Br. Patrick McSherry, OFM Cap
Remember Jesus’ question: “When the Son of Man comes, will there be faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).
In my opinion, the greatest challenge that the church faces today does not come from outside forces, such as secularization. The greatest crisis comes from within, and it is anchored not in the institution, not in dogmas, not in disciplines, not even in our actions, but deeper inside of us, in our depths there is a void. We try to fill that void with all sorts of substitutes, even religious substitutes, but nothing will satisfy it except the real thing.
We preach that God is love, but we have also emptied the term “love” of any real meaning, both love of God and love of neighbor. Like many of the early disciples, our first fervor was short-lived. Jesus is out of sight, he’s a memory, we will remember him always, but now let’s go back home and get back to the business of life, business as usual.
That void, that yearning, of which I speak is that tiny almost imperceptible voice that says to each one of us from time to time, “Were not our hearts burning within us…” We have grown lukewarm, if not cold.
We have cleaned God up and made him look respectable. We no longer see the connection between love and passion. We hide behind safe religious language, to avoid a real personal relationship with Jesus the Lord. We say that God is love … as if it were a theological virtue, a philosophical category, when in fact, the cross points to the depth of God’s love for you and me, which is nothing less than passionate, and all-consuming. God longs for us with desire. If it were another person it’d cause us to blush in embarrassment.
If you’ve ever been in love you know the signs. You are attracted so much by another person that you want to have that person for your very own, but you want to be with them, you enjoy their company, you look forward to seeing them again, you talk and laugh together, you remember things from the past that you shared in common and look forward and even plan things for the future together. Love captures your heart, it runs through your blood, it possesses and devours you. You send little signs that you’re thinking of that person throughout the day. You still go about your business, but your gait has a little more spring to it, your smile beams a bit more brightly.
Sometimes we act like we like God, as if God were similar to a good book, or a movie, maybe a piece of candy, and nothing more; but a relationship based on liking someone, reduces God to a mere acquaintance, a passing friend, someone who you may be glad you met but could easily live without as well.
The death and resurrection of the Lord is called his Passion not because Passion involves suffering, but because his love for us knows no bounds, it is a passionate love, a love that goes to any extreme to show it. And because God loves us passionately, our love of God must also be passionate.
We need to reclaim our baptism. Love is not a theological virtue, love is a living reality between two living people. It is a consuming love, it burns intensely. Prayer is not something you have to do, or that can be done from a book. Prayer is being transparent to the one you love. Spiritual authors have wrongly graded different levels of meditation, reserving the highest (union with God) to mystics. But ask any couple in love if feeling one with the one you love is reserved for only the exceptional few. Do you ever stop after something happens that is both uplifting and surprising and turn your thoughts to God and with a smile, say, “I know that was you, love.” Do you ever pause in the middle of your day, not to say Midday Prayer, but just to say like a post-it note, “Thinking of you, God.” Do you ever do just some small gesture and say, “This is for you. I love you.” These are the telltale signs of passionate love.
But passionate love doesn’t endure unless you feed it. Every day Jesus says to you and me: touch me, see it for yourself.
There are two things in particular during the Easter Season that we are reminded of. First, and we hear it over and over again with Peter’s discourse. On Pentecost, Peter and the apostles were gathered before a great crowd and Peter began to speak. What he said was very powerful.: You killed Jesus of Nazareth. God raised him up. This is the core message of our faith.
Please understand that the crowd that day was certainly composed of people other than the ones who physically nailed Jesus to the cross. They were not the same crowd that cried out: Crucify him! Still, Peter said very plainly: you killed Jesus. And when they heard those words they asked: What must we do now? To which Peter replied: Repent.
The thing that is most important for us to realize is that our faith is not based on the fact the Jesus died for sins in some generic way. Remember when David said to Natan: “For the life of the Lord, whoever did this merits death.” And Nathan turned directly to David and said: You are that man! (2 Sm 12:7). Those same words are directed to each one of us: you killed Jesus, but God raised him up. The reaction of the crowd on Pentecost was not to clothe themselves in sackcloth and ashes but to be baptized and spread joyfully the good news.
When we realize how much a person loves us, to what extremes the other person has gone for us, how full of passion they are for us, we say: you did that for me? And God says, yes, and I would do it again, even if it were only for you. Our passion for God is a response to God’s passion for us.
None of the disciples of Jerusalem expected to meet the risen Jesus when he appeared to them. And when he did, they would have preferred it to have been a ghost. Why? Because they killed him…they abandoned him, they denied him, they were embarrassed by the way they treated him.
You killed Jesus of Nazareth and God raised him up. This ought to fill us with a profound sense of gratitude. Someone saved not just my soul, but my butt as well. That is, he taught us not only how to die, but how to live.
Secondly, it teaches us to give to others what we ourselves have received. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that whatever we do to someone else, we do to him. Jesus doesn’t ask for our tears, or more prayers, or penances, or sad faces, or remorse, he asks for our passion, he asks us to be like him. Let us allows ourselves to be attracted by, moved, and drawn by God’s passion and to respond with our passion for God. Friends, we live in someone else’s debt. Let us sing our Alleluia for what God has done for love of us. And when we respond to his passion with our own passion, the entire host of angels and saints sing in response to us: Alleluia indeed!