FAST FOOD (2014): Ninth Helping

Again, “We adore God who is love, who in Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, who offered Himself on the Cross to expiate our sins, and through the power of this love, rose from the dead and lives in His Church. We have no God other than Him” (Pope Francis, 6/21/14).

Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians in his famous hymn on Christlike love (agape), “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1Co13: 3). Before this sentence Paul mention many other great things that a Christian could do that without love are worthless, e.g., faith to move mountains, spell binding religious oratory, knowledge. If these activities, which are normally consider evidence of divine power and righteousness flowing through a person, are spiritually worthless without love (agape), then those acts normally perceived as less important acts, e.g., giving a person a cup of tea, are equally unavailing spiritually. The wonderful corollary of this, however, is that the smallest act, e.g., giving a cup of tea, done with Christlike love (agape) has eternal significance and divine power within it. This is so because God is love (agape) and by choosing to conform one’s will the will of God who is love (agape) a person becomes a participant in and channel for the power of God that saves, Christlike love (agape).

This also means that a crucifixion, a cross, without love does not save. In no way do the mere words, “by His suffering and death we are saved,” or “by the blood of the cross we are saved,” fully, or even properly or understandably,” communicate the fundamental reality, the essential element of choice at the crucifixion of Jesus. It is not “suffering and dying” in order somehow to placate God, that is the indispensable reality of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is loving as the God of love desires Jesus and everyone to love. The preeminent Catholic Biblical scholar of the mid-twentieth century, the late Rev. John L. McKenzie, writes in his interpretation of the New Testament [The Power and the Wisdom (1965), Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat, and Imprimatur (1965)],

Jesus experienced nothing, we have noticed, that is not part of the human condition. And he thus placed his achievements within the reach of all men. Suffering and death are the normal human condition. Jesus does not ennoble them, but he makes them the means by which man is liberated from sin and death. He demands nothing that is not within the reach of every man of every age. The deliverance of man is not to be accomplished by an act, which can be shared by only a few. Jesus meets man in the common destiny of all men.

There has long been a tradition that has elevated the mystique of suffering for its own sake. Many Christian ascetics have sough fuller identification with Jesus as the Suffering Servant by the deliberate refusal of pleasure and the deliberate infliction of pain on themselves. A morbid form of this asceticism keeps pleasure from other and inflicts pain on others. The number of venerable names associated with this tradition is alarming, and one questions it at the risk of appearing to be a lover of the good life… Mere cultivation of pain does not assure identity with Jesus the Suffering Son of Man. We must point out mere animal pain does not save. Identity with Jesus suffering is first of all identity with Jesus loving, to put it in a single word.

-Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
(To be continued)

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