Friday, January 7, 2011

Deus Caritas Est 2

Last time we began to take a look at the Holy Father’s first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est.  We began by reflecting on the concept of love as found in Greek philosophy.  We continue this reflection by examining the Biblical vision of love.

Unlike the god of Greek philosophy, who was distant, unknown and unloving, the true God revealed to the people of Israel was close, knowable and passionately in love with his people.  He gave life, not because he had to, but because he wanted to, out of deep love.  He chose a particular nation to reveal himself to, the people of Israel, and loved them in a special way.  Israel was invited into a Covenant with God, and was constantly reminded by the prophets to be faithful to the Lord.  The prophets Hosea and Ezekiel, in particular, described the love God had for Israel as that of a husband for his wife.  They also described  infidelity to the Covenant as adultery, and wrote of God’s forgiveness in very passionate, unconditional terms.

In the creation of the human race God made this capacity for love essential to our being.  Adam could only find a true helper in Eve.  Before the creation of woman, man was truly alone in the world in spite of the presence of all the animals of the field and birds of the air.  We were made for community and for communion, and this truth finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God’s love that had been working in the life of Israel.  He came to draw the lost sheep back to the Father and to show the deep love of God by his self sacrifice on the cross.  It is this love that we are called to imitate. We are to love our neighbor as Christ loves us—totally.   

In the Eucharist Christ gives us the memorial this sacrifice so that we may remember what he did for us, and that we may be united with him and so be nourished with the Bread of Life.  In the Eucharist we are mystically united with Christ and to all who receive his Body and Blood.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a member of a community.  We are bound to one another and called to a life of radical sacrifice.  This total commitment is lived by the life of Charity that is essential to the life of the Church.  The second half of the Holy Father’s letter is dedicated to how we live the love described in the first half.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Deus Caritas Est

January 25, 2005 saw the publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).  An encyclical is a letter from the pope to the entire universal Church, and represents the highest form of papal teaching.  The first encyclical from a new pope is usually seen as setting the agenda for the things he wants to do for the rest of his pontificate.  The new letter takes as it’s theme love.  The first part is more intellectual, and focuses in on what love means.  The second is more concrete and discusses ways in which love is lived out in the life of the Church.  This week we’ll deal with the first part, with a letter to follow on the second.

The Holy Father explains that throughout history love has been defined in three ways.  Eros, meaning physical or romantic love, agape, meaning unconditional, self sacrificing love and philia meaning brotherly love.  Christian teaching has focused more on agape and philia as the ideal way that disciples of Christ express their love for one another.  Some have accused the Church of undervaluing or even trying to destroy eros by making it appear sinful. Pope Benedict argues quite the opposite, that physical love between husband and wife is essential. Conjugal relations represent an image of the divine life we will all share in eternity, as well as a participation in the creative action of God.  The key is that eros must be purified of selfishness and lust.  It can only do this when it is unified with agape which, by it’s nature, seeks the good of the other without worrying about itself.

Eros and agape separated from each other are incomplete. It is only together that they can fully express the reality of love.  This does not mean all love must be expressed romantic terms. Christ gave himself totally on the cross for the life of the world (agape) but also had a deep, passionate love for the people he was sent to save (eros). It is only because Jesus loved us in this “human” way that he was able to give him self so completely to forgive our sins. The priest or religious is called to this same kind of passionate self giving while remaining chaste.

In the future we’ll delve a little deeper into the Pope’s message of love, as well as looking at the practical ways that we live this love as Christians.  Until then I invite you to take a look at the Pope’s own words at the Vatican web site.

Monday, January 3, 2011

January and the Saleisan Family

The month of January is very important for the Salesian Family. January 24th is the feast of St. Francis de Sales and the 31st is the feast of St. John Bosco. Over the next few weeks our reflections will center on Don Bosco and Salesian spirituality. We begin by taking a brief look at Don Bosco’s life and the legacy he has left behind in the form of the Salesian Family.

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was born near the city of Turino, Italy, in a small farming community. His father, Francis died when John was only two years old, and left his mother Margaret alone to raise him, his brother Joseph and step brother Anthony. It was there, at the family farm in the village of Becci, that young John learned the value of prayer and hard work. He also grew in the knowledge of God’s call to the priesthood, and pursued the education he needed. It was not easy. His older step brother Anthony, the “man” of the house, thought that study was not real work, and tried to stop him from spending time reading and learning. Things were so tense that John had to leave the house to live with relatives in a neighboring village. While still a teenager he left home for good and lived in the city of Chieri where he went to school during the day and worked at night to pay for school (there was no free public education then).

John was ordained to the priesthood in 1841. He worked tirelessly for the salvation of the young. Don Bosco’s first permanent work was called the Oratory, where he worked with poor and abandoned boys. He eventually founded the Salesian Society to continue this work into the future. All the time he remembered the lessons he learned at his home, at the feet of his mother Margaret; the need to make Jesus the center of his life, to be kind to all, and to be present in the lives of the young whom he served. Don Bosco wanted the schools, youth centers and parishes that his Salesians worked at to be homes where all felt welcome, Churches that evangelized to the faith, schools that prepared for life and a playground where lasting friendships were formed. We call this today the “Oratorian Criteria,” that all Salesian works aspire to follow.