The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: April 11, 2003
God So Loved the World
By PAULO EVARISTO ARNS
No believer doubts that God created the world in a gesture of love. Gods love is at the center of the universe. Creation is an act of love. Redemption is an act of love. The resurrection of Jesus is the theological confirmation that love is stronger than death; stronger than sin; stronger than any of the divisions that exist among human beings. Race, religion, gender, social class and nationalism divide us. Love is the power that breaks down the walls of prejudice and division.
God did not create the world eons ago and then forget about it. He continues to create goodness from generation to generation. Our God is a God of love and he delights in bringing together, in a relationship of love, all human beings.
Grace is Gods love entering our individual or collective lives. He never pushes us or manipulates us. He invites us to enter the divine life of the Trinity, to be one as we are one.
The Song of Songs insists that love is stronger than death, that there is no greater power in the world. When we love we identify ourselves with others who are different from us. Love frees us from the obstacles of our own egos and gives us the gift of seeing the richness there is in other races, religions, cultures and genders.
Love is not simply romantic or passionate. Love is dying to egoism, to prejudice and to superiority complexes. Love is a transfiguration, a resurrection. As St. Paul would say, we divest ourselves of the old Adam, the old man, which is sin, and clothe ourselves with the new Adam, the new man, who is Christ.
The liturgical texts for Easter show us how Gods love tries to expand the human mind of his followers. In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 10, Peter, the good and true Jew, sees that God does not show favoritism, but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do justice. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the pagan Gentiles.
Johns Gospel shows how difficult it was for a patriarchal society to accept that the risen Lord appeared first to his women followers. It is only in this Gospel that Mary Magdalene returns to Jerusalem to convoke two men to confirm what the women had seen!
And St. Paul (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) begs us to be free of the old yeast. Our batch of dough, the new life of all humanity in the Spirit, will rise only if we get rid of the old yeast and see the world through the new. All malice must be rejected in our way of thinking so that we will be nourished with the new bread of sincerity and truth.
Ecumenism is the active commitment to the unity and to the communion of the whole human family. The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, states that the church exists as a sign and an instrument of unity for all humanity. If this is the reason for our existence, then it requires that we all make a serious effort to achieve unity.
We all know that if God is one, our human vocation is to reflect this oneness as a human family. The scriptures reveal this in Genesis, stating that all humanity has the same origin. And the Book of Revelation confirms it, stating that at the end of this worlds history, all peoples will be united as the Bride of the Lamb of God. Eternity will be a wedding feast of unity: all celebrating, at the same table, our union with the Godhead.
Before he died, Jesus prayed for this unity: that it would begin here on earth in human history. He reveals that the world will only believe in the Father when there is complete unity.
Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, says that Vatican II addresses itself to the whole human family seen in the context of all that envelops it. Everything that unites humanity comes from God. Everything that divides us comes from sin.
The unity of humankind reflects the unity of God. In the Trinity, persons who are different in themselves are one in the unity of the Godhead. Unity is part of the plan of God for all his creatures because it is the essence of divine life.
Ecumenism is not just an act of piety. The whole world is divided today for many reasons. But, as we have said before in another article, the different religions of these peoples give them a mystic justification for their struggles and their violence.
There has been an extremely disturbing cooling of the ecumenical climate that existed after the Second Vatican Council. Old anti-Catholic prejudices are coming to the fore because the ecumenically inclined are becoming frustrated with the lack of progress.
I f this is true on a worldwide scale, it does not deny the fact that the struggle for unity is alive and well in many local churches. But in the decades since the council, where there is indifference and triumphalism, the number of regular churchgoers, of priestly vocations, and even the number of baptisms have fallen drastically.
This would change if we Catholics would embrace the sacred fellowship of all human beings and join together with all others to create a world order that furthers peace. Eastern Europe and Northern Ireland are at war. Spain is divided. Many African nations face civil or intertribal wars. The Middle East is exploding with hate and despair.
The United States is fighting a worldwide war on terrorism. Russia faces civil wars with different regions of the old Soviet Union. Latin America is torn internally between its great natural wealth and the tremendous poverty of so many of its people. In many of these regions, religion is one more factor that deepens the division among the different groups involved.
Some years ago, a theology professor at our archdiocesan institute mentioned two books written by a Swedish couple, Jan and Gun Kessle Myrdal. Report from a Chinese Village (1981)and Return to a Chinese Village (1984) were the results of studies the Myrdals conducted about life in small villages in the interior of China. The villagers would meet once a week to review their common life and see what they could do to live in greater harmony.
A Dominican theologian exclaimed, Its the kingdom of God! We all looked at him amazed. The kingdom of God in tiny villages in communist China? He explained that if all the villagers were united in fraternity, working together for peace and justice, wouldnt that be the essence of the kingdom of God? Who are we to say that Gods Holy Spirit can only blow where we want?
I was reminded of this when I read Tom Foxs book, Pentecost in Asia. The third chapter is titled: Reign of God. And Fr. Jacques Dupuis book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism has a chapter titled: The Reign of God, the Religions and the Church.
Both books are works of love. A North American layman and a French Jesuit have learned to love the people of Asia. As we saw above, love liberates us from egoism and prejudice. Love frees us to see the great and different values that exist in other races and religions.
I hope both of them will excuse a little teasing! It is just that many others think the French and the North Americans are a little too convinced about their own superiority in relation to us, the underprivileged in the rest of the world!
But love has set them free! Tom quotes the Asian bishops as stating: Our Christian communities in Asia must listen to the Spirit at work in many communities of believers who live and experience their own faith and they must accompany these others in a common pilgrimage toward the ultimate goal, in a relentless quest for the Absolute.
Easter is the celebration of the Absolute. The Absolute is Love. Where there is Love, there God is present. Have we the courage to embrace a love so divine that all boundaries and frontiers have to be eliminated?
The responsorial for Easter, Psalm 118, sings out: Give thanks to the Lord, who is good; Gods love endures forever.
May Gods light, which is love, take away the blindness of our national and religious pride and free us to embrace all humankind in a new world order based on peace and solidarity!
Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns is the retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil.
National Catholic Reporter, April 11, 2003
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