciples had tried to return to their old lives, but this is never truly possible for one touched by Christ. At that lakeside, Christ Jesus asked Peter: “Do you love me?” In order to heal the rift and failing of Peter’s thrice-denial, the Lord asks him twice more: “Do you love me?” It is almost as if Christ says: “It is not enough to sit with me, to eat with me as one of my friends; you must learn again to love in its fullest sense, only then will you ever be able to “feed my sheep” and bear my message to this lovelorn and love-thirsty world aright.” What was true for St. Peter is true also for us.

The Great 50 Days of Eastertide is not a “project,” at the end of which we have some sort of “product” we can measure or present to God for approval or validation. It is a season when the meaning of the Resurrection is gradually absorbed. Jesus bids the disciples then and now to live and love beyond the rigid confines of Time and Death. Christ has loved us to the last, full measure in the events of Holy Week. In His resurrection – which we share through our baptism into Him – Christ Jesus shows us reality is so much greater than our limited, earthbound vision typically allows. He now looks at us in the midst of our many denials of Him as disciples and inquires: “Do you love me?” We are called to ponder what this means. Do we choose to operate out of our limitations, or out of His example of a free and fearless love?

At the end of Eastertide, the promised gift of the Holy Spirit is delivered to the infant Church at Pentecost. Only this gift makes it possible to live out our commission, our call to “love as He loves us.” Yet, that giving of the Holy Spirit is only for those who would receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, desiring to live His love, to become like Him as a way of life. Christ’s question to St. Peter continues to be our question.

The modern parish Church has often been reduced to a social club, a political action organization, or a museum of some romanticized and concocted history. None of these is either accurate or sufficient. The parish is the appointed place where a Christian people gather to hear the Gospel of Divine Love proclaimed, participate in the enactment of that Kingdom of Love and Knowledge through the Holy Liturgy, and are sent forth as changed people to embody that Love. The parish is, at heart, where humans learn to love again. Only when this is the “mission above all other missions” will the Church become its true self, fulfilling the Resurrection’s promise and our Lord’s desire.

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