And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Mt 22:37-40)
In a previous writing (View from the Top), I quoted a reflection by Pope John Paul II on praying the Rosary, which succinctly presents us with the domestic and foreign policy we are called by God to embrace:
“The Rosary is also a prayer for peace because of the fruits of charity which it produces. When prayed well in a truly meditative way, the Rosary leads to an encounter with Christ in his mysteries and so cannot fail to draw attention to the face of Christ in others, especially in the most afflicted.
How could one possibly contemplate the mystery of the Child of Bethlehem, in the joyful mysteries, without experiencing the desire to welcome, defend and promote life, and to shoulder the burdens of suffering children all over the world?
How could one possibly follow in the footsteps of Christ the Revealer, in the mysteries of light, without resolving to bear witness to his “Beatitudes” in daily life?
How could one contemplate Christ carrying the Cross and Christ Crucified, without feeling the need to act as a ‘Simon of Cyrene’ for our brothers and sisters weighed down by grief or crushed by despair?
Finally, how could one possibly gaze upon the glory of the Risen Christ or of Mary, Queen of Heaven, without yearning to make this world more beautiful, more just, more closely conformed to God’s plan?”
All of the ‘fruits of charity’ above – products of our “encounter with Christ in his mysteries” – must not be allowed to perish. They become useless if stored away. We must give them away by living them out in our daily lives – by acting upon the desires, resolves, feelings, and yearnings which they evoke. It would be helpful if we include the Holy Father’s reflection as part of our intentions when we begin to pray the Rosary. We must make them our own, and because we must have an intimate knowledge of ourselves, it would also be helpful to examine our progress.
As individuals we may feel incapable of doing great things. If we agree with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love”, we can begin to give serious consideration to the question of what we can do in response to the call to love.
Needed first, perhaps, is an increased spirit of joy. An Advent meditation suggests that in order to cultivate a joyful spirit, we must first reject self-pity. It goes on to say “the daily news reports can be toxic. Too much exposure to the woes of the world can be damaging to your mental health, as well as your spirit of joy”, and suggests we limit our television viewing. There are many good reasons for us to limit that very intake, but doing so in order to shield ourselves from the woes of the world may actually leave us committing a deplorable act of self-pity.
We cannot empty ourselves of self-pity by focusing on ourselves, by turning our backs on others or burying our heads in the sand. We cannot risk deceiving ourselves into believing that if we do not see the horrors which many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are daily confronted with, they are not happening. That is to inadvertently risk exempting us from caring enough about their plights to help. Surely if members of our immediate families were suffering, we would not risk ‘tuning them out’ so that we would not have to suffer with them. Shall we then tune out any others? Rather, we need to tune ourselves out and tune the world in.
God arranged for us to be on this earth during these times – times in which technology enables us to be informed about what is happening to our brethren all over the world. In many ways, perhaps there isn’t enough coverage of the most serious woes of the world.
We should share in the sorrows of those who are suffering. We cannot allow ourselves to be overcome by sadness, but we should be appalled when others suffer due to injustice, negligence or contempt. Being emotionally deaf, dumb and blind to the world will not bring us joy. In order to answer the call to love, we must balance our emotions – not bury them or hide from them. We would do well to develop a deeply devotional prayer regimen on our neighbors’ behalf with the hope that one day we may share their joys.
To avoid cultivating a selfish joy, we must respond to the simple call to love. Then, merely seeing a smile on another’s face could bring us immense joy, especially if circumstances have prevented this person from smiling for a very long time.
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’. Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10:29-37
In the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, we ask God to make us instruments of his peace in sowing love, pardon, truth, faith, hope, light, and joy. We also ask that we have less concern for our own feelings and more concern for the feelings of others. We acknowledge that it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned and in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
Certainly we are confronted with many obstacles that limit and conflict with our ability to respond to the simple call to love. We should ask Our Lord daily, perhaps during our Communion prayer, to remove from within and about us everything that is an obstacle to our sanctification and in conflict with his Holy Will.
One very prominent obstacle that hinders our response is resentment. This feeling of ill will is toxic to the ‘fruits of charity’. This lingering anger chokes our hearts with living thorns, so that when the seeds of the fruits of charity are sown among those thorns, they prove unfruitful. Resentment needs to be conquered by the very love – the antidote – that it has grown resistant to. Although it may seem nearly impossible to overcome, it isn’t; we can chip away at resentment one Rosary bead at a time.
These actions will also bring forth a greater response to the call to love:
* To become more conscious of the feelings of others and, in being less defensive of our own, to open our hearts to them.
* To become more thankful for our possessions and, in being less attached to them, to share them with others.
* To become more thankful for our talents and, being less selfish with them, to use them in our service to others.
* To become more aware of our shortcomings and, being less judgmental of others, to pray that we are not put to the test.
* To become more aware of and empathetic to the problems of others and, being less focused on our own, to more greatly empty ourselves of self-pity.
* To become more helpful to others and, while being less expectant of our receiving in return, to purify our intentions.
* To become more informed about ways to help in our parishes and communities and, being less preoccupied with our own interests, to participate in some and truly improve life for those around us.
In all of the above we will find opportunities for fulfilling those corporal and spiritual works of mercy to which He calls us: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, burying the dead, counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, comforting the afflicted, forgiving offenses, bearing wrongs patiently, praying for the living and the dead.
When we serve our sisters and brothers we serve God:
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Mt 25:34-36)
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. (Mt 25:40,45)
In the Penitential Rite we confess that we have sinned in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. May we strive to shorten both of these lists.
In responding prayerfully, actively, joyfully to the simple call to love, we cannot fail to “make this world more beautiful, more just, more closely conformed to God’s plan”.
As individuals we can do little things with great love, and as a nation we can do greater things with great love. We can be a great people – people of truth, light, forgiveness, joy, life, peace, faith, hope, love – people of God.
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE WORLD DAY OF PEACE 1 JANUARY 2004
Christians know that love is the reason for God’s entering into relationship with man. And it is love, which he awaits as man’s response. Consequently, love is also the loftiest and most noble form of relationship possible between human beings. Love must thus enliven every sector of human life and extend to the international order. Only a humanity in which there reigns the “civilization of love” will be able to enjoy authentic and lasting peace.
At the beginning of a New Year I wish to repeat to women and men of every language, religion and culture the ancient maxim: “Omnia vincit amor” (Love conquers all). Yes, dear Brothers and Sisters throughout the world, in the end love will be victorious! Let everyone be committed to hastening this victory. For it is the deepest hope of every human heart. – JOHN PAUL II