Chalcedon once told me that some of the best parts (as well as the worst parts) of this blog were the comments column, and this, from his friend, Cathy, caught my eye, not least against the backdrop of some of the reaction to the Pope’s visit to the USA. She wrote this comment:
To me the firm ground and foundation of our faith is sacrificial love; Love of God for us as revealed supremely on the cross, and given to us in such abundance that it overflows to those around us, and prevents us doing anything other than offering the same acceptance that the Lord gave us when we were yet sinners; serving those around us as Christ served his disciples. Love of God, love of neighbour; the same love.
When we despise our neighbours, when we think more of their sins than their virtues, when we revile them in any way, we do this to the Lord himself.
This particular idiot is happy to think everything else negotiable, as long as these two principles remain firm. This is not to negate the creeds; in my view these principles are the foundation of the creeds and all that they say, in the same way as they are the foundation of the Law and the Prophets.
Now that seems to my way of thinking to be one of the best statements of Christianity I’ve come across. She focuses in on loving God and our neighbours – the pillar and foundation of the law. She says nothing about Canon Law, narrow gates and lakes of fire. If she won’t mind my saying so (and if she does, I doff my cap in apology) she sounds a bit like the best bits of Pope Francis talking about the joy of the Gospel. Yes, we know the gate is narrow, but we’re not told that ticking boxes is the way to heaven. It seems to me sometimes we treat the road as though it is an obstacle course – when the main obstacle may well be our mind-set. It seems to me at times as though we’re frightened of mercy and of love and are more comfortable with fear of hell-fire and the need to keep to the narrow way. Yet, in doing that, if we end, as Cathy perhaps implies (and I’d say we do) by emphasising to our neighbours their sins, are we not disobeying the greatest of the commandments?
It irritates me beyond the bearing when folk respond that ‘real love’ consists in telling our neighbours they are transgressing; ‘tough love’ is too often simply an excuse for being unkind to folk. As regulars will know, I oppose abortion, but I don’t think that telling abortion providers they are ‘murderers’ or making youngsters who get abortions feel bad is a sensible way of proceeding. Has it actually worked? Is it not better to show the latter the love we have for them, despite their sin? As for the former, again, are we not just hardening their hearts further?
Again, I take the historic Christian line on divorce, but it is a fact of life on a scale unprecedented, and if Francis and co are looking at ways in which the yoke on their flocks can be lessened, why condemn them? If we really think God is going to send divorced people who remarry to hell, I can see why, but is that the God we see in Christ?
It seems to me Cathy makes an important point in her comment. We can’t change the world around us unilaterally, but we can change our behaviour. Is it the love of God or the need to be judgmental which moves us? I’m certainly prone to compound for the sins I commit by being hard on the sins of others, though, I hope, far less hard than once I was. The older I get, the more conscious I become of God’s mercy to me and how little I deserved it, and the more I feel that my faith commands me to help others, not in a way that satisfies my needs, but their needs. His goodness and mercy have followed me, is it not my job to help others know that joy? In so much of the comments in some Catholic quarters on the Pope I see little sign of the joy of the Gospel and a great fear that some law or other will be transgressed; but little recognition that such an attitude might, itself, transgress the need to love our neighbour. Jesus does not, after all, say love your neighbour as long as he’s behaving himself. If we see the image of God in others, let us remember they see it in us, and watch the witness we give.
Cathy’s words are worth pondering.