25 October 2016

Christian Humanism: Love Is the Meaning and the Measure

“We are slow to master the great truth that even now Christ is, as it were, walking among us, and by His hand, or eye, or voice, bidding us to follow Him. We do not understand that His call is a thing that takes place now. We think it took place in the Apostles' days, but we do not believe in it; we do not look for it in our own case.

God's presence is not discerned at the time when it is upon us, but afterwards, when we look back upon what is gone and over. The world seems to go on as usual. There is nothing of heaven in the face of society, in the news of the day.

And yet the ever-blessed Spirit of God is there, ten times more glorious, more powerful than when He trod the earth in our flesh."

John Henry Newman

People sometimes ask me, 'what exactly is this 'Christian humanism' which you talk about?'

It is what Jacques Maritain called a humanisme intégral.

It is to consider carefully, to mediate on, and then fully give oneself over to a continuing contemplation and observance of the deepest of all mysteries:  the awesome reality,  the immanent presence—  the implications of the Incarnation.

It is to understand the ennobling of the human condition in an overwhelming and all-renewing Divine love, not absent, or distant, or once upon a time, or waiting for us elesewhere, but even and ever here among us,  in this very moment, and acting on it.

If we have all other virtues and gifts and knowledge but not love, we are just a bunch of noise, hollow, spiritually inanimate, nothing, ready to blow away in the wind, a 'resounding gong or a clanging cymbal'. Love is faith alive and in motion; living love.

It is for the person to fully and continually immerse themselves in the love of their Creator, and to thereafter embrace Him and love Him, not in some purposeless and unproductive abstraction that bears no fruit, but by loving and upholding Him in all of His creation, and in His creatures as He made them.

Love is the meaning and the measure of our being, of being truly and completely human.

'Amen amen I say to you, whatever you did to even the least of these, you did to me.'

Because He is no absent God.  We can shut our eyes and our hearts to Him, but we cannot escape His presence.  We can see it if we but look for it in His way, not ours.  We can measure it if we use His measures, not ours.  And it permeates us, it gives us life both now and for always if we will have it, whether we realize it or not.  He is no absent God.

Love Is The Measure

Summary:  In the face of a world in turmoil–atom bomb tests, food shortages, impending strikes, destitution–an exhortation to “love as Christ loved, to the extent of laying down our lives for our brothers.”  This tells of a priest whose work made him “a perfect fool for Christ.” And says “we confess to being fools for Christ, and wish we were more so.” (DDLW #425).

We confess to being fools and wish that we were more so. In the face of the approaching atom bomb test and the discussion of widespread radioactivity is giving people more and more of an excuse to get away from the philosophy of personalism and the doctrine of free will; in the face of an approaching maritime strike; in the face of bread shortages and housing shortages; in the face of the passing of the draft extension, teen-agers included, we face the situation that there is nothing we can do for people except to love them.

If the maritime strike goes on there will be no shipping of food or medicine or clothes to Europe or the far east, so there is nothing to do again but to love. We continue in our fourteenth year of feeding our brother and clothing him and sheltering him and the more we do it the more we realize that the most important thing is to love.

There are several families with us, destitute families, destitute to an unbelievable extent and there, too, is nothing to do but to love. What I mean is that there is no chance of rehabilitation, no chance, so far as we see, of changing them; certainly no chance of adjusting them to this abominable world about them, and who wants them adjusted anyway?

What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor in other words, we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world.

We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God– please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.

This is the month of the Sacred Heart, the symbol of Christ’s love for man. We are supposed to love as Christ loved, to the extent of laying down our lives for our brothers. That was the New commandment. To love to the extent of laying down our lives, dying to ourselves. To accept the least place, to sit back, to ask nothing for ourselves, to serve each other, to lay down our lives for our brothers, this is the strange upside-down teaching of the Gospel.

We knew a priest once, a most lovable soul, and a perfect fool for Christ. Many of his fellow priests laughed at him and said, “Why, he lines up even the insane and baptizes them. He has no judgment!” He used to visit the Negro hospital in St. Louis, and night and day found him wandering through the wards. One old Negro said to me, “Whenever I opens my eyes, there is Father!” He was forever hovering over his children to dispense the sacraments. It was all he had to give.

He couldn’t change the rickety old hospital, he couldn’t provide them with decent housing, he could not see that they got better jobs. He couldn’t even seem to do much about making them give up liquor and women and gambling–but he could love them, and love them all, he did. And he gave them Everything he had. He gave them Christ. Some of his friends used to add, “whether they wanted Him or not!”

But assuredly they wanted his love and they saw Christ in him when they saw his love for them. Many times I have been reminded of this old priest of St. Louis, this old Jesuit, when I have visited prisons and hospitals for the insane. It’s hard to visit the chaplains and ask their help very often. They have thousands to take care of, and too often they take the view that “it’s no use.” “What’s the use of going to that ward–or to that jail? They won’t listen to you.”

If one loves enough one is importunate, one repeats his love as he repeats his Hail Marys on his rosary.

Yes, we go on talking about love. St. Paul writes about it in 1 Corinthians 13.  In The Following of Christ there is a chapter in Book III, Chapter Five. And there are Father Zossima’s unforgettable words in The Brothers Karamazov–  “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”

What does the modern world know of love, with its divorces, with its light touching of the surface of love. It has never reached down into the depths, to the misery and pain and glory of love which endures to death and beyond it. We have not yet begun to learn about love. Now is the time to begin, to start afresh, to use this divine weapon.

Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, June 1946