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Love and the New Evangelization

apologetics augustine of hippo beauty catholic catholic church catholicism eucharist evangelization love new evangelization proclamation therese of lisieux Jul 13, 2022
My Interior Castle by Donald Wallenfang
Love and the New Evangelization

Running and eating. The two go hand-in-hand: running and eating. Eating so as to run. Eating is the necessary fuel to run well and to run fast and far. And for us followers of Jesus, eating and running take on a whole new meaning. Did you know that the Greek word for God – theós – is based on the Greek verb théo, which means “to run”? Yes, God is the one who runs after us with an unlimited love. God never stops running after us. The love of God revealed in Jesus Christ – namely God the Holy Spirit – knows no limit because it has neither beginning nor end. God runs. The love of God runs from God the Father to God the Son and from God the Son to God the Father without tiring and without tardiness or deceleration. When it comes to “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39), we always are late for the meeting because his love precedes us to the place of interpersonal rendezvous. As Saint John says in his first epistle, “We love because he first loved us” (4:19). God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (31:3), and Jesus says to us in the Gospel of Saint John, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (15:9). This is to say that Jesus the Good Shepherd loves each one of us unconditionally with a love that runs faster than the speed of light and cannot be revoked. If there is anything worth running toward, it is the love of God because this very love was running toward us before the dawn of created time.

So, what are we to do with this unmatchable Gift of divine love? Should we not be passionately eager to share it? To share it wherever it has gone lacking? Yes, through our initiation into the Catholic Church, becoming living members of the mystical Body of Christ, we are commissioned to be witnesses of the love that never dies because it is forever dying to love. What is called for today is a new style of apologetics for the New Evangelization – one that reminds us of the perennial newness of the oldness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We seem to find ourselves alongside Cleopas and the unnamed disciple traveling to Emmaus once again and encountering the risen Lord en route. Cleopas – from the Aramaic Qlopha, a name meaning “glory of the Father” – becomes witness to the glory of the risen One, “the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And the name of the unnamed disciple may very well be my name, your name, or the name of that person waiting to meet the living Christ, maybe even for the first time. In the wake of this encounter, we can say together with these unsuspecting disciples: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). 

The New Evangelization is met with hearts aflame by divine love. This fundamental and original experience of encounter with Jesus, through the powerful Gift of the Holy Spirit, revealing the glorious Love of the Father that spills over into creation redeemed, is the very imprint of evangelization. Because our awesome God and Father has placed his law within us and written it upon our hearts (see Jer 31:33; Heb 8:10, 10:16), because our Lord and Lover “has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment” (2 Cor 1:22; see Song of Songs 8:6), we are stirred by a courageous mission, alighted with tongues of fire, to enter the city with boldness, proclaiming with our Pentecostal Mother that “the almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name!” (Luke 1:49; see Psalm 126:3). This is a message engraved in our hearts that bears the power and promise of being released from the grave. With such an unleash-able Spirit inside of us, enveloped in surroundings of “violence and outrage” we find ourselves relating to the prophet Jeremiah beneath the temptation to shirk back: “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones!” (Jer 20:9).

The call to commence an apologetics of love gives us renewed permission to be bold in our capacity of channeling “the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). We can have confidence, being surrounded as we are by “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), to lift the world with Son and Spirit to the Father. And, according to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, we lift this world with fulcrum and lever, for “the Almighty has given (us) HIMSELF ALONE as fulcrum and PRAYER which burns with a fire of love as lever. And it is this way that (the saints) have lifted the world; it is in this way that the saints still militant lift it, and that, until the end of time, the saints to come will lift it” (Story of a Soul, C). We need not fear that we be shaken in our purpose, says Origen of Alexandria, by any red-herring arguments “after having been partakers in such a love of God as was displayed in Christ Jesus” (Contra Celsum, Preface.3). Instead, we “press on in hope that we may possess (resurrection from the dead), since (we) indeed have been taken possession of by Christ Jesus” and we “press on toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12, 14). As twentieth-century Catholic Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar claims, “love alone is credible.”

We can draw inspiration for this new apologetics of love from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who wrote in his first encyclical that “God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation – the Logos, primordial reason – is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love” (Deus caritas est, 10). Though reasoned argument has its role in the process of evangelization – especially that of helping to clear away obstacles preventing encounter with the risen Lord – faith cannot be reduced to reason, and neither can divine revelation be reduced to the rationality of the created order of being. In this sense, we might agree with Blaise Pascal when he writes that “the heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We know it in a thousand things…It is the heart that feels God, not the reason. This is what perfect faith is, a God who is sensitive to the heart” (Pensées, IV.277–78). And how better for the human heart to feel God – le cœur qui sent Dieu – than for God to assume to himself a human heart, the Sacred Heart of Jesus – le Sacré-Cœur de Jésus? And how better for this incarnate God who is intimately sensitive to the heart – Dieu sensible au cœur – to reveal himself to us than for the Word to become flesh? For instance, Jean-Luc Marion contends that “Christ has not only shown the logic of love, he has demonstrated and proven it in facts and acts by his passion and his resurrection. Since the coming and the presence of the Logos among us, love has not only found its logic, it has accomplished it ‘all the way to the end [εις τελος]’ (John 13:1)” (Visible and Revealed, 152). Again, with the Pope Emeritus we reflect: “By contemplating the pierced side of Christ, we can understand the starting point: ‘God is love’…Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given” (Deus caritas est, 12, 14). The command of love issues the summons of evangelization because love can do no other than to share the copious fruits of its relentless circuit of gift.

Dr. John Cavadini of the University of Notre Dame – a university that has a special place in my own life narrative – claims that “we are free to be formed in the love which alone makes us truly objective observers in the world.” In other words, so much self-disinterested love, so much objectivity and transparency of truth. Therefore, the beauty of Christ crucified and risen is the evangelical treasure of his Bride, the Church. Her dowry is all of her Husband and nothing besides her Husband because he is everything. The missionary Church that points to Christ and not to herself is like a woman bearing an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil and pouring its precious contents on the head of her beloved (see Matt 26:6–13). Here we might say with Saint Augustine: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you…You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight by blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours” (Conf. X.xxvii.38). 

All this is to say that this apologetics of love meets us on the via pulchritudinis – that way of beauty that is ever old and ever new. After all, what is more gently persuasive than a heart that lays itself bare and lets itself be punctured to share a blood so alive that it runs to and from eternal life? So may we, with Saint Peter, “always be ready to give an explanation [an apologia] to anyone who asks (us) for a reason [a logos] for (our) hope” (1 Peter 3:15), and may we, with Saint Paul, “proclaim the word; be persistent in season and out of season; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching…be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; (and) fulfill (our) ministry” (2 Tm 4:2, 5) and “to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” our Lord (Phil 1:6).

Finally, let us return to the inspiring image of running (and eating). If it has not become implicitly clear by now, our necessary food for running our missionary course of evangelization is the holy Eucharist. Similar to what the angel of the Lord said to the prophet Elijah right before his mystical encounter with God at Mount Horeb, our guardian angels say to us today, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!” (1 Kings 19:7). The Eucharist launches us into missionary territory where the apologetics of love can do its best work. Thirty years after the release of his encyclical on the missionary mandate of the Church, Redemptoris missio, we remember the words of Saint John Paul the Great on his feast day: “The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion” (1). And so may we conclude with the decisive words of Saint Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth:

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadow-boxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (24–27).

Jesus teaches us how to run so as to win: it is none other than the way of love that is at once chastely erotic and exorbitantly sacrificial. Because the crown that awaits us is imperishable, “they that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Isaiah 40:31). So let us all be reminded and inspired about how to run relentlessly toward the One who was running toward us before we took our first step.


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