"Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil;
cleave to that which is good" (Romans 12:9).
These two propositions from St. Paulís Epistle to the Romans put forward
the absolute minimum requirements for "Christian love" and "Christian living."
The odd thing about them, of course, at least in the terms of this world,
is that Christian "minimums" always turn out to be "maximums." The "best"
is the least that God will give us, and the best is the very least that
he would have us offer him in return.
The minimum requirements of this world are usually based on the notion
of "scraping by." My "minimum tax," for example, is the smallest amount
that I can pay to the government without being investigated or audited.
My "minimum down payment" is the least that I have to possess in order
to qualify to buy a new house.
God, on the other hand, is only interested in the fullness of life.
His Son Jesus Christ has declared it to be his Fatherís will that the life
which we receive from him is to be lived, not minimally, but more and more
"abundantly" (see John 10:10).
To aim constantly at abundance, and at the best, and even at perfection
may sound impossible, but only if we listen to the defeatist voices of
this world. And this world is defeated. It was defeated when Adam and Eve
handed their dominion over this world to Satan; and as Satanís ally (willing
or not), this world was defeated again when Jesus Christ rose from the
dead on Easter. God, however, is not defeated. He cannot be. He will not
God lives forever in the perfection of life, and that perfection is
what God is offering us, not as an impossible goal that will only break
our hearts, but as the perfectly achievable goal, with the help of his
grace, of those who are brokenhearted before him in repentance of their
sins. The choice is between breaking our hearts in loving this world, which
will never love us back, or breaking our hearts in loving God, who has
always loved us, even when we were the most unlovable. The world will give
us nothing but a grave, after it has broken us into ever-smaller pieces.
God, instead, will put us back together again, better than we ever were,
in the image and likeness of his own perfection, never to be broken again.
Thus, we should look at St. Paulís propositions for loving and living
very carefully. The first is this: "Let love be without dissimulation."
True love does not begin with us, but with God. It is his gift, the grace
to love him and one another without play-acting, pretense, or hypocrisy.
This is the way that God loves us first, without any hidden agenda. Most
of us, if we are honest, will have to admit that we "hedge our bets," at
least a little. We hold back in loving, keeping a little for ourselves,
and trying to figure out the motives of others, lest we get hurt.
Godís love, by contrast, couldnít be more straightforward. Part of the
problem that most people have in understanding God is that he simply tells
us what he wants. The Ten Commandments, for example, arenít mysterious
at all. Nor is the Summary of the Law that our Lord offers, quoting from
the Old Testament. Nevertheless, while God speaks plainly, we often ask
ourselves in our minds, "But what does he really want?"
And if we were really fair, we would stop asking such questions, and
simply obey Godís Commandments. We would look at Godís Son, hanging on
the Cross, and we would abandon all doubt about what God wants from us.
We would see the Eternal Son made man dying for us, and in our place, and
we would know that God is asking nothing for himself. We would know that
every commandment that God gives us is for our benefit, since believing
in him or not, obeying him or not, we cannot make him more or less God.
Believing and obeying him, however, can make us more human (as humanity
was meant to be) and give us more life (as mankind was meant, from before
the creation of the world, to live eternally in the love of God).
Everything good in life, and an eternity of life, starts, then, with
the love of Godóthe love that he gives us and the love that he empowers
us to give by his grace. But what do we do with such power? The answer
is found in St. Paulís second proposition: "Abhor that which is evil; cleave
to that which is good." If Godís gift of the divine love is the power of
good living, this is the way in which that power is to be used and to be
worked out in a good life.
It is simply impossible to live a good life without detesting whatever
is evil and morally ugly. Evil should appall us. It should make us sick
to our stomachs. Evil is always a form of violence, primarily against God,
and secondarily against man as the creature made in Godís image and likeness.
It doesnít matter whether evil assaults the body, the mind, or the soul
of man. Evil should fill us with outrage.
But even outrage isnít enough, unless we take the next step with St.
Paul and do our best to cling to that which is good. Evil is a perversion,
but identifying perversion as perversion is useless, unless we embrace
something better and hold it up to the world as the proper choice of decent
men and women. We should, for example, be disgusted by the image of the
perfectly innocent Son of God nailed to a tree. More than this, however,
we should also embrace that innocent and glorious Christ, and cleave to
the life that he offers us in his resurrected majesty.
The power of Godís love gives us the ability to see the beautiful, as
well as the ugly, and then to live in beauty rather than in ugliness. Our
whole lives can be beautiful in Christ, just as our lives can be pointless
and ugly without him. And so we work out the power of Godís grace by loving
completely and by living completely in the ever-more-powerful imitation
of Christ. Like anything else, the more we practice the love of Christ
and the more that we practice the life of Christ, the better we will become
at loving and living. The more that we conform ourselves to the basic requirements
of Christian love and Christian living, the more we will understand how
they lead to the perfect hope of our own resurrection at the last day,
and to the end of all our strivings. We will cease striving, not because
we are "good enough," and certainly not because we will be allowed to "give
up," but because God will complete what is good in us and wipe away all
evil and the weaknesses that bring tears to our eyes (see Rev. 21:4).
In the meantime, the defeated world will tell us a million lies, trying
to seduce us into sharing its defeat. It will offer us "loopholes" in Godís
commandments or "exceptions" to St. Paulís basic requirements for Christian
love and life. It will tell us that the good is evil, and that the ugly
is beautiful. An especially grotesque example of the worldís approach came
late last year, when the Brooklyn Museum of Art displayed what it called
a "painting" of "The Holy Virgin Mary" covered in elephant dung and highlighted
by clippings from pornographic magazines.
Religious groups rightfully complained, and the Mayor of New York tried
to cut off the museumís funding, until a federal judge blocked him on "First
Amendment grounds" (quotes from an AP story, by Donna De La Cruz, ©
1999). Then the general lack of outrage over such ugliness finally overpowered
a retired teacher named Dennis Heiner. He went to the museum and tried
to cover the image with white paint. He was, of course, arrested.
It is easy to criticize Mr. Heinerís methods, but it is equally easy
to wonder at a society so married to ugliness that public funds are used
to deface the image of anyoneís mother, let alone the Mother of God. It
is easy to wonder how many people who call themselves "Christians" will
continue to support or to attend this museum, thinking that they are being
"good sports" or "open-minded," when what they are really doing is encouraging
evil by failing to abhor it.
The museum published a statement that its trustees and staff "are shocked
and extremely saddened by this incomprehensible act that has attempted
to deface an important work of art by a world renowned artist." From this
statement, we learn what those trustees and staff members love, what they
abhor, and what they cling to.
It is time for Christians, then, to begin making an equally clear statement
about what we love and what we cling to. We will do this, not by breaking
into museums, but by living lives that follow in ever-more-precise detail
the principles that St. Paul has offered us this morning: "Let love be
without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is