Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist
Many of us who lived through a certain era were exposed, as children, to a form of religious education that put so much stress on loving God and neighbor that other central truth claims of the Catholic faith were either ignored entirely or given inadequate presentation. As a result, we were often bewildered and even confounded when we encountered complex arguments against Catholic dogma. We might wish that someone had taken aside those old teachers who chose to dwell almost exclusively on divine love and hammer into them this line from St. Paul: “On the subject of fraternal charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess 4:9).
There is something unique about learning to love one another that causes St. Paul to hesitate. This is strange because, usually, St. Paul has a lot to say. It must be that the teaching of charity is different from, say, the teaching of chess. To encourage a student to play chess, a teacher can offer an incentive, such as a piece of candy. To teach charity, on the other hand, no incentive can be offered. Should a teacher try to offer an incentive, such as a piece of candy, then the student will love the other person in order to get the candy, and this is not yet charity.
To love someone for the sake of their own goodness is not always easy. We often need help and guidance. May God teach us the way, God who is, himself, the way, and the truth and the life, forever blessed and glorious. Amen.
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.