Quinquagesima Sunday—10 February A.D. 2013
“God is Love”
“The Son of Man ... 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. And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them.”
Living in the Western world, we take it for granted that everyone knows that our Lord was crucified, and that Christians believe that the Crucifixion was a great spiritual blessing for Christ's faithful. One does not even have to be a believer to be aware of these things. But for our Lord's disciples, the understanding of this came only after a period of time. Our Lord spoke a number of times of his impending Crucifixion, but even when they understood Him to be speaking literally, they did not understand the reason for the suffering He predicted. When we read the account of Peter's “confession” that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” we read that Peter wanted to prevent Him from going to Jerusalem. When we read the account of the Transfiguration, we even see Saint Peter trying to persuade our Lord to avoid the possibility of suffering by remaining on Mount Thabor: “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”
It probably didn't help matters for the Apostles to see Jesus work powerful miracles. How could anyone come along and crucify someone who could calm the wind and the sea—surely the forces of nature were more powerful than any human army. And Jesus always seemed to have the right thing to say to the priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees—surely He would be able to talk His way out of any confrontation with the authorities.
Clearly the Apostles did not understand the significance that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross would have for mankind. Quite likely, this was on our Lord's mind when He promised to send the Holy Ghost at Pentecost: “the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.” Any confusion in the Apostles' minds would be cleared up on that day.
“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” But it is reasonable to ask why our Lord loved us enough to do so. It will help to examine the epistle that the Church has us read with today's Gospel, Saint Paul's famous essay on “Charity.”
To begin with, “charity” (caritas, really) is one of the Latin words for “love.” It is not simply money or food or clothing given to the poor: “if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor ... and have not charity, it profits me nothing.” Rather, charity is the motive for helping those in need—love of fellow man, because he is one of God's creatures, and because we first love God. Both Latin and Greek have two words for love, something not quite so clear in English. Nonetheless, it is necessary to distinguish caritas from amor—t he chaste, disinterested love that a parent might have for a child, or a child might have for a parent—as distinguished from the more passionate and physically possessive love that a man and a woman might share.
People with children can readily understand this disinterested love, particularly in adversity—perhaps the child is sick, or in trouble. Parents will do things for such a child that they would not do for themselves, will make tough choices and economic sacrifices, and whatever else they can do to relieve the child's difficulty. Conversely, there is very little that can make a parent more proud than a child who does well and achieves the things the parent wants for him.
God is truly our Father. As Saint John says, those who have received Jesus Christ have been given the power to become adopted sons and daughters of God, “who believe in His name... who were born of the will of God.” Creation on Earth, and maybe even the entire universe, was centered around man as God's foremost material creature. God was very much offended when Adam and Eve did not do well, following the devil and sinning against God’s command. Yet, like a true Father, He promised His children a remedy for the consequences of their action. He promise a Redeemer, saying to the serpent: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” As a loving parent, God was willing to lower Himself down to our level, and even to die the painful death of the Cross. He knew the importance of His Sacrifice, and resisted all of the suggestions made by Peter and the others that He should avoid making it.
But, as God's children, we ought to make the response He expects—to love Him with the same disinterested love in return. Saint Paul describes that love in this Epistle:
Charity is patient, is kind: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up; Is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil; Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; Bears all things, believeth all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Many of these things are things we must do relative to the people around us; friends, relatives, fellow parishioners, fellow citizens—we must love them because God loves them, and wants us to love them for His sake. But some of them are directed toward God as well: thinking no evil thoughts, rejoicing in truth, believing all that God has revealed, placing our hope for eternal salvation in Him.
Paul speaks about seeing God “face to face”—what theologians call the “beatific vision” of God in Heaven. He says that at that time “there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” Charity is the greatest of the three theological virtues, the virtues that “have God for their proper object,” perhaps because, like God, charity is completely unchanging. Earthly things like prophecy and speaking in tongues will pass away, as will the knowledge of our transitory world. Faith and Hope will remain, but even they will change somewhat in eternity. We have Faith, not because we see, but because God has told us that certain things are true—in eternity, in the beatific vision, we will directly see the truths of the Faith—they will become knowledge, and Faith will have changed. We have Hope because we trust God to help us do the things that are necessary for our salvation—but in eternity that salvation will have been accomplished, and Hope will be simply glorious fact. But charity will abide as it is: the disinterested pure love of God for man, and the love of man for God and for man in return.
“God is love,
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:TheosAgape.jpg 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.
 Baltimore Catechism #2, Q.120 http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson10.html