Love is the Substance of the Gospel Print
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 09:34
Yesterday, I noticed that Mark Shea had a post up about an example of one Orthodox blogger and apologist who utterly rejected the value of anything Catholic and a number of outstanding saints such as St. Francis and Teresa of Avila. Mark went on to say that he had encountered a very similar "testosterone-driven" attitude among some Catholic apologists and didn't know how representative of Orthodox teaching and thought this particular blogger was.

I knew it was a case for my go-to guy for all things Orthodox: Fr. Gregory Jensen of Koinonia and so I asked Fr. Gregory to join in the conversation if he had time. Fr. Gregory responded with a beautiful note that I wanted to share with you in case you hadn't seen it over at Mark's.

Just a thought before you read Fr. Gregory's response.

As I have posted here before, many post-modern people have a hard time thinking of themselves as sinners in the sense that Christians have historically understood that term and many Catholics are concerned that people lack that sense of personal sin.

But I suspect that Fr. Gregory (who is a psychologist) is talking about a existential knowledge of our own brokenness that goes far, far deeper than a theological or catechetical concept. Post-moderns are not likely to use the term "sin" to name it until they have had a deep encounter with Christ but most of us know, feel the fear, anger, lack of peace and love, the ego-centrism, the lack of freedom within. The things we do that we do not want to do and how often we do not do what we know to be good. Which is why the Orthodox understand the ascetic struggle against sin to be at the heart of the spiritual life.

And of course, Fr. Gregory was writing for a reasonably well-catechized Catholic audience who do believe in sin not to a group of post-modern "nones".

"there is neither reconciliation or salvation where love is absent since love is the substance of the Gospel. And what is love except my ability to see in another what is unique and of lasting value; love allows me to see the beauty that is hidden to the eyes of the world but known to God.

I would suggest the problem isn't that Catholics and Orthodox Christians disagree but that we do not see the beauty in each other's tradition. More than that, however, is we too easily defer to the loud voices in our respective tradition. For all that these voices might have a grasp on the naked facts of history, they are loud because, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, they lack love and so are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals (see 1 Cor 13.1).

This is not to say that their lack of love is global, it isn't. But what is lacking is love of the other side of the conversation. Again, love is what makes it possible to see what is unique and beautiful in someone. And it is love, to paraphrase Chiara Lubich, that makes us bold and gives us the courage to draw close to each other in ways that acknowledge what we share, while remaining respectful of our differences as persons and traditions.

At the risk of being judgmental, I think too many apologists--Eastern and Western, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant--are simply spiritually (and I suspect, psychologically) immature. And yet, to the degree we are able, we should remain gentle with them both in our speech and, more importantly, in our hearts.

Such gentleness is a podvig (ascetical challenge) for me. I have to remind myself (sometimes more than once in a single conversation) that a heart in which love is absent is a heart ruled by fear (see 1 Jn 4). Yes, I must speak the truth in love (see, Eph 4.15) to all I met--especially to those whose hearts are gripped by fear. But to speak the truth in love requires from me that I first love the person with whom I am speaking, that I see in that person what is unique and beautiful and of lasting value in his or her life.

To speak the truth in love, means not only to love but also to be myself lovable. Alas, for too many of us, the Gospel is not the revelation that we are loved by God, that is that I am lovable, but the opposite, that I am unloved. The fundamental anthropological truth of the Gospel is not that we are sinners, but that we are loved.

Repentance is not grasping that I am a sinner, any fool with a modicum of self-knowledge and awareness knows that about himself. No, repentance is knowing in a deep and personal way that I am loved. Based on their words and actions, I wonder how many, if any, of our self-appointed apologists know that they are loved? Love makes me gentle, patient, forgiving, respectful and long suffering with others in their struggles (see Gal 5). Where these are absent in speech, the (we can be sure) that it is merely a word spoken from my ego and that the Gospel is not being proclaimed."


Your comments?