For people of faith, the very beginning of everything is to know deep within that God loves me. I’m not talking about knowing with my head. I’m talking about knowing with my gut and heart, a knowing that turns me upside down and inside out, a knowing that changes me and can be seen and experienced by others, as in the examples above. I’m talking about a knowing that enables me to ground what I hear in the scripture in my personal experience. When I hear in the scripture ‘God loves you’ I can nod. When I hear in the scripture ‘God’s right hand holds me fast’ I can nod. When I hear in the scripture that God has looked upon me, lowly and broken as I may feel, and come to my help … I can nod.
This experience of God’s love for me – as I am, where I am – is the very beginning, the source of faith. Faith – the process of falling in love with God – demands my ‘yes’, like the beloved’s ‘yes’ to a proposal and the new parents’ ‘yes’ to the midnight cry of their baby. In faith, like Mary, I say, ‘yes’ to ‘setting my heart on God’s kingdom’ and allowing myself to be changed by that choice.
My choice to participate in God’s love impels me out to magnify the love of God through love of neighbour and creation, through working for mercy and justice, through participation in the community of the faithful who gather as a sign and instrument of that love in and for the world.
Many things have led me to reflect on the love of God as the very beginning of our life as church. A significant trigger continues to be the Diocesan Liturgy Council’s (DLC) ongoing reflection on the voice of the people heard in the Synod Paper.
All prayer and worship, including liturgy, is first and foremost both a response to our personal and communal experience of God’s love, and an expression of my/our love for God. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says, the liturgy is an action of the faithful; the people must first experience God’s call to faith and conversion before they can come to the liturgy (CSL a.9). The liturgy is meant to be passionate. Passion is expressed in myriad ways, as much in the elderly couple holding hands and the grief of the bereaved, as in the wonder of new love. The Synod Paper is full of longing for forms of prayer and worship that enable people to express this love in meaningful ways.
This understanding of prayer and liturgy as an expression of ‘faith as love’ embodies our Vatican II understanding of Church as ‘light to the nations’ rather than as ‘sanctuary’ or boat that we have to get everyone into. Some of the longings the DLC is listening to in the Synod Paper have echoes of a church that continues to understand itself as a sanctuary. In particular I am thinking of concerns about falling Mass attendance and our engagement with families presenting their children for confirmation and first communion. While it is good to be concerned about these things, we need to critique the reason for our concern. Our heart needs to be set on the kingdom of God, not the church. With this heart-set, Jesus proclaims in the Gospel, all these other things will be taken care of.
Our primary concern as the church – community of the faithful – is to proclaim God’s love to the world through our communal life and mission. What would engagement with families presenting their children for the sacraments of initiation look like if its dynamic and operational principle was to proclaim God’s love to them and to accompany them in discovering its expression in their lives? What would our Mass attendance be like if we stopped worrying about who’s not there, and pondered how to make the celebration a more meaningful, communal and participatory celebration of God’s love that truly nourishes and changes those who are there to live as Christ’s body, broken and poured out for the coming of God’s kingdom?
The church only exists to proclaim the love of God. We call this evangelisation. If we do this well then opportunities to ‘baptise’ – the other part of the great commission given to us by Christ – will take care of themselves. And such opportunities would be so full of life and meaning that we would all want to be there! What a change that would be!
Let’s ponder together how we ‘start at the very beginning’ with the love of God. The starting place makes all the difference to the journey.
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for August provides us with much food for thought:
The specific vocation of the Church is evangelization, which isn't proselytism, no. Its vocation is evangelization; even more, the Church's identity is evangelization …
I dream of an even more missionary option: one that goes out to meet others without proselytism and that transforms all its structures for the evangelization of today's world.
Let us pray for the Church, that she may receive from the Holy Spirit the grace and strength to reform herself in the light of the Gospel.
Image: Pixabay 👀 Mabel Amber, who will one day