Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Quinqagesima Sunday

6 March A.D. 2011



“God is Love”

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

Lenten Observance
Lent brgins this Wednesday!

“Now we see as through a darkened glass;  but then face to face.
Now I know in part;  but then I shall know even as I am known.”{2}

Some times, facetiously or not, Saint Paul is referred to as the “patron saint of the run-on sentence.”  His writing may usually be called somewhat “breathless.  There is at least one Sunday Epistle without a period except at the end.  But yet today we have this literary masterpiece on charity from his pen.  Perhaps it has to do with what we heard last week, “that he was caught up into paradise; and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter.{3}  Perhaps that infused knowledge of God had this wonderful effect on his literary style.

Charity, of course, is one of the theological virtues, the others being Faith and Hope.  It is a characteristic of the theological virtues that they have God for their immediate and proper object, and that they are divinely infused.  Charity (Latin “caritas”) is how we translate the Greek “ἀγάπην” (agapēn), which means an unselfish and self sacrificing love, rather than the love that we associate with physical passion and gratification.

The same Greek word is used by Saint John in saying that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”;  and in saying that “God is love.”{4} Saint Paul used the same word in saying that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”{5}

Likewise “ἀγάπην” or caritas is the word our Lord used in citing the greatest Commandment “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.”{6} and in saying that we should “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and in telling all Christians to “love one another, as I have loved you.”

Given these uses in the Bible, it is clear that Saint Paul is telling us about the need for an unselfish love of God above all else.  Even Faith, great enough to remove mountains, is not enough.  Nor is it enough to  “distribute all my goods to feed the poor.”  Of course, both of these things depend on caritas.

As a theological virtue, Charity must be infused in the human soul by God.  It is not something which a person can develop on his own, through natural means—it is a supernatural gift, although one that we must nurture after having received it.  The same can be said for Faith and Hope.

Logically, Faith must precede Charity, for supernatural Faith confirms what we may know through natural reason, and it is through God's revelation (which we believe by Faith), that we know that God loves us and wishes to be loved in return.  But Faith is perfected by Charity, in that it takes the knowledge of God gained through revelation and makes that knowledge come alive.  Loving, and being Loved in return, enables a certain joy in knowing God.  Through the virtue of Charity, things like the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, and our Lord's victory over suffering and death, and all such things, are elevated from the level of being mere facts of history to the level at which we take personal joy from their reality.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are no longer mere historical facts that took place two thousand odd years ago—through Charity they have become joyous realities in our lives here and now.

And, just as Saint Paul is not belittling Faith in this Epistle, likewise he is not belittling the need to “distribute our goods to feed the poor.”  remember that we are to “love one another as [God] loves us.”  We are given the opportunity to be God like when we assist Him in providing for His material creatures—particularly those creatures made in His “image and likeness,” our fellow men and women.  But here again, this supernatural Love of God perfects any instincts for natural charity we may possess.  Self interest is in our nature, and that natural self interest often needs something extra before we are willing to extend it to the poor and the homeless.  It is the Love of God that enables us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Saint Paul speaks of our earthly knowledge of God as being like a sight that we see through a “darkened glass.”  He assures us that one day our knowledge of God will one day be “face to face.”  But for the moment it is somewhat obscured.  Our material nature makes it difficult to Love God in response to His Love.  He is pure spirit, and therefore difficult for us to know and love.  Even in most His tangible manifestation in Holy Communion, He still remains cloaked with the veil of the appearances of bread and wine.  Through Baptism and the other Sacraments, God grants these supernatural gifts of Faith and Charity, so we are wise to receive them as frequently as possible.  Saint Paul tells us that “faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not”—the evidence for things we cannot see nor touch.{7}

Yet, many of us like to ground our beliefs in more tangible evidence.  Perhaps that is why the Church has us read this particular Gospel on the same Sunday as we read Paul's letter on Charity.  A careful reading of the Gospels reveals that our Lord's statement today, that “He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon; and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death; and the third day He shall rise again” is the third time that He made this prediction to His Apostles.{8}  Our Lord was not the unwitting or unwilling victim of being in the wrong time or place—He was born into this world, precisely with the plan of dying for our sins.  Now, as the Gospel says, the Apostles “understood none of these things.”  That is not surprising, for none of us is used to hearing someone speak enthusiastically about his impending death!  Indeed, in Saint Matthew's Gospel, Peter tries to convince our Lord not to go to Jerusalem, so that these things might not happen.{9}

But we have the benefit of retrospect.  We can read the New Testament accounts and learn how things turned out.  The Crucifixion was surely painful, the tomb was surely dark and cold, but our Lord rose from the dead on the third day, as He predicted in today's Gospel.  More to the point, in His death and resurrection, He conquered sin and death, so that we may spend eternity in loving the God who Loves us.  “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.{10}  Our Faith and our Charity can be augmented by this tangible knowledge of history.

The blind man in the Gospel should remind us of ourselves.  Our sight is very poor—we see God only as we would see through a darkened glass.  But the blind man acknowledged Jesus as the Messias, the “Son of David” and asked “Son of David have mercy on me.... Lord that I may see.”  And Jesus said to him: “Receive thy sight; thy faith hath made thee whole.”  And, lo, and behold, the man stood there seeing Jesus face to face.

We start Lent in just a few days.  Perhaps we should keep the blind man in mind for the forty days:  “Lord that I may see”  Lord that in seeing I may believe, and that in believing I may love.  For “now we see as through a darkened glass”;  O Lord that I may see Thee then face to face.


1 M. Disdero, From a stele on Mount Nebo. 19/02/2007 "ό θεòς αγάπη έστίν (ho theos agape estin). God is love." 1 John iv: 16.

2  1 Corinthians xiii: 1-13

8  Gospel:  Luke xviii: 31-34





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