Sunday, May 15, 2022

"Behold, I make all things new"

This Sunday's readings, far from being disparate, constitute a unified whole. I don't think this is evident at a glance. So, in this reflection I seek to bring the unifying thread to the fore.

Revelation 21:1-5a- The city of God comes down from heaven. We don't go up. There is probably no worse distortion of Christianity than the idea that heaven is up there somewhere. Believing in the resurrection means believing that human beings are embodied beings, not disembodied spirits. Hence, there has to be a place for us to dwell. That place, according to the New Testament and the beliefs of the ancient Church, is earth. In short, how we live now matters. We can't disconnect life from salvation. Going up to heaven is not a reward for good behavior down below. Besides, such a market exchange understanding of salvation is inimical to Christianity. The last line of the passage that constitutes this reading serves as a key: "Behold, I make all things new." Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato 'si profoundly deals with this reality.

John 13:31-33a.34-35- Love, agape, is how we are to live now and forever. The mission of the Church, the mission of Christians, that which we are sent forth to accomplish at the end of every Mass, is to make make God's kingdom a present reality. This means making heaven present here and now. Agape, best described as self-giving/self-sacrificing love, is the means by which we accomplish this is in the concrete circumstances of our daily lives. Loving one another as Christ loves us is its own reward. "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16). Loving others is how we make God's kingdom present now. It is practice for the heaven on earth that is to come. In other words, if you don't like living this way now, what makes you think you're going to like living this way forever?

Acts 14:21-27- Paul and Barnabas take up the mission of spreading the Good News of God's love given us in Christ. They do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. What they experience they also teach: "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." To love is to make yourself vulnerable. If to live is to suffer, at least to some extent, then to love is to suffer, as we all know. Love entails a risk.

Paraphrasing the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe: If you refuse to love, you're already dead. If you choose to love, they'll kill you. While loving others in a Christlike way may not expose you to the risk of being put to death, it is how you die so you can live the new life you received when you were baptized. Being a Christian means to become selfless in the service of others, especially those in need. A fine example of what McCabe was getting at are these well-known words of the Archbishop Hélder Câmara: When I feed the poor, they call me saint. When I ask why they're poor, they call me a communist. Aquinas, taking his cue from Saint Paul, noted that love is to put the good of the other person before your own. Simple to say, hard to do. But maybe I am projecting.

It means something quite specific to insist that "God’s dwelling is with the human race." It points to something quite profound to say that God will dwell with us and that "God himself will always be with [us] as [our] God." Far from being a rhetorical flourish, this is deep theology.

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