You be the Dead Sea or the Sea of Galilee?
LENTEN MOOD: Taking off from the claim of TV host Willie Revillame that he is moved by his love for the poor and his desire to help them through his popular “Willing Willie” show on TV5, and soaking in the introspective mood of Lent, I share these excerpts from a timely discourse.
The lines below (slightly edited) were taken from the third Lenten homily titled “Let Love Be Genuine” delivered Friday at the Vatican by Brother Raniero Cantalamessa to Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia. (NB: I can email the full text to those who want it.)
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LOVE THY NEIGHBOR: The river Jordan, as it flows, eventually forms two seas: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. But while the Sea of Galilee teems with life and contains some of the most abundant fishing waters on earth, the Dead Sea is exactly that — a “dead” sea. There is no trace of life in it or around it, only saltiness, and yet it is the same water as that of the Jordan.
The explanation, at least partially, is: the Sea of Galilee receives its waters from the Jordan, but it does not keep them to itself, it lets them flow out so that they irrigate the entire Jordan valley. The Dead Sea receives the same waters and retains them for itself; it has no outlets, not a drop of water comes out of it.
To receive love from God, we must give it to our brothers and sisters. The more we give, the more we receive. The water that Jesus gives us has to become “a spring inside us, welling up to eternal life.”
The time has come for us to meditate on the duty to love, in particular the duty to love our neighbor. “Since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another.”
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THREE PERSONS: With Jesus there is a move from a two-person relationship (“What the other person does to you, do the same to him”) to a three-person relationship (“What God has done to you, do the same to the other person” or, starting from the opposite direction “What you have done to others is what God will do to you.”
There are countless sayings of Jesus and the Apostles that repeat this concept: “As God has forgiven you, so you are to forgive one another,” “If you do not forgive your enemies from the heart, neither will your Father forgive you.”
Why this diversion of love from God to one’s neighbor? Wouldn’t it be more logical to expect: “As I have loved you, so you must love me,” rather than: “As I have loved you, so must you love one another”?
Here is the difference between love that is purely eros and love which is eros and agape together. Purely erotic love is a closed circle: “Love me, Alfredo, love me as much as I love you,” thus sings Violetta in Verdi’s “Traviata”: I love you, you love me.
The love of agape is an open circle. It comes from God and returns to Him, but passes through one’s neighbor. Jesus himself inaugurated this new kind of love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”
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BE TRUE: Of the quality of this love, it is essentially two-fold: it must be a sincere and active love, a love of the heart and a love, so to speak, of the hands.
On the first quality, we ponder on the guidance of that great singer of love, Paul, the second part of whose Letter to the Romans is a succession of recommendations about mutual love in the Christian community: “Let love be genuine…; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing respect.”
To grasp the underlying idea, or the “feel” that Paul has for charity, one must start with the initial word “Let love be genuine!” It is not just one of many exhortations, but the matrix from which all the others derive. It contains the secret of charity.
The original term used by St. Paul, translated as “genuine,” is anhypokritos, or without hypocrisy. This rare term is used in the New Testament almost exclusively to describe Christian love. Genuine love, he says, consists in loving one another intensely “from the heart.”
With that simple affirmation – “Let love be genuine!” — St. Paul takes the discussion to the very root of charity, to the heart. What is required of love is that it be true, authentic, not a pretense.
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NO GOSSIPING: St. James warns: “Do not slander one other.” Today, slander has a different name. It is called gossip and seems to have become an innocent thing, but in fact it is one of the things that most pollutes our lives.
It is not enough to avoid speaking ill of others. We must also prevent people from doing so in our presence, making it clear, perhaps by our silence, that we do not approve. How different the atmosphere is in a workplace or community where St. James’s warning is taken seriously!
In many public places there used to notices saying “No smoking here,” or even “No blaspheming here.” It would be a good idea in some cases to replace them with “No gossiping here!”
Listen to his exhortation to the Philippians, as though he were addressing us: “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Do nothing out of jealousy or vanity. Instead, out of humility of mind, everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not his own interests but those of others. Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus.”