The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one. (John 10:27-30)
The hope and consolation in listening and following through the joys and struggles of life are that we will have eternal life. On this rainy Sunday, I sat on the lounge, looked out at the lake and slowly read half of Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia - On Love in the Family. Like other Vatican documents, it cannot be read at speed and must be digested slowly and with deep engagement. This gives us one way of listening to the voice of God. I believe, as Catholics, we are blessed to have the Scriptures, and then the wisdom of our leaders who take time to savour over them, revisit documents and teachings of our faith and incorporate them into the experiences of our lives.
Previously, many Catholics have looked to the church for absolute direction to their lives. It was a faith based on rules and obedience, and to follow the rules obediently ensured our admission to eternal life. Most of us have moved on from this prescriptive religion but sadly many Catholics do not engage with the Scriptures, our traditions, worship and wisdom writings. This is what it means to listen, and then to follow. Without listening, following the pilgrim way is not possible.
In Chapter 4 of the Exhortation “Love in Marriage”, the great passage of love from St Paul (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) is broken open line by line. I plan to extract this chapter and place it in a document to give to each of our children. It uses plain and powerful English to explain the face of love in relationship. I hope you might read this chapter, along with the others.
In this chapter I came across paragraph 118, “Love endures all things” which I thought to share with you. And so I quote for you:
Panta hypoménei. This means that love bears every trial with a positive attitude. It stands firm in hostile surroundings. This “endurance” involves not only the ability to tolerate certain aggravations, but something greater: a constant readiness to confront any challenge. It is a love that never gives up, even in the darkest hour. It shows a certain dogged heroism, a power to resist every negative current, an irrepressible commitment to goodness. Here I think of the words of Martin Luther King, who met every kind of trial and tribulation with fraternal love: “The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off… Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it… When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love”.
In this Year of Mercy, I invite you to ponder the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, for works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbours in their spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.
I think we are blessed to live in these times when information is so readily available. There is no reason for a shortfall in our formation and development. I realise we are busy but contemplation of the mysteries of our good and loving God provides us with deep contentment and joy which in turn influences those whose lives we touch.
Once again I ask that you consider the many opportunities provided to you in Dio Update. I realise you will need to make an effort to respond to the invitations, but I can assure you, the effort will be worthwhile and will ensure your continued growth in faith, hope and love.